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Why is Acetone a Good Solvent? - Properties & Explanation

Instructor: Alison Gu
From nail polish remover to a science laboratory, acetone is a widely used chemical. Have you ever wondered why this is so? Continue reading to learn about acetone and the properties that make it a great solvent.

Acetone

In nail salons a common product is always used - nail polish remover. Did you know one of the primary chemicals used to make this product is acetone? In fact, you can thank acetone for giving nail polish remover its distinctive smell. Outside of the nail salon, another place you can find acetone is in a science laboratory. One part of laboratory safety is keeping glassware and other containers clean. After washing the unclean laboratory containers with soap and water, acetone is used. Here are a few reasons why acetone is used during the cleaning process:

  • It's miscible with water because, as the word suggests, it mixes very well or in all proportions with water. This comes in handy when there are chemicals that water can't dissolve. In this case, the use of acetone after water will help wash off these chemicals to fully clean the container. This property also helps remove water from the container to help it dry faster.

  • Acetone is a very good solvent. A solvent refers to the ability of a compound to dissolve other substances. It's also a cost-effective solvent that can be purchased in bulk and used in large quantities.

Miscibility and solvency are just some of the physical properties for acetone. For any chemical application, it's important to think about the properties of a chemical when understanding why it's used for different purposes.

Acetone is a Good Solvent

You already know that acetone is a good solvent. This explains why it's used for different purposes. You also know that solvency is a physical property of acetone. But, what exactly about the chemistry of acetone makes it a good solvent? In order to understand this, we need to explore the polarity of acetone.

Consider the chemical structure of acetone. It contains two methyl groups (CH3), which are located on each side of a carbonyl group (C=O). Both methyl groups are non-polar in nature, but the carbonyl group is polar. These groups of methyl and carbonyl both contribute to the overall polarity of acetone.


Molecular Structure of Acetone
acetone structure


Whenever you see the term solvent, think of the phrase, ''like dissolves like.'' In the case of acetone, it's slightly more polar than water. Water is also a polar solvent. Thus, if we apply the concept of ''like dissolves like,'' it makes perfect sense why acetone and water enjoy hanging out together in solution or are miscible. But why would acetone also be able to wash away organic compounds in our unclean laboratory containers?

This cleaning property can be traced back to the structure of acetone. Because acetone contains non-polar methyl groups, it has the ability to interact with non-polar substances such as certain organic compounds; but because it has a polar carbonyl group, it works well with water, too. That is, the oxygen in the carbonyl group is more electronegative than the carbon. Electronegativity is a chemical property that describes how strongly an atom will pull electrons towards itself. This difference in electronegativity creates a polar bond. So, when the carbonyl group comes into contact with water, they are miscible in solution.


Identification of Polar Groups in Acetone
acetone polarity


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