Ketones -


Published on October 22, 2021

Ketones are a class of highly efficient solvents typically used to formulate products for coatings, adhesives and ink applications.

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), mesityl oxide (MO), and isophorone are examples of ketones.

Uses & Benefits

Ketones play an important role in many of the products we use every day. Automotive finishes, wood coatings and inks are just some of products developed using ketones.

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)

MEK, also known as 2-butanone, is a liquid solvent used in surface coatings, adhesives, printing inks, chemical intermediaries, magnetic tapes and lube oil dewaxing agents.

MEK is also a common solvent that can be formulated into other products or purchased at full strength. It is a highly efficient and versatile solvent for surface coatings. Because of its effectiveness as a solvent, MEK can be especially valuable in formulating high solids coatings, which help to reduce emissions from coating operations. 

  • Printing inks – MEK is used as a solvent in dry erase markers;1 it is the ingredient that enables the ink to flow onto the whiteboard. MEK can dilute many different pigments and its low viscosity helps the ink to flow.
  • Solvent – MEK is used as an extraction solvent for fats, oils, waxes and resins from food and food ingredients.2 For example, it is used to decaffeinate tea and coffee, and is also used as an extraction solvent in the processing of foodstuffs and food ingredients, e.g., in fractionation of fats and oils, and as a synthetic flavoring agent for some foods and pharmaceuticals.3 It is also used as a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and other products.  
  • Sterilizer for medical equipment – MEK is used as a sterilizer for bacterial spores on surgical instruments, hypodermic needles, syringes and dental instruments.

Methyl isobutyl ketone (MiBK)

MiBK, also known as 4-Methyl-2-pentanone, has a variety of uses, including as a chemical intermediate, an alcohol denaturant and in the extraction of rare metals. Other uses include:

  • Solvent – MiBK can be used to dissolve resins used in paints, inks, lacquers and other types of surface coatings. It is used as a solvent for manufacturing4 a range of products, including paints, rubbers, gums, resins, varnishes, lacquers, nitrocellulose, pharmaceuticals5, other chemicals and industrial cleaners.
  • Food additive – MiBK is used as an additive to synthetic flavorings to help enhance their potency, and as a flavoring agent for foods and pharmaceuticals.6 MIBK is also an FDA-approved indirect additive for adhesives, paper and paperboard, and polymers used in food packaging applications.7

Mesityl oxide (MO) is used8 in paint removers, as a solvent for plastics, and as an insect repellent.

Isophorone is used as a solvent in some printing inks, paints, lacquers, and adhesives. It is also used as an intermediate in the production of certain chemicals.9


Safety Information

MEK Exposure and Safety Information

MEK is a natural component of many foods such as apple juice, beans, chicken and honey. MEK may also be found in soil and water near some hazardous waste sites. Other sources of potential exposure include tobacco smoke, and volatile releases from building materials and consumer products. It is also released into the air from car and truck exhausts.2

In 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed MEK from the list of toxic air pollutants and concluded that “potential exposures to MEK emitted from industrial processes may not reasonably be anticipated to cause human health or environmental problems.”10

MiBK Exposure and Safety Information

Occupational exposure to MiBK may occur by inhalation or skin and eye contact.4 Workplace controls, such as enclosing operations and/or providing local exhaust ventilation at the site of chemical release, and wearing personal protective equipment can help reduce exposure to MiBK.11

Various government agencies, including the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have set occupational exposure limits for MIBK. OSHA has set the time weighted average exposure limit as 50 parts per million over an 8-hour work shift and concluded that this set exposure limit can protect workers from health effects due to occupational exposure.12

Consumer exposure to MiBK may occur by inhalation and skin contact while using consumer products containing this chemical. Current use in personal care products is very limited, and MIBK is considered safe for use in nail polish removers and as an alcohol denaturant in cosmetic products.13

MiBK may be released into the environment in effluent and emissions from its manufacture and use, in exhaust gas from vehicles, and from land disposal of waste that contains this compound. 

MO and Isophorone Exposure and Safety Information

Short-term industrial or occupational exposure to MO can occur through inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. Short-term exposure can irritate and burn the skin and eyes, irritate the nose, throat and lungs, and may cause headaches, sleepiness and loss of coordination.14

To prevent or minimize exposure to skin or eyes in occupational settings, workers should use appropriate personal protective equipment.

Additionally, OSHA and NIOSH have both set permissible workplace exposure limits for MO that facilities manufacturing the chemical are required to follow.15 OSHA has set a permissible exposure limit of 140 milligrams of isophorone per cubic meter of air (140 mg/m³) for an 8-hour workday in a 40-hour workweek.16

Major sources of airborne isophorone may occur in the printing and metal coating industries, as well as coal fired power plants. People who work with inks, paints, lacquers and adhesives that contain isophorone may be exposed to low levels of the chemical through inhalation.17 To help minimize exposure to skin or eyes, workers should use appropriate personal protective equipment.

Answering Questions

What are ketones?

Ketones are any of a class of organic compounds characterized by the presence of a carbonyl group in which the carbon atom is covalently double bonded to an oxygen atom. Ketones are often used as chemical intermediaries, and many complex organic compounds are synthesized using ketones as building blocks. Ketones are most widely used as solvents for lacquers, paints and textiles.

What are ketones used for?

Ketones are mostly used as highly efficient solvents to formulate products for coatings, adhesives and ink applications. Automotive finishes, wood coatings, inks and resins are just a few of many products developed using ketones. Learn more about ketone uses and how they play an important role in many of the products we use every day.

What precautions should be taken when working with ketones?

In occupational settings, personal protective equipment such as chemical safety goggles and face shields should generally be worn when working with ketones. Avoid repeated or prolonged skin exposure to ketones and wear chemical protective clothing such as gloves, aprons and boots. Proper ventilation is important to protect workers from potential airborne exposure.

How likely is the general public to be exposed to manufactured ketones?

The most likely routes of consumer exposure to ketones such as MiBK are by inhalation and skin contact while using consumer products that contain this chemical. MiBK may be released to the environment in effluent and emissions from its manufacture and use, in exhaust gas from vehicles, and from disposal of waste that contains this compound. 

Is acetone a ketone?

Yes. Acetone, also known as dimethyl ketone or propanone, is predominantly used in manufacture of plastics and other industrial products.

Why are ketones good solvents?

Ketones are chemically stable and have relatively low density. Their properties allow them to dissolve a wide range of synthetic and natural resins, making them well-suited to low viscosity and high-solids formulations. Learn more about methyl ethyl ketones (MEK), which are well-known, highly efficient solvents.


1The Chemistry Blog:

2NIH National Library of Medicine:  Methyl ethyl ketone | C4H8O – PubChem (

3Methyl Ethyl Ketone – Major Uses (


5NIH National Library of Medicine:

6NIH National Library of Medicine:

7National Center for Biological Information:

8 National Library of Medicine 

9 NIH National Library of Medicine:

10EPA: Modifications To The 112(b)1 Hazardous Air Pollutants | Technology Transfer Network Air Technical Web site | US EPA

11New Jersey Department of Health:


13National Library of Medicine:


15New Jersey Dept of Health and Senior Services:  Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet for Mesityl Oxide