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Acetone (also known as propanone, dimethyl ketone, 2-propanone, propan-2-one and β-ketopropane) is a colorless, mobile, flammable liquid. It is the simplest example of the ketones. Acetone is miscible with water, ethanol, ether, etc., and itself serves as an important solvent. The most familiar household use of acetone is as the active ingredient in nail polish remover. Acetone is also used to make plastic, fibers, drugs, and other chemicals. In addition to being manufactured as a chemical, acetone is also found naturally in the environment, including in small amounts in the human body.
Acetone is produced primarily in the cumene process. Previously, acetone was produced by the dry distillation of acetates, for example calcium acetate. During World War I a new process of producing acetone through bacterial fermentation was developed by Chaim Weizmann, later the first president of Israel, in order to help the British war effort.
Acetone is often the primary (or only) component in nail polish remover. Acetonitrile, another organic solvent, is sometimes used as well. Acetone is also used as a superglue remover. It can be used for thinning and cleaning fiberglass resins and epoxies. It is a strong solvent for most plastics and synthetic fibres.
It is ideal for thinning fiberglass resin, cleaning fiberglass tools and dissolving two-part epoxies and superglue before hardening. A heavy-duty degreaser, it is useful in the preparation of metal prior to painting; it also thins polyester resins, vinyl and adhesives. It easily removes residues from glass and porcelain. In biological research contexts, buffers that contain acetone (such as citrate-buffered formalin) use the acetone to lyse cells for further experimentation.
Additionally, acetone is extremely effective when used as a cleaning agent when dealing with permanent markers.
Acetone can also dissolve many plastics, including those used in Nalgene bottles made of polystyrene, polycarbonate and some types of polypropylene.
In the laboratory, acetone is used as a polar aprotic solvent in a variety of organic reactions, such as SN2 reactions. The use of acetone solvent is also critical for the successful Jones oxidation. Technical grade acetone is inexpensive. Because of acetone's medium polarity, it dissolves a wide range of compounds. Thus, it is commonly loaded into squeeze bottles and used as a general solvent in rinsing laboratory glassware.
Acetone is also used extensively for the safe transporting and storing of acetylene. Vessels containing a porous material are first filled with acetone followed by acetylene, which dissolves into the acetone. One liter of acetone can dissolve around 250 liters of acetylene.
An important industrial use for acetone involves its reaction with phenol for the manufacture of bisphenol A. Bisphenol A is an important component of many polymers such as polycarbonates, polyurethanes and epoxy resins. Acetone has also been used in the manufacture of cordite.
Some automotive enthusiasts add acetone at around 1 part in 500 to their fuel, following claims of dramatic improvement in fuel economy and engine life. This practice is controversial as there are counterclaims that acetone has no measurable effect or may in fact reduce engine life by adversely affecting fuel system parts. Debates on this subject and claims of Big Oil cover-up intensified when the practice was addressed on the popular American TV show MythBusters in 2006, and shown to have negative effect in the televised fuel economy test.