Common Uses of the Chemical Acetone

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Acetone is used in a variety of ways in our daily lives.
Acetone is used in a variety of ways in our daily lives. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Acetone is an organic chemical consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. It is a clear, flammable liquid at room temperature. It is produced by humans in small amounts through routine biological processes, but can be harmful in very high concentrations. Generally, acetone causes no serious health problems. Acetone is used in a variety of ways both in science and in everyday life.

Solvent

Scientists use acetone as a solvent for many different materials, such as plastics or other man-made, petroleum-based substances. It is capable of breaking down superglue and is used to denature some types of alcohol. The acetone is often used as a solvent for particularly flammable or volatile chemicals, to allow their safe transport and pressurization. It is estimated over 30 percent of all acetone produced goes into use as a solvent for other chemicals.

Food and Cosmetics Additive

Acetone is often used as an additive in makeup and some kinds of food. In particular it can be found in bread where it helps to mature and bleach flour. In cosmetics acetone is used to denature certain alcohols in the compounds and can be a component of different mixtures giving the product a specific scent. Although generally considered a safe chemical, acetone may cause skin or eye irritation as a result of the use of these products.

Nail Polish Remover

Perhaps the most common use of acetone for most Americans is as the active ingredient in nail polish remover. Acetone’s remarkable ability to dissolve many other compounds has made it popular as a paint thinner and a superglue/adhesive remover. It cuts through the chemicals in nail polish, causing it to dissolve and wipe easily off of fingernails. Excessive use of nail polish remover makes nails brittle and weak, so it’s important to wash your hands after using it.

Fuel Additive

People have begun using acetone as an additive to the gasoline in their cars. The chemical’s dissolving power seems to come in handy cleaning off engine buildup, allowing the vehicles to run more smoothly. Proponents of acetone as a fuel additive suggest it increases gas mileage, yields cleaner emissions, and leads to smoother engine function. It has not yet been proven whether or not acetone does in fact have all of these effects.

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References

  • "Acetone: Webster's Timeline History, 1827 - 2007"; Icon Group International; 2009
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