chemistry question #2378

Angela, a 46 year old female from Portland asks on November 25, 2004,


This question is in regard to ‘vintage Lucite purses’ that sometimes end up having an odor (might be due to a chemical reaction, I’m really not sure). It’s characterized as a ‘very bad odor” or “sour smell” is 2 ways I’ve heard it referred as. Sometimes you smell it when you open the purse, in bad circumstances it can be smelled by being within a few feet of the item. I can’t find anything online that discusses this nor do Lucite purse collectors have an answer so I thought I’d try you. If a vintage Lucite purse ends up with an odor, is there anything that a person can do to the purse/Lucite in order to stop the odor (and/or what’s causing it)? Any assistance would be GREATLY appreciated.

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the answer

Matthew Moffitt, Chemistry Professor, University of Victoria answered on December 14, 2004, A:

This sour smell is most likely the monomer methyl methacrylate (MMA), which is sometimes trapped in small quantities in the polymer in the polymerization (plastic-making) process, but should also be a product of long-term photo-degradation. I'm not sure if you could stabilize a Lucite product. However, if it is MMA, it could be washed off the surface with ethanol (alcohol) or perhaps even hot soapy water, without dissolving the Lucite. Acetone should *NOT* be used-- it will dissolve the Lucite and etch the surface!

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