Acetone is a pretty common household chemical. After a paint project, you might have some extra just lying around. If so, you might wonder how to dispose of acetone properly, ensuring this potentially dangerous chemical can’t cause harm.
The best way to dispose of acetone is to take it to a hazardous waste facility. However, if you only have a small amount or are dealing with an empty acetone container, some other options may also work.
If you’d like to learn more about how to dispose of acetone properly, here’s everything you need to know about acetone disposal.
What Is Acetone?
Acetone is a solvent that’s capable of breaking down certain materials. This clear, colorless liquid is commonly used as a paint remover and is a component of many nail polish removers. Acetone can also break down varnish and grease.
One benefit of acetone in that regard is that it evaporates quickly. That can make certain tasks easier to manage, as small amounts of acetone don’t typically require much active cleanup as long as it doesn’t hit a surface, it can harm.
Manufacturers use acetone to create a variety of products as well. It’s part of some plastic-making processes and is a component of certain lacquers, for example. You might also see acetone in products designed to remove gum or grease from textiles.
Is Acetone a Hazardous Material?
While acetone is technically a naturally occurring substance, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hazardous. Breathing or swallowing acetone can lead to several health issues, ranging from headaches, trouble breathing, and nausea to shifts in the size of blood cells, unconsciousness, and coma.
Acetone exposure or consumption can cause kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and infertility. Plus, in high enough quantities, acetone can be fatal. That’s why proper handling and storage are essential, along with correct disposal.
If not properly disposed of, acetone can make its way into groundwater and soil. When that occurs, acetone contamination of food and water sources may happen, causing people or animals to ingest dangerous amounts of the chemical.
How to Dispose of Acetone the Right Way
If you’re trying to figure out how to dispose of acetone the right way, the approach you use may depend on how much acetone you have on hand. However, regardless of the quantity, you want to take certain precautions along the way.
First, make sure you have proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, eye protection, and a breathing mask. Second, choose a work surface that acetone can’t damage, such as metal or non-porous tile.
Additionally, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area, as acetone fumes are potentially harmful. Then, use the strategy below that best fits your situation.
1. Small Amounts
If you only have around a teaspoon of acetone left, you can often dispose of it properly on your own. Here’s a quick way to speed up the process and ensure it’s done correctly.
If you’re only dealing with a small amount of acetone, you will want to have the right supplies on hand. Cotton balls and a metal container with a lid that fully seals are typically sufficient.
Apply Acetone to Cotton Balls
Once you have the supplies, apply small amounts of acetone to the cotton balls. You aren’t trying to soak through the cotton balls. Instead, it should simply make them slightly damp on one side, not unlike the amount of nail polish remover a person may use at a time.
Once the cotton ball is damp, set it in the metal can. Then, dampen another cotton ball until the remaining acetone is gone.
Let Excess Evaporate
After applying all of the acetone cotton balls, leave the metal can open for a few hours to allow the acetone to evaporate. For safety, you may want to take the can outside, as that prevents fumes from collecting indoors. However, if you have a large, well-ventilated space with proper exhaust capabilities, allowing it to evaporate indoors may be okay.
Throw Away Sealed Can
After allowing the excess acetone to evaporate, seal the metal can. Then, double bag it if possible before placing it into the garbage.
2. Larger Quantities
For anything more than a teaspoon or so of acetone, you’ll want to use a different disposal process. In the end, acetone is considered hazardous waste, so you’ll want to handle it accordingly.
Choose a Sturdy, Strong-Sealing Container
Your first step for properly disposing of larger quantities of acetone is to get a sturdy metal container that seals well. This makes transporting the acetone easier, reducing the odds of splashes or spills along the way.
Find a Hazardous Waste Center
Most cities and counties have a hazardous waste center that will accept acetone, particularly if the amount you have is for household and not commercial use. You can look up drop-off locations through your waste disposal company, state environmental or ecology department, or certain recycling databases.
Along with identifying a hazardous waste center, you’ll want to check the hours of operation. Most are only available during daytime hours, and some might accept drop-offs from households just on select days each week or month.
Bring the Sealed Container to the Facility
Once you find a hazardous waste center, simply bring the sealed container full of acetone to the facility during drop-off hours. In most areas, there isn’t a charge for this kind of waste disposal. However, if you’re concerned about a potential cost, you may want to contact the center in advance to confirm if there’s a fee.
3. Empty Acetone Containers
If you have a container that previously contained acetone, the disposal process is simpler than if you’re dealing with acetone itself. However, you still want to make sure it’s done correctly.
Air Dry the Container
While you might assume that you can simply toss out an empty acetone container, it’s far better to air dry it first. Acetone evaporates fairly quickly. By allowing the container to air out, you’re ensuring that any remaining acetone is gone before you throw it away.
Simply remove the container lid and place the container outside or in a well-ventilated room with proper exhaust capability. Let it sit for a few hours to ensure the job is complete.
Throw Out or Recycle the Container
After the container air dries and all of the acetone is gone, you can throw out or recycle the container. Which option you use may depend on the type of container involved. For recyclable materials, remove any stick-on labels and lids before placing them in the correct bin. For non-recyclable materials, bag the container and put it in the garbage.
Can I Pour Acetone Outside?
Pouring acetone outside is harmful, allowing hazardous waste to interact with the environment. It could potentially leach through the soil and get into groundwater. Then, it could make its way into a food source or the water supply.
Even small amounts of acetone generally shouldn’t be poured outside. The only exception is placing small quantities in a metal container outdoors to allow it to evaporate. The container prevents it from getting into the soil or water, ensuring it doesn’t endanger the environment.
Can You Pour Acetone Down the Drain?
Pouring acetone down the drain is a bad idea for several reasons. First, wastewater in cities typically goes through a water treatment facility. While these facilities remove certain wastes from the water, they don’t normally address chemicals like acetone.
Since the acetone isn’t removed from the water during treatment, it can ultimately make its way into the environment. Along with harming waterways, it could get into the local drinking water or food supply.
Second, acetone is flammable. While rare, acetone vapor built up in pipes can ignite, leading to a fire or an explosion.
Finally, acetone can damage PVC pipes. With enough exposure, the acetone could effectively eat through the plastic, creating a hole that would then leak drained water into or under your home.
Can You Flush Acetone Down the Toilet?
Just as you shouldn’t pour acetone down the drain, flushing it down the toilet also isn’t a wise move. It carries the same risks as those outlined above.
When you flush acetone down a toilet, it moves through your plumbing. If you have PVC piping, the acetone could eat through the material, creating a whole. Additionally, if the acetone vapor builds up and ignites, you could end up with a serious fire or explosion.
Additionally, acetone flushed down the toilet also heads to water treatment plants. Since the facility may not be able to remove the acetone, that potentially allows it to get into the environment, hurting water and food supplies.
Can You Leave Acetone to Evaporate?
Since acetone evaporates incredibly quickly, leaving it exposed to the air may seem like a great disposal method. However, the amount of acetone involved is a critical factor. Similarly, whether you can allow it to evaporate outdoors matters.
Ultimately, acetone fumes are potentially harmful. As a result, while acetone will evaporate indoors, if you don’t have proper ventilation and exhaust capabilities, the vapor build-up can be dangerous. This is particularly true since the vapor can also be flammable.
If you have less than a cup of acetone and have a suitable spot outdoors, you could potentially leave it to evaporate. Anything more than that, and bringing the remaining acetone to a hazardous waste facility is typically safer. That way, you know it’s handled correctly and won’t cause any harm to people or the environment.
Is Acetone Reusable?
In some cases, you can reuse acetone. However, if that’s something you’re aiming to do, you need to make sure to filter the acetone before storing it for later use. That allows you to get rid of any debris or grime, ensuring it doesn’t make its way onto your next project.
Whether getting rid of the debris and grime is possible may depend on your most recent acetone project. If that’s either overly cumbersome or impractical, then you may be better off disposing of the acetone and getting some more for your next project.
Additionally, if the acetone is used to remove nail polish or otherwise intentionally contacts a person, reusing acetone isn’t necessarily the most hygienic option. As a precaution, you might want to stick with fresh acetone.
Can I Put Acetone in a Plastic Container?
Whether you can put acetone in a plastic container depends on the plastic involved. Acetone does have the ability to essentially eat through certain plastics. However, it won’t necessarily damage others.
For example, acetone won’t typically harm FEP, PFA, polypropylene, or TFE plastics. However, it can damage PVC with surprising speed.
Generally, any plastic container that acetone is sold in is safe to use. Manufacturers choose plastic types that acetone can’t harm, ensuring the product can remain safe in transit and on shelves even if it takes time to sell.
If you aren’t sure which plastic a container is made from, then it’s best to assume that the acetone could break it down. Then, go with an acetone-safe material instead, like metal or untreated glass. That ensures you don’t end up with a surprise hole that allows the acetone to leak out, as you’re essentially exercising caution regarding your storage options.
Can You Recycle Acetone?
Acetone is technically recyclable, though not all areas have the required capabilities. Fortunately, if they are available, they’re usually handled through local hazardous waste facilities.
As a result, you can simply use the same drop-off process as you would for acetone disposal. Once the facility has the material, they’ll either recycle it or dispose of it, depending on what it can do.
Safety Precautions for Acetone Disposal
As a hazardous material, you want to make sure that you handle any acetone disposal safely. As mentioned previously, that usually starts with PPE, including gloves, breathing masks, and eye protection.
Additionally, you need to make sure that you’re working in a well-ventilated area. If you’re indoors, having exhaust capabilities is usually wise, especially if you’re dealing with large quantities of acetone over an extended period.
Also, choose a work surface that the acetone can’t harm. Usually, that means avoiding wood – including painted, stained, or sealed – along with stone and porous tile.
Metal is ideal, though you can also try non-porous tile or untreated glass. If you aren’t sure whether the acetone would damage a material, you could consider placing a small drop in an inconspicuous place.
Further, make sure the acetone isn’t near high heat or an open flame. Acetone and vapor it creates are highly flammable, so you need to make sure you avoid any situation that could lead to ignition.
Finally, if you inhale or swallow a significant amount of acetone, get immediate medical attention. Acetone can harm adults, children, and pets, so quick care may be necessary to avoid catastrophic health conditions.
The Best Way to Dispose of Acetone
While you can technically dispose of acetone on your own if you only have a small amount, the best way to dispose of acetone is to head to a hazardous waste facility. That ensures it’s handled correctly and that people, pets, or the environment aren’t harmed along the way.
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