How do adhesives (i.e superglue) not stick to their container?
Asked by: Sarah Abel
Superglue is based upon a cyano-acrylate monomer which requires moisture, usually in the
form of water or some other active hydrogen bearing compound to polymerise. Superglue will
not stick to the tube as the inside contains oxygen, in the form of air, but excludes
water. Thus oxygen inhibits the process of polymerisation while water catalyses the
This explains why a thin layer of glue is ideal to bond two surfaces together rather than a
thick layer of glue. A thin layer can easily obtain the moisture it needs to catalyse from
the atmosphere, while a thick layer is unable to do so.
This also explains why spilt glue adheres so well to your skin; skin being warm and moist
makes an ideal substrate.
Answered by: David Latchman, B.Sc. Physics, University of the West Indies
'To myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.'