What Is Cyanoacrylate (Super Glue) and How Does It Work?

Cyanoacrylate is a group of adhesives that form long and strong polymeric chains in the presence of water. If that term isn’t familiar, you may recognize the brand names of the most popular types of cyanoacrylate adhesives—Super Glue and Krazy Glue. 

This type of glue is, in fact, super, crazy strong, with tensile strengths reaching up to 4,000 psi (depending on the material it is bonding) and without any of the mess of a two-part epoxy system. 

Given its strength and the relative ease of use, you might wonder why its use is limited to small repairs. Cyanoacrylate has proven revolutionary in the areas of industrial, medical, and technological production and yet it doesn’t play a large part in erecting buildings, because it’s not a great structural adhesive.

How Does Cyanoacrylate Work?

Cyanoacrylate’s acryl groups form polymers in the presence of moisture. “Because moisture is so abundant in our atmosphere,” professional builder Jordan Smith explains, “when you open Super Glue, it doesn’t take long for moisture to get in there and cure the whole tube.” In other cases, however, you may need to add some moisture. When using cyanoacrylate to join non-porous materials like glass or steel, you may want to lightly mist them before applying the glue.

When to Use Cyanoacrylate

The main factor in favor of cyanoacrylate is its ease of use compared to some other adhesive options. However, there are several downsides to consider: a fast set time, which leaves you with little to no time to position and clamp work; and low ductility—brittle bonds that poorly resist impact loading. 

Here are the major advantages and disadvantages to consider regarding cyanoacrylate:


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Varieties of Cyanoacrylate

Super Glues come in a number of different formulas which makes them more or less suited to particular tasks. Factors to consider include:

Removing Cyanoacrylate

Super Glue’s tendency to react quickly when exposed to moisture is an excellent quality, except when it starts reacting to the moisture in your skin. Here is how to remove cyanoacrylate if it has ended up where you don’t want it.

On Skin

Typically cyanoacrylate will flake away on its own after a few days with regular hand washings. The process can be sped up with the application of acetone (nail polish remover). Lemon juice, margarine or oil, and laundry detergent diluted with water are gentler alternatives.

On Other Surfaces

Here, too, acetone will generally dissolve cyanoacrylate that has ended up on surfaces where you don’t want it. Alternatives for materials that may be damaged by acetone (like wood, plastic, and fabrics) include soapy water and diluted vinegar. After treating the area where the glue has been spilled, any remaining residue can often be removed using sandpaper.  

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