Container Material for Solvents

What kind of plastic or metal containers are okay to use for storing and transporting olvents? April 4, 2011

Does anyone have a source for bottles we can use for acetone, lacquer thinner, and denatured alcohol? I was wondering what the bottle should be made of. Nalgene? Poly? I was hoping for what they sell at the lab stores, but I wanted to get the low down for durability. We have been using glue bottles but I noticed they're disintegrating.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor M:
The rule of thumb is to store in metal containers due to these chemicals' combustible nature.

From contributor I:
Just like gasoline? I have been storing denatured alcohol, lacquer thinner and acetone in bottles marked with a 2 HDPE recycling symbol on the bottom for years and I have never had a bottle deteriorate.

From contributor L:
Check with your local chemical supplier for smaller storage containers - proper cans, bottles, etc. Also store all your flammable chemicals in a fireproof cabinet.

From contributor J:
I use ones from Sally's Beauty Supply. Storing acetone, lacquer thinner, MEK, machine oil, etc. without failure, yet. I get the softer, more pliable, plastic ones that are used for hair color. All I need now is some hair.

From contributor S:
From the "do not do this" department. Use the best containers you can get and label them properly. A dissolving bottle of lacquer thinner or whatever can really make a mess on a customer's new floor or the inside of your truck.

I recently left my shop in a rush to get to a customer's house. I was out of the containers for my touchup paint, so I grabbed a plastic water bottle and poured it about half full of latex waterborne enamel. Several hours later, nearing completion of my install, being extremely hot and thirsty, I picked up my water bottle and took several gulps of pure white paint. Realizing what I had done, I then had to run to the stairway, navigate down the steps past two painters and ladders plus a trim carpenter and then make it through the house to an exit. Only then could I spit that awful mess out and wash my mouth. Believe me, you don't want to make that mistake, ever.

From contributor R:
However you buy your thinner, 55 gallon drums or 5 gallon cans, I like to have a properly labeled can especially on a job site. You can buy empty metal oblong cans but these days it is far better to have cans that are properly marked with all warnings visible. (I will buy a one gallon can and refill as needed.) On the job site I also carry a notebook with all MSDS sheets for all of the products I am using. For alcohol based dye stains in the shop I will use venting wash bottles to make it easier to weigh my formulas on the gram scale.

From contributor T:
Is Nalgene a material type or a brand? You might want to check They have all kinds of bottles including some pre-printed with the contents you're talking about. Plus they know which type will handle which chemical.

From contributor W:
For small amounts, the touch-up people Mohawk sell an 8 oz poly with a twist lock, #M983 1004. These are very quick and easy to use. Never a problem degrading with chemicals. You just can't tell if they are open or shut by looking at them. Label the contents on tape and you're set.

From contributor D:
I've been storing mineral spirits and denatured alcohol in the squirt bottles you can get from Woodcraft or Rockler for several years and have never had a problem. They are marked with permanent black marker as to what is in the container. Lacquer is stored in the original container or a glass jar with a label as to what it is.

I tend to recycle my solvents through 3 different glass jars. The first jar gets the recently used stuff. After a few days letting ickies settle to the bottom, I will pour what's left of the liquid into a second jar through a filter. After a few days in that jar and more settling of ickies, I pour it into the third jar through another filter and the third jar as really clean solvent ready for use in cleaning spray guns, etc. I will clean the first two jars of the icky stuff and put any ickies into my 5 gallon metal solvent storage container outside. From here it goes to the local county hazmat disposal facility.

From contributor O:
I have to defer to my insurance guy. He inspected and made it clear plastic is not a safe solvent dispenser. Should a flash fire occur, the container will melt, and all hell breaks loose.

From contributor I:
My niece reminded me this evening that acetone based nail polish remover is sold in plastic bottles, so I checked it out. It was a HDPE plastic bottle with the 2 recycling symbol on the bottom.

From contributor G:
"I have to defer to my insurance guy. He inspected and made it clear plastic is not a safe solvent dispenser. Should a flash fire occur, the container will melt, and all hell breaks loose."

I hope he knows more about insurance than he does about physics. Just as you can boil water in a folded paper container over an open flame because the heat is carried away by the water, the contents of a plastic container will absorb the heat of a fire until the contents boil. The vapor pressure ruptures the walls and that's when all hell breaks loose. This temperature will be well below the melting point of the plastic and, by this point, it won't matter if the container is plastic or metal. There are lots of plastic solvent containers available.

From contributor O:
So you are saying plastic solvent bottles are no different than metal cans in the event of a fire?

From contributor G:

Pretty much, at least as far as destructive testing by fire. Class 3 Flammable material can be shipped in plastic 5ers and drums and some solvent-based dye concentrates can eat through metal containers. I've seen fiery 45 gallon drums of solvent blown 50 ft in the air and exploding during a recycle refinery fire in Calgary. It wasn't possible to tell if they were metal or plastic.

To return to the original question - Nalgene wash bottles as stated above. If you want larger quantities stored, plastic gallons are fine. Store them in your fireproof cabinet when not in use.

From contributor A:
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (recycling #1) is used for all of those solvents. In Australia they sell all of their solvent in plastic. I have not seen one metal can. If the 2 liter bottle will contain the phosphoric acid in Coca Cola, then it should hold most any nefarious substance.

From contributor F:
Had a customer last week who I followed out to his delivery vehicle with an order - he reached inside and grabbed the bottle of Gatorade and took a swig. Denatured alcohol!

From contributor Q:
As a chemist I'd be very surprised if the acetone or denatured alcohol affected the plastic at all - age and UV exposure perhaps. Lacquer thinner is actually a combination of a lot of solvents and can dissolve some plastics.

You mentioned lab supply houses - why not use them? They know what works for what and are properly labeled. Contributor R's vented wash bottles are a good choice (you might ask why vented?).

Contributor G, I do need to make a minor modification to your comment about physics. I think you meant that if the solution can boil, i.e. is open, then the heat will be absorbed by the solution and the temperature will stay low at its atmospheric boiling point and therefore the plastic won't melt. However, with a closed container (metal or plastic) the solution will continue to increase in temperature at a fast rate (dependent on temp differences, heat conductivities, and heat capacities). When the vapor pressure exceeds the capacity of the container, it gives way and the liquid is released.

In the first case (open), the flammable vapor is being released and can ignite. In the second case (closed), the stronger and more insulating the container, the longer before it ignites.

Flammable liquid cabinets work on two principles - 1) if properly installed they have outside ventilation to help keep the inside cooler during a fire and exhaust and vapors to help prevent a fire in the first place and 2) they are insulated and strong to slow down the heating and help contain the eventual blast.

One reason for using small dispensing bottles is that the small quantity of flammable liquid is not that likely to change the magnitude of the fire as compared to gallons or drums.