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What Is Methyl Isobutyl Ketone?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Methyl isobutyl ketone is a solvent chemical. It is found mostly in gums, resins, and coatings like paint. Other uses include the manufacture of methyl amyl alcohol and in pharmaceutical industrial extraction processes. The substance can cause adverse health effects in high concentrations or over a long period of time, although it is present naturally in some foods.

The chemical formula for methyl isobutyl ketone is C6H12O, which means that each molecule of the substance contains six carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom. It is also known by several other names, such as isopropyl-acetone, hexone, and the acronym MIBK. At atmospheric pressure, the chemical is a colorless liquid that smells sweet and faintly like mothballs.

Food naturally contains some methyl isobutyl ketone, according to the International Program on Chemical Safety. Dairy products, fruit, and coffee are some examples. As well as being naturally present in foods, countries such as the United States allow the use of methyl isobutyl ketone to flavor food and as a component of food packaging.

Production of methyl isobutyl ketone uses acetone as a raw material, a substance which also is made up of only carbons, hydrogens, and a single oxygen. Primarily, the chemical is a solvent, which means that other chemicals dissolve in it. This characteristic means the chemical is a useful ingredient in paints, lacquers, and resins. Some spray paints used for cars may also contain it. The substance's properties also make it suitable for processes that involve extracting other substances and in the manufacture and alteration of certain alcohols.

Industrial workers may be exposed to the chemical during production, and the general public generally comes into contact with it through touching the manufactured products or breathing it in. At high enough concentrations, methyl isobutyl ketone can pose health risks to humans from sources such as water or air contamination through factory emissions. Potential health risks for workers who have been chronically exposed to the chemical include nausea, insomnia, and slight enlargement of the liver.

Acute exposures can cause the eyes to become irritated and may even affect the nervous system's capability to coordinate movement of the body. Tests on animals have shown that methyl isobutyl ketone is more toxic when ingested than when breathed in. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is not yet known whether the chemical is carcinogenic or toxic to pregnant women or their babies.

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Discussion Comments
By BambooForest — On Dec 07, 2011

I have a friend who is really paranoid about chemicals and keeps almost none in her house. She doesn't trust labels, and says even non-acetone and other "safe" chemicals are bad for us. Sometimes I think she's crazy, but she is also in really good health, so I also think she might be on to something, too.

By afterall — On Dec 06, 2011

@hyrax53- It is pretty easy to find substitutions these days, too. Things like nail polish remover and other chemicals come in non-acetone and more "natural" versions. I worry that these have harmful ingredients too, but I still try to buy them when I can. At least acetone and its hazards are somewhat understood, and I will avoid other ingredients when people know that they are dangerous.

By hyrax53 — On Dec 05, 2011

While it may not be proven to be carcinogenic, I have had a few doctors tell me to avoid things with acetone or acetone by products like this in them. I'm happy to try to do so, since I hate the way things with acetone and other chemicals like this smell.

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