Making your home more more environmentally friendly -- or "greening" it -- is an ongoing process of selecting furnishings, decor and maintenance products with low or no toxicity. One chemical that can cause or contribute to serious long-term health problems -- and immediate minor or emergency reactions -- is acetone. It occurs naturally in the environment but is also a manufactured component used in paints, finishes and furniture. Know your acetone -- and its alternatives -- when selecting decor and other household products for your home.
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Where You'll Find It
You can find acetone hidden as a component of plastics, smell it as an active ingredient in paints, adhesives and common cleaners, and apply it directly to your body in a manicure. Acetone might be labelled dimethyl ketone, 2-propanone or beta ketopropane. Nail polish remover labels clearly state if acetone is the main ingredient, but it's also used in lacquer, varnish, liquid and paste waxes, paint remover, polishes, particleboard and some upholstery fabrics. No-VOC paints contain zero amounts of volatile organic compounds, such as acetone, that emit toxic gases into the environment, that is, your freshly painted room. Choose non-VOC paint for indoor decorating, especially in children's rooms and nurseries -- and ideally, throughout your house. And check the labels to be sure the "green" paint you're purchasing is really acetone-free.
Why You Should Care
Excess acetone -- more than the amount that occurs naturally in the environment or is produced by your own metabolism -- can enter your body through the air you breathe or the products you touch. Acetone fumes go immediately into your bloodstream; absorption through the skin is rapid but not instantaneous. Moderate- to high-level airborne exposure can cause headaches, dizziness and confusion, nausea, faster pulse rate, irritation to your eyes, nose, lungs and throat, and shortness of breath. Acetone contributes to low blood pressure, bronchial problems and breathing difficulties, abdominal pain and abbreviated menstrual cycles, according to the National Institutes of Health. High-level exposure, at its most toxic, can cause severe respiratory distress, kidney damage, seizures, unconsciousness, coma and even death.
In addition to choosing no-VOC paints and finishes, make no-acetone furniture polish from 1 cup of walnut, almond or olive oil and 1/2 cup of vinegar. Select fragrance- and acetone-free natural dishwashing liquids -- read the label first to be sure there is no acetone. Try vinegar and water with a tablespoon of liquid castile soap to remove carpet stains, and 1/4 cup of castile soap diluted with 3 tablespoons of water to clean upholstery. Make a mix of 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 cup of white vinegar and a gallon of warm water to clean windows and mirrors. Choose furniture made from wood rather than particleboard. Pick green solvents, without highly flammable acetone to strip surfaces in preparation for refinishing, and to remove paint, graffiti and adhesives.
Prevention and Precautions
Buy decor, furnishings and household and personal care products that do not contain, acetone but, if you do use a product made with acetone, buy only as much as you need for that application and dispose of any leftovers immediately and responsibly. Store anything with acetone in it in an airtight container. Avoid particleboard and other permanent or long-term decor additions -- cupboards, bed frames, living and dining room furniture, carpets -- made with acetone. Air out all new decor additions anyway, to disperse any off-gassing airborne toxins they may emit. If you encounter a medical emergency from inhalation or ingestion of acetone, seek immediate medical attention through your local EMS or the poison control hotline.
- NIH Tox Town: Acetone
- The New York Times: Acetone Poisoning
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Acetone
- Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia: Guide to Less Toxic Products
- The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Safer Alternatives
- Minnesota Department of Health: Volatile Organic Compounds in Your Home
- Sunset Magazine: Fume-Free Paints