Acetone is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is considered to have low toxicity, though improper use of it can cause serious problems. There are a number of uses for acetone, including in chemicals, solvents and nail polish remover. The most common use of acetone is to formulate other chemicals.
Formulation and production of other chemicals can account for up to 75 percent of all uses of acetone. Acetone is used in the manufacture of methyl methacrylate (MMA) and bisphenol-A (BPA). Additionally, acetone cyanohydrin is formulated with acetone and aids in the production of MMA and methacrylic acid.
The end uses of acetone in relation to MMA and BPA include plastics, acrylic products and windows. The production of flat-screen televisions and liquid crystal displays involves MMAs or methacrylates. MMA uses of acetone also can aid in the production of lacquers, enamels and sealants. BPA is a raw ingredient used in producing polycarbonate resins, which have a wide range of uses in the electronics and automotive industries.
When acetone is used as a solvent, it means acetone's role is to dissolve some other chemical or chemicals. Hazardous or dangerous spills of oil, gas or paint can be dissolved with a solvent such as acetone. Electricians may use acetone as a degreaser. Chemical laboratories may use acetone to clean glass containers and utensils. The pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on the uses of acetone as a solvent in the formulation of new drugs.
Beyond chemicals and solvents, other uses for acetone exist in the production of cosmetics and household and personal care products. Nail polish remover may be the most commonly known use of acetone as a cosmetic product. Household cleaning solutions, rubber cement and de-gumming agents typically include an acetone component. Additionally, acetone is used to safely and economically transport acetylene in cylinders.
Even though most uses of acetone are considered chemical or industrial, the small portion of applications in the workplace and home can present some potential health hazards. Acetone is considered one of the least harmful chemical solutions; however, inappropriate use of or prolonged exposure to acetone can cause headache, loss of memory and dizziness. Nausea, drowsiness and, more severely, unconsciousness also may occur if acetone or acetone-containing products are not used properly.
The basic physical and chemical characteristics of acetone contribute to the wide range of uses of acetone. Acetone is a colorless liquid with a strong odor and taste. This liquid is classified as a low-toxicity VOC. It easily evaporates in the air, dissolves in water and is highly flammable. Chemical manufacturers can produce acetone, although it also can be found in the environment as a naturally occurring substance.