MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Why do we use Acetone to clean labwares?

Date: Sun Aug 3 21:34:01 2003
Posted By: David Barker, Research Fellow
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 1058980509.Ch

Acetone is used for common cleaning of laboratory wares for a few reasons. Firstly it's because Acetone is a very good solvent, it is a very polar substance that dissolves almost all organic compounds, which is obviously criticial if you're cleaning.

It is water miscible, so can be used in conjuction with water. A common cleaning routine is to rinse with water first to wash away inorganic salts and then rinse with acetone to wash away the organic materials which the water cannot dissolve.

Because it is water miscible it rinses away water from equipment too, thereby leaving equipment with less water on them and this means they will dry much faster than using water alone.

Acetone is also widely used because it relatively safe solvent, it has a much higher flashpoint than the alcoholic solvents methanol or ethanol, so is less likely to catch on fire. Methanol also has the added hazard that it burns with a very clear blue flame that is hard to see. Methanol is also more hazardous to use, it is more toxic to the body than acetone, having bad effects on eyes and the liver.

Lastly acetone is quite widely used because it is relatively cheap. Methanol is more expensive to buy per litre than acetone. Ethanol which is quite a good alternative to acetone for cleaning is not used as much as acetone as it is usally a restricted substance, because it could be used illegally to make alcoholic products. These restrictions usually mean dispensing ethanol is more carefully monitored and it is therefore just easier to not deal with this issue by using acetone.

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