Acetone, also known as 2-propanone, dimethyl ketone, and propanone, is a commonly used chemical both domestically and in industry and has a reputation for being a strong substance – but is it harmful?
Acetone is mainly used as a solvent, chemical intermediate, and in household products such as furniture polish, rubbing alcohol, and nail varnish. It’s a clear, volatile liquid with a sweet smell, and it’s also highly flammable both in liquid and vapour form.
Is Acetone Harmful to Humans?
There’s a small clue in the words “highly flammable”. Ignition and flashback are both possibilities. While any substance can be dangerous when handled incorrectly, special care must be taken when handling acetone.
The human body naturally contains acetone as it’s produced when you break down fat. It’s also found in nature and in some foods and drinks, but these are only in small quantities. If you are exposed to larger volumes of acetone, it can be harmful.
Exposure to Acetone
Acetone poisoning is rare, and the human body can break down large quantities of acetone naturally. But overexposure can happen in three different ways:
- Inhalation – causing irritation of the nose and throat and harming the nervous system if you’re exposed to large quantities of acetone. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and severe overexposure can make you fall unconscious. These are the same symptoms as those you’d experience if you ingest acetone (please don’t drink it).
- Skin contact – causing mild irritation
- Eye contact (including contact with acetone vapour) – causing moderate or severe irritation. Symptoms include sore, red, watering eyes.
First Aid Measures for Exposure to Acetone
There are different ways of treating acetone exposure for inhalation, skin contact, and eye contact. In all case,s you should take precautions to prevent a fire, such as removing any source of ignition.
- Inhalation – move the person affected into the fresh air. If they feel unwell, seek medical help.
- Skin contact – remove all clothing and accessories that acetone has been spilled on and wash the skin with lukewarm water for at least five minutes. If the skin is irritated or painful, seek medical help.
- Eye contact – flush the eye(s) as quickly as possible with lukewarm water for at least 20 minutes, holding the eyelid(s) open. If the skin is irritated or painful, seek medical help.
Acetone as a Fire Hazard
Acetone is a highly flammable liquid which can ignite at room temperature, and of course it’s in this way that acetone can be very harmful – sometimes even when it’s diluted with water.
Acetone’s vapour is also highly flammable and can travel a remarkable distance to a source of ignition and flashback to a leak or open container. If an acetone-filled container is heated, it can explode.
In the event of a fire, toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acetic acid may form.
Handling and Storing Acetone
When handling acetone, remove all heat and ignition sources, and ground any equipment. You should also wear safety glasses, a face shield, and protective clothing if contact with acetone could occur.
Acetone should be stored somewhere cool, well-ventilated, out of direct sunlight and far from heat and ignition sources.
At ReAgent, we supply acetone for both general and laboratory use in 2.5-25L containers to 200L drums. If you would like to discuss your requirements, just contact one of our friendly team today.
The blog on chemicals.co.uk and everything published on it is provided as an information resource only. The blog, its authors and affiliates accept no responsibility for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from following the information provided on this website. We do not recommend using any chemical without first consulting the Material Safety Data Sheet which can be obtained from the manufacturer and following the safety advice and precautions on the product label. If you are in any doubt about health and safety issues please consult the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).