Acetone is one of the most common members of the ketone family of the organic compounds in chemistry find finds application in our daily lives. It is more popularly known by its common name (acetone) although its scientific chemical name as described by IUPAC is propanone. It exists as a colourless, strong-smelling volatile liquid at room temperature. It is highly flammable.
Its structure is very simple, containing two methyl group – one on each side of the ketone functional group. Its structural formula is (CH3)2CO, which can also be written as C3H6O in its condensed form. Its structure may be represented in the following manner:
Acetone probably finds its use in a lot of different types of industries whose products we use in everyday life. Here is a detailed description of all the various uses of acetone:
• The most common use of acetone in everyday life known to almost everyone is as a nail polish remover. Its use in that role is due to its property of breaking down the structure of the pigments that constitute the nail polish or other types of stains or marks, thereby removing them. It is, for this reason, also used as a cleaning agent for many household and kitchen materials. After the application of acetone on any kind of material, all dirt, marks, and stains can be easily removed by swapping or wiping off with a cloth or cotton swab. Another reason it is used for this purpose is that it can be diluted with water (as it is miscible with it) and is highly volatile at room temperature, therefore evaporates very quickly without leaving much trace.
• Apart from nail polish remover, it is also used in several other cosmetics such as topical skin creams and lotions and other personal skin care products.It is also one of the ingredients in chemical skin peel off masks used for treating acne. However, such products should be used with caution as acetone in higher concentration or upon chronic use has been known to cause acute toxicity, as well as chronic toxicity in some rare cases. If the fumes of acetone are inhaled for a longer period of time, they may cause sore throat and coughing. All health authorities, including WHO (World Health Organisation), therefore, have put limits over its usage.
• Acetone is used in the textile industry for removing greasy materials from the natural wool obtained from sheep as well as for removing natural gums present in silk obtained from natural sources (particularly silkworms). It also removed all types of natural sticky substances such as gums, resins and oily materials from raw fibers.
• Acetone is an excellent solvent. It is widely used for the preparation of various solvent blends. These acetone based solvent blends are used in the formation of lacquers used for giving finishing touches to the polishing of furniture and automotives. Acetone is generally added to give a smooth finish and reduce the initial viscosity of the gum-based lacquers.
• Acetone is used as a solvent in the manufacture of polymers in the plastic industry. It is used to loosen the viscosity and thickness of resins produced in the polymer industry for the manufacturing of various kinds of plastics.
• Acetone has also been conventionally used as an antiseptic in ancient times.
• Acetone is also produced naturally in the bodies of human being and animals, as one of the ketone bodies formed as a result of the metabolism of fatty acids when the carbohydrate content of the body becomes low. The detection of acetone in urine is one of the tests used to find out whether a person has diabetic ketoacidosis or not. This is a condition caused mostly in diabetic patients when the cells of their bodies don’t get enough amount of glucose (due to the lack of insulin action). It is one of the complications of diabetes which may lead to a person into a coma or even cause death. Hence, early detection of acetone in urine may help in the early treatment of this condition.
• Acetone is one of the most commonly used solvents in the pharmaceutical industry. It forms a key ingredient as a solvent to carry out the synthesis of various active ingredients of tablets or pills or even liquid dosage forms such as syrups, elixirs or suspensions. It helps in achieving the proper density and viscosity for the solution while providing a medium to dissolve many chemical agents used in the preparation of these medications. However, the drug regulatory authorities have also put certain limits over its use and now rather insist on carrying proper tests to check the presence of any residual substances. Even after carrying out evaporation of the organic solvents (such as acetone) after completion of the chemical reactions used for the production of active pharmaceutical agents, some part of them remains adsorbed on the solid surfaces of the products, which may be toxic if consumed in larger quantities.
• Acetone is sometimes used as one of the agents to denature alcohol in the liquor manufacturing industry.
• In laboratories, acetone is often widely used as a solvent to wash glass apparatuses. It is because it evaporates very easily and faster than any other solvent, besides cleaning them effectively.
• Acetone is often used as a solvent in chemical reactions which are to be carried out at extremely low temperatures because its freezing point is -80°C and generally all the reactions which are to be carried out at low temperatures do not exceed this temperature. So, such reactions can be easily carried out in acetone without the reaction mixture getting frozen as it would not be possible to carry out a chemical reaction in the solid state. This is so because the kinetic energy of the molecules in the solid state is very low and the molecules cannot move around and interact with other reactants to carry out the reaction which is easily possible in the liquid state.
• The vapours of acetone are often used as tracing agents when tagged to other volatile material or other gaseous substances since they show fluorescence under UV (ultraviolet) light.
• Acetone is also used in electronic industry for cleaning of the very small parts of the electronic gadgets and instruments. Cleaning with acetone has notable proven enhancement effects in electronics.
• Acetone is used in cleaning and laundry industry for removing harsh stains such as oil and grease stains from fabrics. It can also remove ink stains and hence is widely used by dry cleaning agents.
• In the paint industry, acetone is used as a thinning agent for viscous paints and lacquers.
• Acetone is also used to remove excess grease for the engines of automobiles and other motor vehicles while cleaning. For this purpose, it is also used in the metal industry for cleaning and degreasing of raw ores and extracted and refined metals.
• In the makeup industry, acetone is used to remove the hair and skin remains from the artificial wig hairs, moustaches or beards worn by different artists. They are generally cleaned by dipping them in a solution of acetone. This helps in cleaning of all the dirt and human cell remains as well as softening of the artificial hairs before they could be dried and brushed for use by another or same person for the next time.
• In case of accidental oil spill into any marine bodies such as seas or oceans from the large oil containing ship tanks, acetone is used to dissolve the sludge and remove the oil content from the surface of the water of the marine body, thereby saving the lives of the marine organisms which could die due to depletion of oxygen from the air (due to the oil barrier). Besides, acetone is a safe choice because it has been proven non-toxic to animals and the environmental surroundings due to its organic and biodegradable nature.
• In the petroleum and automobile industry, acetone is used as an additive to the natural fuel gasoline which is widely used as an automobile fuel. Addition of acetone to gasoline decreases its viscosity and makes the resulting fuel mixture thin and promotes an easy flow of the fuel mixture through the automobile engine. This has proven to increase the working efficiency of the automobile engines as well as increase the productivity of gasoline as a fuel.
• Biologically produced acetone can be metabolized to lactate and pyruvate via methylglyoxal pathway by the action of enzyme CYP2E1. These products (lactate and pyruvate) can further undergo Kreb’s cycle or citric acid cycle to produce energy in the form of ATPs (adenosine triphosphate) molecules.
• Acetone is used for the long-term storage and safe transportation of a highly flammable chemical fuel, acetylene, which is very difficult to handle otherwise in its pure form.