Acetone is a very common solvent used for many purposes. You may have an old can of it in your utility closet right now. Before you start to use it, you want to be able to answer the question: can acetone melt plastic? The short answer – it depends! In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to avoid a meltdown.
Why would I want to melt plastic with acetone?
We can get into plenty of situations where we accidentally melt plastic with heat, and it ends up bonded to something we don’t want it bonded to. The first step is always to attempt to cool/freeze the plastic and then scrape it off. If that doesn’t work, you will have to try something more aggressive.
In some cases which we will explain in this post, acetone is exactly the right tool for the job. Reasons to dissolve plastics…
- Make a “glue” to repair broken plastic
- Removing Melted Plastic from a glass cooktop, stovetop burner, or oven
- Softening plastic in order to bend or shape it
- Removing small scratches on plastic – like the cover of a wristwatch
Or alternately, you may be putting acetone on a rag as a cleaning agent for difficult tasks such as removing glue/adhesive from sensitive surfaces. In this case you want to be careful as you can damage plastic if it’s the wrong type.
What is Acetone?
Acetone is a type of ketone solvent that has the chemical formula C3H6O. It is a highly reactive chemical that can dissolve many types of substances, including plastics. Acetone has a low boiling point, which makes it easy to evaporate and leaves no residue behind.
Common Uses for Acetone
Acetone has many uses in various industries, including the production of plastics, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. It is also used as a solvent in nail polish removers and as a cleaning agent in the household. A very partial list of uses…
- Cleaning agent for household items
- Removing glue residue from an old sticker
- The solvent in nail polish removers
- Get ink stains out of clothes
- Kill leaches
- Sanatize metal surfaces
- Production of plastic materials
- Manufacturing of textiles
- Production of pharmaceuticals
Can Acetone Melt Plastic?
Different Kinds of Plastics
Not all polymers are created equal. Acetone obviously doesn’t melt all kinds of plastics – the most common product containing acetone (nail polish remover) comes in a plastic bottle!
There are many ways to classify different types of plastic, and one of the more relevant to dissolution is thermoplastics vs thermosetting. Thermoplastics are plastics that can be melted and reshaped repeatedly by applying heat. Thermosetting plastics are plastics that cannot be melted once they are formed because they undergo a chemical reaction during the molding process.
What Kinds Of Plastic Will Melt In Acetone?
Acetone can dissolve and melt some types of thermoplastics, including polystyrene, ABS, and PVC. However, it cannot melt thermosetting plastics like epoxy, melamine, and phenolic resins. Also, certain common thermoplastics such as high density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP) are also not susceptible to melting in Acetone.
Safety Precautions When Melting Plastic with Acetone
There are three main safety considerations when dealing with acetone: ventilation, protective equipment and disposal. Acetone is toxic, and can cause breathing problems, organ problems, and even cancer with prolonged, repeated exposure. You should definitely be careful when handling it!
First, make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated space. Outdoors would be best, but if that’s not an option work in a large room with airflow and fans. You do not want to breathe the vapors. A garage would be ideal. Acetone is highly flammable, so make sure there is no chance of an open flame or even a spark.
Acetone evaporates and creates vapors, which will quickly affect your eyes, nose, and other exposed mucous membranes. At a warmer temperature this is especially true, as evaporation happens more rapidly.
Even a small amount of acetone can harm you if it gets on your body, so make sure to wear appropriate protective equipment. At the very least you should wear goggles as well as gloves made of a material (like butyl) that cannot be penetrated if it gets on your hands.
As dangerous and explosive as acetone is, you certainly should not throw any into the trash – no matter what kind of container it is being stored in. Contact your state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or your regional office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for specific recommendations on how to dispose of it. If you’re unable to determine how to get in touch with them, you can always ask the place where you bought it – home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot should know how to dispose of anything they sell.
What else can Melt Plastic?
Can nail polish remover dissolve plastic?
While nail polish contains acetone, it is diluted and contains many other products intended to make it safe for contact with skin and nails. Obviously, it won’t dissolve all types of plastic as it is sold in plastic bottles!
It would likely work for dissolving polystyrene and other thermoplastics but would be slower and more likely to leave a residue. It would be best to find pure acetone.
Does Gasoline Dissolve Plastic?
I know from my days in the boy scouts that gasoline will absolutely dissolve some forms of plastic – specifically polystyrene (aka “styrofoam”). We would fill a small mason jar half-full with gas and break little pieces of trash styrofoam into it and wait until it dissolves. When the mixture began to look like pancake syrup, we had what we called “homemade napalm”. We used it to start campfires on trips when it had rained and all the wood was soaked through. Probably an awful practice environmentally, but effective and fun for teenage boys.
What other kinds of plastic solvents are there?
Among the numerous plastic solvents, the most widely used are benzene, tetrahydrofuran, dimethylformamide, diethylether, acetone, and formic acid. In certain cases, chloroethylene, ethyl acetate, ethanol, methanol, and toluene are used. These all have different properties but fall outside the scope of this article. Please read up thoroughly on safety requirements before using any of these solvents on plastic.
Acetone dissolves Polystyrene and other plastics that are susceptible to this type of solvent. You can acquire acetone readily wherever home improvement products are sold, but make sure you understand the type of plastic you plan to put it on and have all the necessary protective equipment.