In 1954, Italian inventor Carlo Vanoni swelled with patriotic pride when he learned that his fellow countrymen had summited K2, the second-tallest mountain in the world. He was so proud, in fact, that he started naming all his formulas after it: K2a, K2b, K2c, and on down the alphabet. K2r turned out to be his biggest hit—it became K2r Spotlifter, a household cleaner that erases greasy stains from car seat upholstery and delicate silk shirts alike. The waterless formula has changed since it was introduced to the US in the 1960s (it was pulled from California shelves in 1990 because it contained a potentially carcinogenic solvent called perchloroethylene). Nowadays the product is coveted, easy to find online, and probably won’t give you cancer.
Spritz K2r on a splotch of pizza grease and this organic solvent gets to work—its molecules pull fatty hydrocarbon chains from the stained surface. And methyl acetate evaporates fast, which makes it useful in quick-drying lacquers and printer inks. It’s also present in strawberries, kiwis, and cabbage, adding to their distinctive fragrances. Mmm, chemicals.
Like an edgy but popular teenager, acetone (a k a nail polish remover) is a master at mingling with opposites: It mixes with both oil and water, thanks to a polar carbonoxygen bond and nonpolar methyl groups. C3H6O is so good at dissolving things that it’s also used to clean lab equipment and isolate drugs for pharma companies. Acetone and methyl acetate are a formidable duo: Milder methyl acetate takes on oilier substances while acetone tackles water-based dribbles. Plus, these Wonder Twins evaporate at almost the exact same rate.
Liquefied Petroleum Gases
A pressurized blend of hydrocarbons like propane and butane. Here, though, the gases aren’t used to power your off-the-grid abode but to shove the K2r out of the aerosol can. LPGs are liquids when compressed but become gases when there’s room to stretch, keeping the…