Does polyethylene (PE), widely used for wash/squirt bottles in labs, contain soluble compounds such as plasticizers that can accumulate in organic solvents (e.g. alcohols, acetone) after prolonged storage? I noticed an odd, "plasticky" smell from old propanol/ethanol from such bottles and the bottles, once emptied, also give off a similar smell. This smell is not present in fresh, analytical grade solvents or new, unused bottles.

Can plastic bottles be a source of e.g. bisphenol A and get absorbed by the skin, when applying alcoholic hand rub from such bottles?

It has been shown that plastic labware can contaminate their content with various autofluorescing compounds.

PS.: I have the exact model, but I'm not sure if one is allowed to post links to specific products/manufacturers here...


1 Answer 1


Polyethylene (polythene, to some) may have plasticizers, such as adipates, terephthalates, or phthalates, but they are not inherently needed in all cases. Hopefully, the supplier of those alcohols does not bottle them in cntainers with plasticizers, but a wash bottle, purchased separately, might very well have them added to the plastic, particularly because a squeeze bottle must be very flexible.

It is also possible that the polymer itself degraded over time, and with exposure to light, yielding ethylene monomer and other scission products. Compare the odor of the alcohol with that of ethylene, a faint sweet and musky odor (or "odour" if it's ethene).

As to which plasticizer is used, if any, you'd need to consult the bottle manufacturer. You could substitute a glass wash bottle, e.g. a gas wash bottle with aspirator tube, or a PTFE pipette pump, if you're concerned about contamination, e.g. because your measuring phthalates.

However, if your concerned about personal health, this is not the correct forum.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Yes, "sweet" and "musky" is a very good description of the smell, even somewhat rancid. And yes, the health question is definitely of interest, although it's "downstream" of the above chemical question (no impurities, no harm). For analysis, glassware is definitely the way to go, but the PE wash bottles are frequently used for washing/rinsing (even for sanitizing hands against SARS-CoV2) $\endgroup$
    – david
    Jul 22, 2020 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, most "squirt" bottles of ethanol-based hand sanitizer I've seen are polyethylene terephthalate, "PETE" or "PET". Whether that sheds phthalates into the cleaner is a good question... you might test for that, and publish your findings, if you have the facility to do so. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2020 at 21:39

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