Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

November, 2001

Is Acetone Toxic?

Q. A customer of mine, manufacturing mild steel nails, ask me to sustitute its acetone-based solvent and lubricant paint used by immersion at room temperature in order to prevent nails from folding. As he doesn't have any aspiration system for the solvent, I'm looking for a very fast evaporating solvent not so toxic like acetone. Thanks.

A. Thank you for your email. Your terminology is slightly different from mine, and so let me clarify what I think you are saying: You are supplying your customer with a dip coating that uses acetone as one of its solvents. Your customer doesn't have a good air ventilation system to take the solvents away from the dip tank and he is concerned about toxicity. Is this the case? Is he worried about the HEALTH EFFECTS of acetone, or is he worried about the SAFETY problems associated with acetone, such as flammability?

If he is worried about toxicity, namely the health effects, then I must tell you that despite the strong smell of acetone and it fast evaporation rate, acetone is surprisingly not toxic. The US Environmental Protection Agency has specifically listed acetone as one of the few solvents that is not listed as a Hazardous Air Pollutant and does not cause cancer, or other very serious illnesses. Regardless, I would not want to work in a factory that has high concentrations of acetone.

If your customer is concerned about the safety aspects of acetone, then the fear is legitimate. High concentrations of acetone can cause fires if the acetone vapor is subjected to a spark or flame.

Have you considered converting your customer from a solvent-based coating to a waterborne coating? I know that in the US there are many companies that are using waterborne dip coatings that are fast drying. If the waterborne coating doesn't dry quite as fast as the solvent-based coating, then consider putting large fans on the factory floor to blow the water out of the coating. Alternatively, your customer might consider installing a small oven to speed up the drying.

I hope this advice is helpful.

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