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I have a summer job as a custodian and one cleaner I use is called Goof Off, which is pretty much just acetone. Another is a disinfectant which is mostly water.

Why is it that whenever I put the acetone on my rag, it is always colder than when I use another cleaner or plain water?

The acetone also seems to stay cold longer than water does. Both cleaners are left in the open so they are both the same temperature.

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    $\begingroup$ Acetone is significantly more volatile than water. When you pour it onto a rag, it begins evaporating, taking some of the heat with it as it does so hence why it appears slightly cool $\endgroup$
    – NotEvans.
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Evaporative cooling is also the exact purpose of sweating. Too bad we don't sweat acetone, would be handy on a hot day (although we'd probably be re-painting a lot of things...) $\endgroup$
    – Jason C
    Jul 27, 2016 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Goof-off superglue remover is acetone. Their other adhesive remover is ethylene glycol; basically antifreeze. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2016 at 6:38

1 Answer 1

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Evaporation is an endothermic phenomenon, i.e. it absorbs heat in order to proceed. Acetone is a volatile solvent (it evaporates easily) so it absorbs much heat when evaporating, and your skin gets colder because of that. That is what you are feeling. So acetone is not "colder", it just cools down your skin more easily when evaporating.

Ether (aka diethyl ether) is even more powerful at this.


On another note, while acetone is a pretty safe solvent, it can damage your skin because it can take away skin's lipids and you get "dry hands". In France, your employer would be forced to provide you with protecting gloves, e.g. latex gloves.

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    $\begingroup$ On a Good News™ note: Acetone isn't so bad, compared to some cleaning solvents in active use. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2016 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ (With suitable fire precautions and ventilation) dip a thermometer wrapped in a rag into some room temperature acetone. I bet you will see the temperature drop as the acetone starts to evaporate. So while SteffX is correct that the cold feeling on your skin is because heat is drawn quickly from your skin, the acetone is actually colder. highschoolenergy.acs.org/content/hsef/en/how-can-energy-change/… $\endgroup$
    – dcorking
    Jul 28, 2016 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Crowley Yes, the answer is great, because the lower temperature, and the sensation of cold skin, are both caused by evaporation. My only concern is with this sentence, 'So acetone is not "colder", it just cools down your skin more easily when evaporating,' which is not precisely correct. $\endgroup$
    – dcorking
    Jul 28, 2016 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think that it was meant that "if you pour your hand with water and acetone both with same temperatures, the acetone will cool your hand faster (easier)". Nevertheless, the sentence is not written well. $\endgroup$
    – Crowley
    Jul 28, 2016 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Martigan exactly: any liquid that is adiabatically evaporating will get colder. $\endgroup$
    – dcorking
    Jul 28, 2016 at 15:25

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