Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In My Hobby Box: Nail Polish Remover

Nail polish remover came up recently in my twitter feed, and it got me thinking about all the non-hobby items that get used for hobby related reasons. Probably the most helpful of these non0hobby items is nail polish remover. That's because nail polish remover (acetone) is the mortal enemy of super glue (cyanoacrylate). They get along about as well as Russ and Magnus.

It looks more like Russ than Magnus to me.
I really love this bit of chemistry because it means that you don't have to suffer with glue all over your fingers or accidentally peeling off your skin while trying to remove it. I only use cyanoacrylate glue because it works on everything- metals, plastics, resins, your fingers- it doesn't care. But having glue on my fingers just drives me mad, so I don't put up with it. Get a cotton ball, put a little acetone on it and press it against the dried glue for 15-30 seconds.

It will peel off much more easily and painlessly than before- and it won't take your skin with it. Even though acetone leaves your skin intact, it isn't super nice to skin, so make sure you wash your hands with a little soap afterwards. If it's a really big area of glue (which has happened, as I'm the clumsiest hobbyist ever), I'll also put some lotion on afterwards because acetone dries skin out pretty aggressively.

Two things to bear in mind: First, this only works with cyanoacrylate glue, it probably won't help you with epoxies, cements, plastic glues, or any other adhesives you might be using. They're not mortal enemies of acetone. Second, make sure your nail polish remover actually has acetone in it. A lot of nail polish removers have non-acetone versions because fake nails are really popular but are made of plastic and glue which acetone dissolves. Read the labels carefully, non-acetone nail polish remover will not help.

Alternatively, if you don't have any nail polish remover lying around, you could also go to the hardware store and pick up a container of straight acetone (nail polish removers have a few additives like dyes but nothing that alters the effectiveness). You'll find it with the paint thinners and it'll cost a little more, but it does come in a cool metal jug (or at least it used to).

In addition to cleaning off your hands, you can use it to get the glue off your clothes and lots of other things, but beware. It's great for getting glue off natural fibers, but acetone will eat some synthetic fibers so don't go pouring it on your favorite shirt without checking the label. You can also use it on your tables, tools, etc, but there's a danger of discoloration.

Test a small, hidden area first- especially if it's a dark surface. Don't just put some on your great-grandmother's antique coffee table and hope for the best. You'll probably end up with a white spot where the acetone reacted- it likes to eat varnish. So don't use it on a varnished surface. Remember, this stuff is in the paint thinner aisle for a reason!

I have successfully gotten glue off several surfaces using acetone, but please do be cautious. Wash your hands afterwards and test items inconspicuously before going all out. A spot of dried glue is certainly preferable to a large white splotch in the middle of your table.

I hope this helps you avoid gluey fingers in the future. Happy hobbying!


  1. I had totally forgotten this little bit of chemistry. Used to use it all the time when I was a lad. Cheers for the reminder!

  2. Happy to help- no one should suffer from glue fingers.


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