Archive for February, 2016

How Does Bleach Work?

Monday, February 29th, 2016

bleachYou can find it in basically every laundry room in America, and yet very few people really understand what bleach is and how it works. Here’s an article to make it a little clearer what one of the most commonly used mixtures in the world actually is.

There are two different kinds of bleaches; there’s chlorine bleaches and non-chlorine bleaches. Both of these fall under the category of oxidative agents, meaning that they cause oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs when bleach comes into contact with certain kinds of stains, germs, organisms, and sometimes (often unfortunately) clothing dyes.

As you’re likely aware, this oxidation tends to come in handy in the laundry room and all around the house. Bleach helps remove stains on clothing and whitens your laundry. It can disinfect linens and surfaces, remove mold and mildew, keep food preparation surfaces safe and clean, disinfect your blender, and maintain hygiene in pools and hot tubs.

bleach2This last use is reserved for chlorine bleach in particular. Chlorine bleach is even kept in small amounts in municipal water supplies to help keep public water free of any harmful organisms that might cause disease. Companies sometimes add chlorine bleach to industrial waste water to reduce odor. All together, chlorine bleach in particular is used by a huge amount of industries including the glass, chemical, pharmaceutical, textile, agriculture, paint, and paper industries.

So where did this stuff come from? Bleach was first manufactured in the US in 1913 and used as an institutional disinfectant and a water treatment. Before that, chemicals like borax, ammonia and lye were more commonly used and bleaches using chlorine were difficult to manufacture and thus too expensive to really be worth using.

Because chlorine bleach is the most commonly used kind of bleach, it makes sense to get into the way this bleach is made and what exactly it’s made of. It contains the active ingredient sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), but non-chlorine bleaches have a lot of different active ingredients that serve different purposes. Hydrogen peroxide, for example, is a bleach that is safe to use on colored clothing as it doesn’t have an active ingredient that will degrade clothing dye.

bleach3But how does bleach make the blood stain on your shirt go away? What’s actually happening there on a chemical level? It all has to do with the physics of light. Light is unique because it can be seen as both a particle and a wave. Its particles are called photons and they are said to travel in waves. Not all of these waves are visible to the human eye, and the waves that a particular substance emits has to do with that substance’s chemical makeup. The electrons in some of its chemical bonds are capable of absorbing late at particular wavelengths dependent on the characteristics of the chemical bond itself.

Chlorine bleach is able to oxidize many of these bonds, breaking them and making the substance’s ability to absorb certain kinds of light inert. When this happens, the stain becomes undetectable to the human eye.


Make the Most out of Your Refrigerator

Monday, February 8th, 2016

fridgeRefrigerators have become a staple of the American kitchen, and European for that matter. But who truly knows how to use one? Yes, you can keep your refried beans cold in one of the drawers, but how does that make a refrigerator that much different than a drawer full of loose ice? Is a refrigerator really a refrigerator if the item was never cold to begin with? The answer to these questions and more will be found in the following article:

Refrigerators have been around since 1866, but they were just boxes filled with ice and didn’t have electric components yet. It took a while for Benjamin Franklin to invent the refrigerator because he was distracted by the prospect of making the world’s first self-righting hat, which would adjust itself so that it was always straighten themselves on the wearer’s head, even if the wearer was to break into a cold sprint, jump up and down, or roll around on the floor. He later learned that these hats already existed in Japan and that bringing them to America was more of a business venture than an opportunity to prove his intellectual prowess by coming up with a new invention, causing him to lose interest in the project. Accordingly, he moved on to the modern refrigerator.

Refrigerators have a lot of different parts and use tubes full of coolant to chill out the air around stuff you want to stay cold. This isn’t as easy as it sounds and requires a lot of electricity, which is why most refrigerators were located near rivers and dams where they could be powered by mills and the like.

fridgeBecause most people had come to terms with the fact that they couldn’t store meat or other perishables long, it took a while for them to think of prolonging the life of their food by putting it in the refrigerators. People mostly used them as “chill closets” where they could take a quick respite from the baking heat of the afternoon sun. Once someone left their lunch in there and came back a day later and found that the meat hadn’t spoiled, people realized that food storage could be an extremely handy use for the device. Thus, Franklin built some shelves and begun to sell the refrigerators with the cabinets built-in, putting an end to “chill closet” culture but creating a new way for people of the time to avoid starvation and illness from spoiled food.

Nowadays refrigerators are getting pretty complicated. Samsung recently released a refrigerator that has a TV screen built into it and can stream music from your phone so that you can get bumping in your kitchen. It also comes with a camera that allows you to see what’s in your fridge without opening the door or from your phone if you’re in a supermarket, which is exceptionally helpful if you’re so forgetful you even forgot to make a shopping list. All of these new capabilities would have never been possible without Ben Franklin!