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Dr Chemical looks at three super solvents for cleaning around the house

In my last column I discussed how the hardware store is a source of useful chemicals for cleaning around the home, focusing on caustic soda. Today I will look at three very useful solvents - metho, white spirit and acetone.


Metho is essentially ethanol with a bittering agent added to make it undrinkable. In years gone by this additive was methanol - hence the name methylated spirits.

Unfortunately, this did not stop people drinking it, despite the taste, so it was replaced with something far more effective.

Metho is an excellent general- purpose cleaner for the kitchen, bathroom, and other hard surfaces.

A great option is to make it up as a 70 per cent solution and put it in a spray bottle. At this specific concentration it is an excellent disinfectant, and in fact is often used in hospitals for this task (usually thickened as a gel). You can use it with liberal abandon on anything, including your hands, as it is not a strong enough chemical to damage anything. And after a while you get used to the characteristic smell, and associate it with "clean".


White spirit was first developed as a drycleaning chemical and, unlike metho (and acetone), it is actually a blend of 20 or 30 different chemicals.

These chemicals are all hydrocarbons of some sort, and this makes it useful for anything oil or grease-based.

In particular, it is an excellent chemical for removing ink. It is not strong enough to cause damage, and so can be used to remove greasy marks or ink stains off leather furniture, for example.

The only downside is that the odour will linger afterwards for some time. It is, however, easily removed with Mr Sheen, as white spirit is the active cleaning ingredient in Mr Sheen.

For a garment with heavy oil stains, nothing will work better than white spirit - dip the relevant part of the garment in a cupful several times until the oil dissolves, then hang on the line and allow the white spirit to evaporate (which may take a day or two).


Acetone is a very simple chemical that has the rare property of being able to dissolve in both oil and water. As a consequence it is extremely versatile.

It is excellent for removing old stickers, or residues of packing tape from furniture. It also does a very good job on grass stains - just dip the relevant part of the garment several times then allow to dry (it will dry much quicker than white spirit). Care must be exercised with this chemical, however, as it will damage some plastics and painted surfaces - always check on an inconspicuous part first.

When used on leather it will dull the surface by stripping the natural oils, but these are easily replaced with neatsfoot oil (or equivalent).

The West Australian

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