Acetone is a colourless, volatile liquid made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, first produced around 700 years ago and also found organically and even extra-terrestrially. You can find out more about what acetone is here, or read on for some common (and not so common) uses.
Five uses of acetone
Nail polish remover
Let’s start with the one that most people will know, nail polish remover. Acetone is the active ingredient in this common cosmetic product and is used as it dissolves other compounds, in this case nail polish. One side effect however is that it dries out the nail beds leaving them weak and brittle, so it is important to wash your hands after use. As an added bonus, there are a number of other things that nail polish remover can be used for, for example removing ink stains or permanent marker, removing residue from spilt glue or sticky tape and cleaning patent leather shoe.
Acetone is an important solvent in the chemical laboratory, and is commonly used to rinse glass of residue and solids. Because it is miscible, it is also used to rinse water from equipment, enabling a faster drying process. It also has the benefit of being fairly low-cost. Acetone is also used as a component in various chemical reactions. It has a low freezing point, around -80˚C, and acetone/dry ice baths are used to conduct reactions at low temperatures. It is also used as a reagent in the Jones alcohol oxidation process, and as it is fluorescent under UV light its vapour can be used to trace fluorescence.
Acetone is a high-strength solvent for many plastics, and is also used for thinning oil-based paints and resin, as well as cleaning up after they’ve been used. If you’re a model car or train enthusiast, you can use acetone to dissolve paint and glue from old models, degreasing them at the same time before repainting them to look like new. Just don’t pour your acetone into a styrofoam cup – it will dissolve that as well.
Domestic uses of acetone
Many commonly used domestic products contain acetone, from hair dye and baby wipes to sun tan lotion and furniture polish. Domestic levels of exposure to acetone are common and safe and have undergone comprehensive reviews, but over-exposure from inhalation or ingestion can be a health risk, with symptoms including nausea, headaches and dizziness.
Removing oil stains from concrete
An oil stained driveway is a common sight, but the stain is something that acetone can help to remove as part of a poultice, working best on small, stubborn stains. A poultice can be made by saturating sawdust with acetone before smothering the stain with this mixture. This poultice then needs to be covered in plastic. The acetone will break down the oil, which will be absorbed into the sawdust through the process of osmosis. And voilà! One clean driveway.
Make-up artists use acetone to remove skin adhesive from wigs, beards and moustaches after they’ve been worn by placing the item in an acetone bath which softens the remaining glue, before removing it with a brush.
At ReAgent, we make and supply acetone for analytical, general and laboratory use, so whether you need to remove glue from your beard wig, clean your laboratory equipment or trace fluorescence, you’re in the right place.