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What is Super Glue®?

Acetone, which is often used in nail polish remover, can remove Super Glue®.
A tube of generic super glue.
Article Details
  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Super Glue® is a trade name for a glue based on cyanoacrylate, more specifically ethyl-2-cyanoacrylate. The other popular ethyl-2-cyanoacrylate glue is Krazy Glue®, while a number of glues such as Vetbond®, Indermil®, LiquiVet®, and Histoacryl® are based on another cyanoacrylate, n-butyl-cyanoacrylate. Super Glue® is well known for its amazing ability to fasten two things together, as well as the fact that it can seal skin together or skin to other objects, if used without care.

Although Super Glue® will bond most materials together, it works best with materials that are non-porous, and materials which have virtually no water in them. Because of its strength, affordability, and relative ease of use, Super Glue® has become a popular adhesive for a wide range of applications. From hobbyists to woodworkers to medical practitioners to ballerinas, Super Glue® can be found in many unlikely places.

Originally, cyanoacrylate was discovered during World War II. Although urban legend holds that the glues were used in the war as a way to field treat soldiers’ wounds, this is not how the adhesive was discovered. In fact, it was discovered entirely by accident while trying to make a better clear plastic gun sight. As it stuck to everything it touched, it obviously wasn’t of much use for this purpose, and so was set aside by its inventor, Dr. Harry Coover of Kodak Labs.

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After the war, Dr. Coover returned to cyanoacrylate, thinking maybe it would have a use to make airplane canopies. Once again, it was completely wrong for this application. At this point, though, he saw the possibilities it offered as a fast-acting, industrial-strength adhesive, and released it as Eastman #910. Dr. Coover demonstrated his new glue in 1959, on a famous episode of the television show “I’ve Got a Secret,” in which he used a single drop of the glue to lift the show’s host off of the ground. By the mid-1960s ,the medical applications of cyanoacrylate had been realized, and in Vietnam the glue was in fact used in the field, mostly in spray form, as a way of controlling bleeding and temporarily closing wounds.

This same potential to connect skin is sometimes a curse for hobbyists using Super Glue® for projects. Even a little bit on the skin can bind fingers together, or fingers to hobby items. Attempting to pull the fingers apart will generally just tear the skin, causing a wound. It’s important to be very careful when trying to remove Super Glue®, taking the proper precautions and exercising plenty of patience.

The trick to removing Super Glue® is to use acetone to weaken its bond, and then to slowly pry apart the bonded skin. Acetone is most commonly found in a house in nail polish remover, and can be applied to the stuck area with a cotton swab. Once applied thoroughly, the skin can be slowly pried apart, taking care not to tear suddenly, as this will generally rip the skin. Not all nail polish remover contains acetone, so it’s important to check and make sure the product you’re using does, otherwise it won’t accomplish anything.

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