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I have seen videos and discussions about alcohol cracking acrylic, and waterblock manufacturers reminding users to not use alcohol in cooling systems with plexiglass acrylic, but why is this so?

The question proposed as duplicate only asked for the effect, but here I already know the effect. I am asking for the reason for the effect, which is not answered in the answer to the 'duplicate' question.

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  • $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of Ethyl alcohols use on polycarbonate and acrylics $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Apr 9 '15 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this is a duplicate. The other question didn't ask about mechanism. There was no "why" component in the earlier question but there is here. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Apr 9 '15 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Mithoron for finding a related question. Thanks Curt for helping me to explain. Yup I am asking for why it happens, not what will happen when alcohol is applied to plexi. $\endgroup$ – dennis97519 Apr 10 '15 at 10:55
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According to chemical resistance of plexiglass acrylic alcohol is not as aggressive as you mention with plexiglass acrylic. But, we have to signal that acrylics is a big family of polymers (thermoplastics or thermosets) derived from acrylic acid, methacrylic acid or other related compounds. Plexiglass is only a member of this family.

Any way, in response to your question why alcohol might cause severe crazing and cracking? It's simply because alcohol, as a good solvent, has the ability to attack the surface of acrylics and dissolve the polymer chains.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, acrylics are a wide family, but the second part of this explanation is so oversimplified it become plainly wrong. $\endgroup$ – Karl Mar 1 '17 at 7:14
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If a solvent causes an amorphous polymer to craze, this is because the polymer is principally soluble in it. It diffuses into the surface, but without instantly dissolving it, as the polymer chains are still stuck in the glassy network of the substrate. The polymer swells (like a fruit gum in water), but the volume increase can only happen perpendicular to the surface.

The polymer chains thereby end up oriented towards the surface, weakening the structure. When the solvent dries off again, the chains adhere to each other again, but cannot reentangle in time. The surface has become thicker now, but as it is still the same amount of polymer, the additional volume is made up by the cracks and crazes appearing in it.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe the name for this phenomenon is environmental stress cracking. We blew more than one acrylic apparatus (thankfully not terribly expensive!) by cleaning with ethanol before we realized what was going on. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Dec 18 '15 at 12:17

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