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Precautions To Take With Peroxide-Forming Materials

Peroxides and hydroperoxides are dangerous, highly reactive materials. They are extremely shock-sensitive and explosive. They can form in certain organic materials, especially ethers.

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1. When you receive a bottle of the material, write "Received on:" and the date on the label. Be sure to enter the bottle into your chemical inventory records at that time. Do this for ALL chemicals, not just peroxide-forming ones.

2. When you open the bottle for the first time, write "Opened:" and the date on the label. It helps to enter this in your chemical inventory record as well. Do this for ALL chemicals, not just peroxide-forming ones.

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TIP: Pick a good database program to maintain your chemical inventory list. Ideally, you'd like to have a special field or checkbox for peroxide-forming materials.

3. Do not purchase more of the chemical than you can reasonably use in three month's time. Peroxides can build up over time as solvent evaporates and/or air seeps into the bottle.

4. Make sure you purchase material that contains an appropriate peroxide inhibitor such as BHT. If you must store non-inhibited material, be sure to store the material under an inert atmosphere of nitrogen or argon and test it for peroxides at least once a month.

5. Do not distill, evaporate or concentrate the material until you have first tested the material for the presence of peroxides. Peroxides are usually less volatile than their parent material and tend to concentrate in the (hot) distillation pot!

6. Establish a laboratory routine to test all of your peroxide-forming chemicals on the first day of each month (or no later than every 3 months).

7. Do not store peroxide-forming materials in clear glass bottles (light can accelerate the chemical reactions that form peroxides). Always use an amber, but transparent bottle. Do not store the material in a metal can or other container that prevents you from examining the contents without having to open or touch the container.

8. Do not store peroxide-forming chemicals near heat, sunlight or ignition sources. Avoid places that undergo temperature variations which can cause the bottle to "breathe in" oxygen.

9. Do not purchase or use high-risk items such as diisopropyl ether. Use a different solvent instead.

10. NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES touch or attempt to open container of a peroxide-forming liquid if there are whitish crystals around the cap and/or in the bottle. The friction of screwing the cap could detonate the bottle with disastrous results.

TIP: To see what these crystals can look like in a severe case visit this page at Reactive Hazards Reduction Inc. and be sure to read about the resulting detonations! For another amazing peroxide story see Deactivating a Chemical Bomb, a story about an unstabilized cylinder of 1,3-butadiene.