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IAQUK Resources - Acetone

More than 3 million tonnes are produced annually, mainly as a precursor to polymers.  Familiar household uses of Acetone are as the active ingredient in nail polish remover as well as a paint thinner and sanitary cleaner/nail polish remover base.


Acetone is commonly used in the skin rejuvenation process and is thought such processes were used in ancient Egypt.  A product is applied (sometimes as a skin peel) with the purpose of cleaning and removing excess fat, known as defatting.


Acetone is often the primary component in cleaning agents such as nail polish remover.  Acetone is a component of superglue remover and it easily removes residues from glass and porcelain. Make-up artists use Acetone to remove skin adhesive from the netting of wigs and moustaches by immersing the item in an Acetone bath, then removing the softened glue residue with a stiff brush.


It can be used as an artistic agent; when rubbed on the back of a laser print or photocopy placed face-down on another surface and burnished firmly, the toner of the image transfers to the destination surface.


Acetone can be found as an ingredient in a variety of consumer products ranging from cosmetics to processed and unprocessed foods and food packaging.


Acetone is a good solvent for most plastics and synthetic fibres including those used in laboratory bottles made of polystyrene, polycarbonate and some types of polypropylene. It is ideal forthinning fibreglass resin, cleaning fibreglass tools and dissolving two-part epoxies and superglue before hardening. It is used as a volatile component of some paints and varnishes. As a heavy-duty degreaser, it is useful in the preparation of metal prior to painting; it also thins polyester resins, vinyl and adhesives.


Acetone is used as a solvent by the pharmaceutical industry and as a denaturation agent in denatured alcohol (Denatured alcohol is ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous orunpalatable, and thus, undrinkable. In some cases it is also dyed). Acetone is also present as an excipient (an inactive substance used as a carrier for the active ingredients of a medication) in some pharmaceutical products.

History and Production


The use of Acetone is presumed to have been produced in the middle ages, but has documented use in the 17th century (Jean Beguin) for various medical purposes. Beguin, in his school of pharmacy in Paris would dry distill metal acetates, in particular lead. (Dry distillation is the heating of solid materials to produce gaseous products which may condense into liquids or solids.) He prepared “burning spirit of Saturn” (Acetone) by the dry distillation of “salt of Saturn” (lead acetate).


Prior to World War 1, the UK used calcium acetate to create Acetone. Calcium acetate is the calcium salt of acetic acid.  Acetic acid is an organic acid that gives vinegar its sour taste and pungent smell.  The name Acetone comes from the latin acetum  "vinegar". Acetum in Latin can also refer to bitter.


With the outbreak of war an increase demand of the substances was required for the production of gunpowder, explosives and propellants, such as cordine (used to create smokeless gunpowder). The main supply of calcium acetate was Germany, therefore another source was imperative during World War 1; a method of producing Acetone through bacterial fermentation using sugar was developed by Chaim Weizmann.


Fermentation and distillation techniques were replaced in the 1950s due to the increase demand. Most of the worldwide industrial production of Acetone (and phenol) is currently based on a method called the cumene process. This process converts two relatively cheap starting materials, benzene and propylene, into Acetone and phenol. Another reactant is oxygen (from the air). The reaction is named after cumene, the intermediate material formed during the process.  Cumene is the common name for isopropylbenzene, an organic compound that is an aromatic hydrocarbon. It is a constituent of crude oil and refined fuels.


Acetone (also known as Propanone, Dimethyl Ketone, Ddimethylformaldehyde, DMK, 2-Propanone, Propan-2-one and β-Ketopropane).


Acetone is the organic compound with the formula C3 H6 O and is a clear colourless, flammable liquid usually derived by oxidation of isopropyl alcohol or by bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates.  Owing to the fact that Acetone is miscible with water it is a highly effective solvent for many organic compounds.  In addition to being manufactured as a chemical, Acetone is also found naturally in the environment, including in small amounts in the human body.


Health effects


Acetone is rapidly absorbed via the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts and can be observed within the blood within 30 min of inhalation exposure and 20 min of oral administration.


At relatively low concentrations, Acetone is not very toxic. It can, however, irritate and damage skin and the mucosal lining of the mouth. Its fumes should be avoided, as inhalation may lead to kidney, liver and nerve damage.


Inhalation of high concentrations (around 9200 ppm) in the air caused irritation of the throat in humans in as little as 5 minutes.  Like many other solvents, it may affect the central nervous system and may lead to kidney and liver damage. Inhalation of concentrations of 1000 ppm caused irritation of the eye and throat in less than 1 hour.


Pregnant women should avoid contact with Acetone and its fumes, to avoid the possibility of birth defects, including brain damage.


Human Production

Acetone is one of three ketone bodies that occur naturally  throughout the body. It is generated from carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids in humans. Fasting, diabetes and strenuous exercise increase Acetone.


Under    normal conditions, the production of ketone bodies occurs almost entirely within the liver and to a smaller extent in the lung and kidney. The process is continuous, and the three products are excreted  into the blood and transported to all tissues and organs of the body where they can be used as a source of energy.


Two of these ketone bodies, Acetoacetate and ß-Hydroxybutyrate, are organic acids that can cause metabolic acidosis increase of acid in the blood) when produced in large amounts. Acetone is eliminated from the body either by excretion in urine and exhaled air or by metabolism. Under normal circumstances, metabolism is the predominant route of elimination and handles 70-80% of the total body burden.

Technical - Acetone - C 3 H 6 O

  • Mono-substituted benzene derivative
  • Clear colourless flammable liquid
  • Distinctive sweet/sour odour
  • People begin to smell acetone in the at at 100ppm to 140ppm
  • CAS Number: 67-61-1
  • LTEL - 500ppm (1210 mg/m³)
  • STEL - 1500ppm (3620mg/m³)
  • Risk Phrases: R11, 36, 66, 67
  • Safety Phrases: S2, 9, 16. 26