Cleaning up melted plastic
March 6, 2007 5:25 AM   Subscribe

This morning I set my kitchen counter on fire. The only real damage is that an empty plastic bag of shredded cheese has melted to the counter, which I think is made of Formica or similar. Is there a good way to clean this?
posted by Jeanne to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
If you have a camera, posting photos might help.

If the countertop is relatively smooth, you can remove such things easily with a razorblade. Just take the flat end, and slide it gently under the melted material, a little bit at a time. The danger in this process is twofold.

One, you'll get impatient and gouge the counter.

Two, the plastic is melted into the surface of the counter and can't be easily separated.

Number one is the most likely danger, so take your time, be patient, and you'll do fine.
posted by fake at 6:01 AM on March 6, 2007

Place a rag (terry cloth) over the melted plastic and then put a hot iron on it, moving it in a circular motion over the rag. Lift a corner of the rag every few seconds and remove the heat when you see the plastic starting to melt. Gently peel up the rag, then use a metal spatula or putty knife to scrape up the softened plastic. If it hardens before you're done, repeat with another rag.
posted by pmbuko at 6:07 AM on March 6, 2007

Most lightweight plastic bags are made out of LDPE (recycle symbol 4). At room temperature LDPE is very resistant to attack by solvents, acids and other inorganic chemicals. However, above around 115ºF it will dissolve in many common solvents. If scraping doesn't work, you can try a solvent, such as acetone. Before using a solvent, first test the solvent to make sure it doesn't damage the finish of your kitchen counter (apply it to a small patch in an out of the way corner). Apply the solvent to the plastic and gently warm it. Be very careful when using heat around solvents, most of them are extremely flammable.
posted by RichardP at 6:18 AM on March 6, 2007

I am in the cabinet business and build countertops every day.

You can clean Formica (or any plastic laminate) pretty safely with lacquer thinner. Just don't rub too hard. The thinner will leave a film that will clean up with soap and water.

If the top is solid surface material like Corian, use denatured alcohol instead.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:44 AM on March 6, 2007

Wait, the melted cheese has actually fused to the counter? (Awesome!)

I have heard that pmbuko's idea works for removing wax from things.
posted by salvia at 9:24 AM on March 6, 2007

Alas, lacquer thinner failed to make a dent. Next I will try a solvent with gentle heat.

Picture for reference
posted by Jeanne at 4:26 PM on March 7, 2007

Lacquer thinner is a solvent, since you already have it on hand you can try both warming the lacquer thinner and then applying it to the melted plastic or applying the lacquer thinner and then warming them together. Please be careful warming lacquer thinner, its flammable!
posted by RichardP at 9:38 PM on March 7, 2007

If you want to heat a solvent, one safe way is to place a small amount of the solvent in a small glass container and place this container in larger bowl. Heat water separately, far away from your solvent, I'd probably use a two cup pyrex measuring cup in a microwave. Once the water is boiling, pour it into the larger bowl, making sure not to get any water into the container holding the solvent. The hot water will heat the container holding the solvent, which will in turn heat the solvent. You want the solvent to get quite hot, so you may have to replace the hot water once or twice.
posted by RichardP at 9:46 PM on March 7, 2007

I should mention, if your lacquer thinner is primarily xylene or toluene, it will actually work better than acetone. Here is a chart of the chemical resistance of LDPE and HDPE. You want a chemical that attacks LDPE, i.e. is rated U. Common substances from that chart that LDPE does not resist are warm (60ºC) kerosene, warm turpentine, warm toluene, and warm xylene.
posted by RichardP at 10:09 PM on March 7, 2007

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