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What is Acetone?

Acetone is a clear, highly flammable liquid. It occurs naturally in plants, trees, volcanic gases, and forest fires. It is also found in vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, and landfill sites.

Acetone is used as a solvent to dissolve other substances such as paint and varnish. It is used to make other chemicals, plastics, and consumer products.

See also: Construction Factories Hair and Nail Salons Homes Asthma and other Lung Diseases

Where is Acetone found?

  • Consumer products - fingernail polish remover, paint remover, cleaning products, and rubber cement
  • Air - vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, and landfill emissions
  • Natural environment - occurs naturally in plants, trees, volcanic gases, and forest fires

How can I be exposed to Acetone?

Acetone commonly enter(s) the body through:


Ingestion (swallowing)

  • Drinking water or eating food that contains acetone

Inhalation (breathing)

  • Smoking cigarettes or breathing secondhand cigarette smoke; using paint remover or nail polish remover in poorly ventilated spaces

Skin contact

  • Touching liquid acetone or products that contain acetone, such as nail polish remover

What happens when I am exposed to Acetone?

Breathing moderate-to-high levels of acetone for short periods of time can cause:

  • Nose, throat, lung, and eye irritation
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Light-headedness and dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Effects on blood
  • Unconsciousness and possibly coma
  • Shortening of the menstrual cycle in women

Swallowing very high levels of acetone can result in:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Damage to the skin in the mouth

Skin contact can result in: 

  • Irritation
  • Damage to the skin

There are very few reports of long-term human effects. Animal studies have shown:

  • Kidney, liver, and nerve damage
  • Increased birth defects
  • Lowered ability to reproduce (males only)

Who is at risk for exposure to Acetone?

  • Consumers
    • Many consumer and cleaning products contain acetone.
  • Cigarette smokers
    • Cigarette smoke and secondhand cigarette smoke contain acetone.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to acetone, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke cigarettes?
  • How frequently do you use nail polish remover, household cleaners, paints, or rubber cement?
  • How frequently are you exposed to vehicle exhaust or gas stations?
  • Limit your time near idling cars, trucks, or buses.
  • Use an acetone-free nail polish remover.
  • Avoid solvents and other products that contain acetone.
  • Use proper ventilation when you use acetone products.
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Don’t let children play near gas stations or idling cars.


National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • Acetone. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about acetone exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.

Science Classroom (Grades 6-8)

Enhance your education on toxic chemicals in our environment using lesson plans, games and activities, videos, informational websites, and more.

Improving Old MacDonald’s Farm Protecting streams from “fruited plains” [PDF 377.28 KB]
Environmental Protection Agency
An article aimed at middle school students that addresses how runoff from agricultural activities is a leading source of water pollution, and how to limit its harmful environmental impacts.
Water Purification by Evaporation and Condensation
Environmental Protection Agency
An activity that demonstrates how the water cycle helps purify water using evaporation and condensation.
Impact of Pollutants on Snow and Ice
A 27-minute video on the impact of pollutants on snow and ice from a public learning laboratory that promotes engagement with science and the natural world.
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