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

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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