Or does it explode?: Reddit collection of laboratory disaster stories

There are eight million stories of chemistry laboratory disasters. They all end in explosions. (Except for the ones that end in accidentally making mustard gas.) You might think of this Reddit open thread as a public service—one read-through and you will never forget to wear safety goggles ever again.


  1. I would also like to throw Dremels into the mix. A very handy tool but I got half a cutting wheel embedded in my cheek when it broke at 10,000 rpm.

  2. What’s slightly less worse than getting an all-out acid on your face is getting a small amount of something less reactive, so that you don’t even notice it until it is too late.

    I had safety goggles on years ago when I got a few drops of acetone on my cheek. I didn’t even notice it until I went out to dinner. By then it was too late. THE PAIN!!!! The doctor misdiagnosed it as poison ivy. Ugh.

    My scarring is minimal now, but it gives new meaning to the term ‘sideburn.’

    1. Are you sure that was acetone? I work with it all the time and I don’t think it’s reactive enough to cause scarring, unless maybe it was a large amount and you didn’t wash it off.

      On a related note, I once squirted myself in the eye with acetone – that BURNED (and yes, I was wearing safety glasses at the time).

  3. “…just because you have a PhD doesn’t mean you’re not an idiot”

    could someone please put that on a t-shirt for me?

  4. When I was a kid I got white out in my eye. Xylene and toluene burn real hard. I went on to a career in chemistry, with goggles.

  5. Fairly certain it was acetone. I didn’t wash it off or even try to treat it until about 8 hours later.

    Years prior I had a slobby lab partner drip some on my laptop which went unnoticed. The next morning there was some considerable scarring. Why she was applying acetone to something above my laptop I’ll never know, but at least the screen was closed.

  6. Seriously, that’s not acetone. Probably conc. acetic acid. Everyone thinks that’s safe because it’s ‘just vinegar’, but it’s a nasty when it’s concentrated.

    Our organic lab used tech. grade acetone as a cleaning/rinsing agent. We didn’t even use gloves half the time.
    Pure acetone won’t do anything except make your skin dry out if you use it too much.
    However, don’t get it in your eye or a cut. It’ll sting like crazy. Also don’t get it on your goggles. Acetone will disolve the plasticising agents and immediately make them look like frosted glass. I think everyone in our lab ruined one pair after thinking, “Hey, it works on glass so I’ll just use acetone to wash the grime off my safety goggles”

  7. There are cases of accidental formation of thermite on cutting wheels in workshops. Particles of rust, particles of aluminium, and intense localized heat in the same place, and whoosh, fireworks!

    Regarding chemistry, I personally accidentally prepared tear gas. We needed a vial of something colorful. The best we had in the ad-hoc lab was bromide and bromate; so we mixed their solutions in the required ratio with a drop of acid. Brown bromine was generated. I got the idea it could look yet better if there’d be a double-layer of different colors; so let’s extract the bromine into something organic. The only suitable solvent we had immediately available was acetone. Add, shake, wait until it separates; but it did not want to separate. Add a little more, shake a little less, and instead of the layers there still was a mess of droplets of one phase in the other one. I sniffed something familiar that I knew from another time. I called a colleague who recognized the smell as familiar one too, and also could not remember what it is. Then it dawned to us at the same millisecond; we prepared bromoacetone, a lachrymatory agent. We shed some tears of joy and laughter, and then “sewerized” the result.

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