What Are The Uses Of Methyl Ethyl Ketone?

by Jessica Clifton

In a recent article, we explored what methyl ethyl ketone is. Today, we’ll look at the uses of methyl ethyl ketone.

A Brief Reminder: What Is Methyl Ethyl Ketone?

Methyl ethyl ketone is an organic compound often abbreviated to MEK – or known as butanone and 2-butanone. It is a colourless liquid with a smell like mint mixed with acetone, and as a ketone, it contains a carbonyl group bonded to two hydrocarbon groups.

MEK is produced on an industrial scale as it is used in so many products and processes.

Uses of Methyl Ethyl Ketone

The primary use of methyl ethyl ketone is as a solvent. It is because of this that it’s one of the most important commercially-produced ketones, second only to acetone – in fact, the two chemical compounds have much in common. 

Methyl ethyl ketone is also used in the manufacture of paints, to clean electronic components, as a flavouring agent in food, and to clean surgical instruments as it can effectively kill bacteria. 

MEK can also be used to make illegal drugs, and therefore it’s listed in the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Methyl Ethyl Ketone as a Solvent

MEK is highly effective and commonly-used solvent. As a solvent, it is used in manufacturing processes for gums, resins, cellulose acetate, and nitrocellulose coatings. These processes can be used to manufacture plastics, textiles, and paraffin wax. As consumers, we also often use products containing methyl ethyl ketone in our daily lives, such as cleaners, lacquers, varnishes, paint removers, and glues. 

Another use of MEK is in dry-erase marker pens as the solvent in the dye – it’s the ingredient that ensures the ink flows properly onto the whiteboard both because it can dilute many different pigments, and because its low viscosity means the ink can flow. It’s also what gives whiteboard pens their distinctive smell. 

What are the uses of methyl ethyl ketone - as the welding agent in model kits

MEK’s Use as a Plastic Welding Agent

If you ever built model kits as a child, you will have used methyl ethyl ketone. MEK can dissolve polystyrene (as well as many other plastics), and in this combination, it is used to ‘glue’ scale model kits together. However, it isn’t actually a glue – it’s more like a chemical welding agent. When applied to the model kit, the surface dissolves and is welded to the surface it’s being stuck to. The MEK evaporates away, leaving no gluey residue. This means the joins can be equally as strong as the kit itself.

Consumer Uses

Methyl ethyl ketone is also used in: 

  • Lubricants and greases, such as vehicle oil and brake fluid
  • Anti-freeze
  • Coatings, such as automotive paint
  • Cooling liquids in your fridge
  • Chemical intermediates
  • Plastics
  • Textiles

Methyl ethyl ketone is also used as an extraction medium for fats and oils, and occurs naturally in some foodstuffs including apple juice, beans, and chicken.

If you would like to speak to someone in more detail about buying MEK, please contact our friendly team.


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