Does Acetone Melt Plastic?

Chemistry, at its core, is about the interactions between different substances, and these reactions can result in fascinating outcomes. One such interaction occurs between acetone, a common household solvent, and various types of plastic.

Despite having a surfeit of benefits, the use of acetone in plastic projects is debatable. Subsequently, the obvious question that would come up is, does acetone melt plastic?

This article will explore this chemical interaction in detail, demystifying the process through which acetone affects different types of plastic materials.

Does Acetone Melt Plastic?

Yes, acetone can melt certain types of plastic. The chemical composition of acetone allows it to act as a powerful solvent, meaning it can dissolve or significantly damage certain materials, including some plastics.

Polystyrene and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), commonly found in items like disposable cutlery, plastic models, and LEGO bricks, can dissolve or deform when exposed to acetone.

However, other types of plastic, like polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), often used in containers and plumbing systems, are resistant to acetone.

As a general rule, always be cautious when using acetone around plastic materials, and if possible, test on a small, less visible area first.

Read also: How to Remove Printed Labels from Plastic

Understanding Acetone

Acetone is an organic compound that falls under the category of ketones. It is a colorless, volatile, flammable liquid that is ubiquitous due to its powerful solvent properties. Most people recognize it as the active ingredient in nail polish remover, but it also has broad applications across a variety of industrial and laboratory settings.

As a potent solvent, acetone is highly effective in breaking down and dissolving a multitude of substances. This property is derived from its molecular structure, which includes a carbonyl group (a carbon atom double-bonded to an oxygen atom) flanked by two hydrogen-carbon groups, known as methyl groups. This structure gives acetone its ability to interact with and break down other substances, including certain types of plastic.

Deciphering the Acetone-Plastic Reaction: Dissolution, not Melting

When acetone interacts with plastic, the term “melting” often gets thrown around. However, this is a simplification of the process that is occurring at a molecular level. The reaction is, in reality, an example of dissolution. Acetone can penetrate the long-chain polymer structure that forms plastic, breaking down the bonds and causing the plastic to lose its form and rigidity.

To break down the process even further, the interaction between acetone and plastic is a physical process involving the breakdown of intermolecular forces. The acetone molecules are able to intermingle with the plastic’s polymer chains, disrupting the forces holding these chains together. The result is a plastic that appears to be “melting” but is in fact being dissolved by the acetone.

Understanding Plastic Varieties and Their Reactions

The effect of acetone is not uniform across all types of plastic. In fact, certain plastics, due to the nature of their polymer structure, are more susceptible to acetone dissolution.

Polystyrene and Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), or acrylic, are two types of plastics that can be readily dissolved by acetone. Polystyrene, the plastic found in a plethora of everyday items such as disposable cutlery, CD cases, and plastic models, can turn into a gooey mess when exposed to acetone. PMMA, a shatter-resistant alternative to glass used in products like Plexiglas, also loses its structure and integrity when brought into contact with acetone.

On the other hand, some plastics, such as Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), exhibit higher resistance to acetone due to the unique structures of their polymers. However, it is essential to note that under prolonged exposure or at higher concentrations, acetone may still cause these materials to degrade or lose their structural integrity.

Practical Implications and Applications

Understanding the interplay between acetone and plastic isn’t just an interesting scientific exercise; it has important real-world implications and applications. In recycling, for instance, acetone’s ability to dissolve certain plastics is leveraged to break down these materials for repurposing. In 3D printing, acetone is utilized in vapor smoothing to smooth the surfaces of 3D-printed parts made from certain plastics, enhancing their aesthetic appeal and structural characteristics.

Yet, it’s also crucial to note that acetone’s solvent properties can pose risks. Many household items, particularly some plastic containers, can be irreparably damaged if they come into contact with acetone. Therefore, understanding the materials that are resistant and those that are susceptible to acetone is vital when handling this solvent.

Will Acetone Damage ABS Plastic?

Acetone, a potent and commonly used solvent, can indeed damage ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic. ABS is a thermoplastic polymer that’s frequently used in various applications, including plastic injection molding, 3D printing, and in the production of a variety of commercial products such as toys, kitchen appliances, and computer parts.

Acetone’s potential for damaging ABS plastic lies in its chemical structure and properties. As a solvent, acetone can break down or dissolve numerous types of plastics, ABS included. The reason is that acetone is a non-polar, organic solvent, which means it can effectively dissolve non-polar substances. Since many plastics, including ABS, are non-polar, acetone can interact with them, break the bonds between the polymer chains, and thus cause the plastic to dissolve or soften.

When ABS plastic is exposed to acetone, the acetone molecules penetrate the plastic, breaking down the polymer chains that make up the ABS material. This can cause a number of harmful effects:

  1. Surface deformation: The surface of the ABS plastic can soften, distort, and lose its structural integrity. This can result in a visibly warped or melted appearance.
  2. Discoloration: Acetone can also cause ABS plastic to discolor, especially if the plastic was dyed or colored. The solvent can remove the dye or color from the plastic, leading to a faded or uneven appearance.
  3. Complete breakdown: In severe cases or prolonged exposure, acetone can cause ABS plastic to break down entirely. This can result in the plastic becoming brittle and losing its shape, strength, and functionality.

Therefore, if you need to clean or interact with ABS plastic, it’s advised to avoid using acetone or any other powerful organic solvents. Instead, use mild detergents or soaps with warm water. And as a general rule, always test any cleaning agent on a small, unnoticeable area of the material first to ensure it doesn’t cause any damage. Furthermore, when using chemicals around plastics, always use appropriate safety measures, including wearing gloves and protective eyewear, and work in a well-ventilated area.

What Container is Best for Storing Acetone? 

Acetone is a volatile, flammable and colorless liquid that is used in many industries as a solvent. It is important to store it properly to prevent accidents, such as fires or spills, and to ensure its quality and effectiveness.

Here are the key considerations when choosing a container for storing acetone:


The best materials for storing acetone are glass, metal, and certain types of plastic. Acetone is a strong solvent and can degrade or dissolve many materials, but it doesn’t react with these.

  • Glass: High-density borosilicate glass containers are often used. They are chemically resistant and can withstand the corrosive nature of acetone. Make sure to use a container with a tight-fitting, leak-proof lid.
  • Metal: Stainless steel or other corrosion-resistant metals can also be used. However, these containers may be more expensive.
  • Plastic: Not all plastics are suitable for storing acetone because it can dissolve some types. High-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), and Teflon (PTFE) are generally resistant to acetone and can be used.

Safety Features

It’s also critical that the container has a secure, tight-fitting cap to prevent leaks, as acetone is highly volatile and evaporates easily. The container should also be clearly labeled, and it’s a good idea to have a secondary containment system in case the primary container fails.

Storage Conditions

Regardless of the container, acetone should be stored in a well-ventilated area, away from heat sources, sparks, and open flames, as it’s extremely flammable. It should also be kept separate from oxidizing agents, as they can cause a chemical reaction.

Remember to check your local regulations or guidelines when storing chemicals such as acetone to ensure compliance with safety and environmental requirements.

Finally, always handle acetone with care. Even brief skin exposure can cause irritation, and it can be harmful or fatal if swallowed or inhaled. Always use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, eye protection, and, if necessary, a respirator.

How to Remove Acetone from Plastic

Acetone can sometimes cause damage to certain types of plastic, such as cracking, discoloration, or even melting. So, when it comes to removing acetone from plastic, speed is of the essence to minimize potential damage.

Here are some steps you could take:

  1. Identify the Plastic: There are many types of plastics, and acetone affects each differently. Some plastics, such as polystyrene and ABS (common in LEGO bricks and some consumer electronics), can dissolve or become damaged with acetone exposure. Others, like polypropylene and HDPE (often used in plastic bottles and containers), are resistant to acetone. Understanding your plastic type can help you predict and address the potential damage.
  2. Blot the Acetone: As soon as you notice the acetone spill, use a dry, absorbent cloth or paper towel to blot (not wipe or rub) the affected area. This will help to soak up as much of the acetone as possible, minimizing the amount that the plastic can absorb.
  3. Rinse with Water: Next, quickly rinse the plastic under a steady stream of room temperature or lukewarm water. This will help wash away any residual acetone. Be sure not to use hot water as it can increase the reactivity of the plastic and cause more damage.
  4. Wash with Mild Soap: After rinsing, apply a small amount of mild dish soap to a soft cloth or sponge. Gently scrub the area that came into contact with the acetone. The soap will help to neutralize and remove any remaining acetone residues.
  5. Second Rinse: Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the area with soap, rinse the plastic again under lukewarm water. This will wash away the soap and any leftover acetone.
  6. Dry the Plastic: After the second rinse, dry the plastic with a clean, dry towel. It’s essential to ensure that the plastic is completely dry to prevent any water spots or further damage.
  7. Assess the Damage: After you’ve finished cleaning the plastic, check for any signs of damage, such as a cloudy appearance, cracks, warping, or discoloration. If you notice these signs, the plastic has been damaged by the acetone, and it may not be possible to fully restore it.

Please note that these steps may not entirely prevent damage if the plastic is particularly sensitive to acetone or if it was a large spill. As a result, it’s crucial to be careful when using acetone around plastic.

Does Acetone Discolor Plastic?

Yes, acetone can discolor certain types of plastic. The degree of discoloration or damage, however, depends on the type of plastic and the amount and duration of exposure to the acetone.

Polystyrene and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), for instance, can become discolored, warped, or even dissolve when exposed to acetone. This is because acetone acts as a solvent for these types of plastics, breaking down the plastic polymers and affecting their structural integrity.

Other plastics, such as polypropylene and HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), which are often used in plastic bottles and containers, are more resistant to acetone. These plastics are less likely to become discolored or damaged when exposed to acetone.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re unsure about the plastic’s reaction to acetone, it’s best to avoid contact or test the acetone on a small, inconspicuous area of the plastic first to see how it reacts.

Can I Pour Acetone Down the Drain?

No, it’s not recommended to pour acetone or any other solvent or harsh chemical down the drain. Acetone is a potent solvent that’s harmful to the environment and can cause damage to your plumbing system.

In most regions, it’s also against waste management regulations to dispose of acetone or similar chemicals in the household drain or in a regular trash bin.

Here’s how you can safely dispose of acetone:

  1. Allow it to evaporate: If you only have a small amount of acetone, you can leave it in an open container in a well-ventilated area away from any ignition sources. Acetone evaporates very quickly and doesn’t leave any harmful residues. However, do note that the fumes are highly flammable and can be harmful if inhaled in large quantities, so this method should only be used for small amounts of acetone.
  2. Use a hazardous waste facility: For larger amounts, you should dispose of acetone at a hazardous waste facility. These facilities are equipped to handle and process chemicals like acetone safely.
  3. Recycle if possible: Some places have recycling programs for hazardous materials. These programs may be able to recycle your used acetone.

Remember, safety should always be a priority when handling and disposing of chemicals like acetone. Always follow your local regulations and guidelines for hazardous waste disposal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does acetone melt all plastics?

No, it does not melt all plastics. However, acetone will melt some grades of plastic and leave others unaffected. Acetone affects plastics with similar or almost similar chemical makeup to acetone by either softening, smearing, dissolving, or acting on their surface. If a plastic significantly differs from acetone’s chemical makeup, it stands unaffected by acetone.

What plastic is OK for acetone?

If you are looking for a suitable plastic material to store or dispense acetone, Teflon plastic is your best bet. You can rely on it since it is capable of withstanding the corrosive effects of acetone.

You will not have to worry about leaks, softening, or dissolving of the Teflon plastic because it bears a different chemical structure to acetone, making it resistant.

The Bottom Line

The phrase “acetone melts plastic” is a simplification of the complex physical process that occurs when these two substances interact. In reality, acetone dissolves certain types of plastic. This reaction, while seemingly semantic in nature, provides us with fascinating insights into chemical interactions and material properties.

It also underscores the importance of understanding the potential effects of various substances, including solvents like acetone, on the materials we interact with daily.

As with any chemical, it is imperative to handle acetone with care, considering its potential to degrade materials and its potential hazards to ensure its safe use.