Acetone and Styrofoam Experiment

By Darci Pauser
Packing peanuts are non-biodegradable.

Styrofoam and acetone create an interesting reaction when combined-the Styrofoam seems to disappear inside the acetone. This disappearance is in fact a dissolving, and the Styrofoam molecules become interspersed in the acetone. This dissolving and the resultant solution shows potential for recycling technology.

Properties of Acetone

The organic compound (CH3)2CO, or acetone, is a translucent flammable liquid that exhibits a high degree of solvency. Many compounds are soluble when exposed to acetone. A Styrofoam and acetone experiment can determine if Styrofoam will dissolve when placed inside a container of acetone.

Properties of Styrofoam

Manufacturers create Styrofoam through the alteration of polystyrene. Polystyrene is composed of a long chain of styrene molecules. In its unaltered form, polystyrene is rigid and translucent. A blowing agent transforms molten polystyrene into Styrofoam through the construction of a porous cellular structure.

Sample Experiment

The reaction of Styrofoam and acetone leads to a variety of experiments and activities. For example, perform an experiment to find what volume of acetone will dissolve a small Styrofoam cup in one minute. Procure four Styrofoam cups of the same size and four glass, wide-mouthed containers of the same size. Pour varying amounts of acetone in each container: 25 ml, 20 ml, 15 ml and 10 ml. Stir with a glass stirring rod. The Styrofoam should dissolve inside the acetone at different rates.

Styrofoam Solubility

Upon pouring acetone on Styrofoam, the Styrofoam will dissolve. Styrofoam is soluble in acetone, but is not soluble in other liquids, such as water. This occurs because of the acetone's solvent properties. The Styrofoam's porous structure allows a large volume to dissolve readily in a relatively small amount of acetone.


When Styrofoam dissolves in acetone, it does not disappear. Rather, the polystyrene molecules are present in the acetone solution. The solubility of Styrofoam in acetone holds significance for recycling purposes. Extraction of polystyrene from the acetone solution allows the manufacture of new Styrofoam and prevents used Styrofoam from entering landfills.

About the Author

Darci Pauser began writing in 2001. Her work has been featured in publications such as the "UC Berkeley Undergraduate Journal," Indybay and the West Texas Weekly. Pauser holds a certificate in sustainable agriculture from California's Green String Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley.