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Acetone is a very well-studied substance. It was first distilled from lead acetate hundreds of years ago by alchemists. Known as the “spirit of Saturn” because lead was considered to be the metal of Saturn, acetone has long been a staple of the chemist’s toolkit. In the 1800s acetone’s structure was deciphered, which also led chemists to discover that it could be derived from acetic acid by adding a ketone functional group. Since most substances with ketone functional groups have an “-one” suffix, the name “acetone” was thereby coined. These days, acetone is a commonly found chemical and is one of the main VOC sources in the modern home. Read on and find out how Molekule can deal with acetone in your home and whether or not acetone can impact your indoor air quality.

Acetone basics

Acetone is a very common substance in the body and a byproduct of normal metabolism of fats. The currently popular ketogenic diet gets its name from the ketones that are produced when the body uses fat as a source of energy. When you are on a ketogenic diet, your body goes into “ketosis” whereby the liver converts fat into ketones, including acetone, and releases them into the blood. The ketones are then converted into energy by cells that need it. Acetone and other ketones offer a more steady source of energy than sugar, and as a result the diet is thought to prevent the “sugar crash” known from consuming large meals of carbohydrates. It is also thought to stabilize the sensitive neurons of people with epilepsy, conferring some relief from seizures.

Compared to other industrial solvents, acetone is relatively less toxic. The biggest danger from storing acetone in your home is its flammability because acetone is heavier than air and can concentrate in low areas. A spark would be required for it to explode, however, as lower levels of heat like smoldering coals do not ignite acetone.

Acetone can still be dangerous, nevertheless. Inhalation of high concentrations depresses the central nervous system causing lightheadedness, loss of balance, fatigue, nausea and other similar symptoms. Fortunately these effects reverse once exposure is eliminated and there is no known long-lasting toxic damage. In fact, acetone is not known to be carcinogenic or to cause any lasting health effects, so it is not regulated by the EPA as a toxic volatile organic compound (VOC). However, it is known to be irritating to the skin and eyes, and can cause a rash in a few individuals, but it is still generally recognized as safe by regulatory agencies. In very high concentrations, the central nervous system can be depressed to the point of death, but such high levels are really only encountered in industrial settings.

Molekule and acetone

Just as it removes more toxic chemicals from the air, Molekule can also destroy acetone vapor through its PECO technology, which stands for Photo Electrochemical Oxidation. Polluted air is blown through the PECO-filter, which is coated with a proprietary nanocatalyst capable of mediating a chemical reaction that converts organic substances like acetone into trace amounts of carbon dioxide. The process of acetone oxidation has been studied with other photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) air purifiers, but the process is known to yield small amounts of carbon dioxide.

Conversely, PECO, which is more efficient than PCO, was tested at the University of Minnesota Particle Calibration Laboratory on whether or not it generated secondary pollutants. It was shown in this test that PECO technology reduces acetone concentrations in the air without producing ozone or secondary oxidation products. In a comparison with carbon filters during the same testing, it was clear that acetone merely sticks to carbon filters temporarily, and is then slowly rereleased over time while acetone processed by the PECO-Filter ceased to be detectable.

Acetone in your home and other indoor space

Acetone is very common in the home, you probably have several products that utilize its properties as a solvent. Solvents are great for dissolving useful materials so they can be applied or removed. Acetone is often used as a nail polish remover, superglue remover and also as an indirect food additive. Outside the home, it is used to clean glassware in laboratories and some dermatologists use an acetone solution for chemical peels. Acetone is also extensively used as a chemical reactant in chemistry labs, and is able to form a wide variety of compounds under the right conditions.

Acetone is relatively harmless to the environment, as UV light from the sun destroys it in a few weeks and it can be consumed by microorganisms in soil. But this is not to say that it is safe to dump it on the ground—at very high concentrations acetone can still kill living things. If introduced into waterways, bacterial consumption of acetone can also cause dangerous changes in water chemistry, so while is not the most dangerous pollutant, acetone is still a pollutant.

To learn more about acetone and VOCs in your home that may be toxic, check out our blogs on the how VOCs affect your children, how Molekule destroys VOCs, or the best air purifiers for VOCs.

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