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The Mysterious Case of the Melted Bottle

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In packing for my summer job as RA at a young writer’s camp (yes, I have been put in charge of people’s precious children) I transfered what was left of my nail polish remover into a smaller bottle. It was a spur of the moment decision that pretty much consisted of my finding one of those 3 oz travel bottles at the instant that I was debating whether or not I had room for nail polish remover.

It was so spur of the moment that I forgot all the chemistry I know and just poured a “volatile” chemical into a cheap plastic bottle.

This happened:

Pretty cool, right?

This remover was, of course, pretty much pure acetone. I don’t mess around with my nail polish, as you can probably tell from the delightful manicure I’m sporting in the photo above. The “gentler” and “safer” non-acetone removers are made from Ethyl acetate, which wouldn’t have melted through the plastic.

Acetone, however, can melt through both Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and Polystyrene (PS). The former is what legos are made of, and the latter can take forms like styrofoam or CD cases…or in this case cheap plastic bottles from Target.

If I wasn’t staying in a dorm right now, I would have loved to watch the chemical reaction continue over the course of a couple of days. I’m not sure if, given enough time, the acetone would have completely disolved the bottle. Does anybody have any materials science knowledge to share?

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About Rachel

Rachel Feltman is a 20 year old Simon's Rock alum and a grad student at NYU SHERP. She loves writing about science, and would one day like to be paid to do so. Please.

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