Take It From A Chemist: Basic Household Knowledge

Chemistry is more than a skillset that you use in a lab for research and scientific purposes. It’s also a way of understanding why the world around you works the way it does. Sure, this is not it’s primary function. Plenty of people go through their entire lives without ever learning any chemistry, and it doesn’t hinder them in the slightest bit. It is however a primary side effect that can be quite beneficial in many ways. Once you start understanding how chemistry works, you can see it in action in almost everything you do.

It’s kind of like knowing a language. Say for example you have spent time learning and understanding Spanish. If you happen to be out in public and someone is having a conversation in Spanish you will likely be able to understand some or all of what they are saying. It’s not essential that you understand them at all, it’s just a fun benefit of having studied the language. Here are some things I’ve noticed in my everyday life that I probably would not have noticed without my background in chemistry.

Understanding Heat Flow

When studying thermodynamics one of the main principals that you learn is that in the presence of heat gradients, heat always flows from high to low. This is not actually limited to heat, but all forms of energy flow whether it is pressure, salt concentration, you name it. But that’s getting away from the point at had a little bit.

As it relates to your home this concept has helped me understand my heating and cooling systems and some of the anomalies that go along with it. Why are home with cathedral ceilings often cold? Well, the heat elements are located in the living area and that is where the heat is produced. As for the ceiling? Its in contact with the outside, so the air up there is closer to the outdoor temperature. Guess what? All of the air from the living room has a tendency to migrate upward and eventually diffuse out. Voila, this is why houses with cathedral ceilings are often a bit chilly.

Be Careful With Your Chemicals

When you’ve spent any time in the lab you will quickly learn that chemicals can behave in odd and often violent ways. It’s really important to know the materials you’re working with and how they may interact. Mixing acid with base for example is sure to cause a violent eruption. You have to be careful out there.

The scary thing is that these interactions aren’t limited to the lab, they can happen right in your house as well. One common one that comes up is with cleaning chemicals – particularly the two most ubiquitous compounds ammonia and bleach. Everyone knows that each of these compounds are invaluable for cleaning purposes – ammonia for glass and similar surfaces and bleach for disinfecting in areas like the bathroom and the kitchen sink.

What may be less known however is that when you mix these two chemicals chlorine gas is silently released. This can be incredibly toxic and even fatal if handled improperly. Never mix these cleaning compounds, and if for some reason they happen to mix make sure to vacate and ventilate the area thoroughly.

Fire Inside Just Isn’t Necessary

I know, I know. I’ll probably catch some flack for this one, mostly because there are so many forms of fire that are used in the household. There are obvious fire hazards associated with flames, but that’s not my main concern. As we learn in the lab you can work with hazards as long as proper safety precautions are taken.

The real concern is with dirty burning flames and the emissions that they can cause. Burning wood in a fireplace for example is an incredibly dirty flame. Not only is it bad for the atmosphere, but some of this smoke backs up into your house and it’s just not something you want to breath on an ongoing basis – especially where there are so many clean burning or non-burning alternatives. A gas fireplace burns very cleanly and an electric fireplace doesn’t burn at all. They look great too, you can check out this guide by BEFR to see what’s out there. Similarly, candles and incense are great for aromatic reasons, but again they put off harmful smoke and smog. You’re better off going with an essential oil diffuser for these purposes.

What ways has your knowledge of chemistry made you think differently about the world around you? This is just a subset of many that I’ve experienced. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know in the comments!

Cleaning with Chemistry

Did you know that basis household cleaning can often rely on chemistry? It’s what makes the world go round. From doing your dishes to removing stains to vacuuming, it all comes back to fundamental interactions that can all be explained with chemistry. Ready to learn more? In this article we’re going to discuss the different ways chemistry can be used to explain how different cleaning methods work.

Hit It With Acid

So much around the house can be cleaned with white vinegar. Do you know what the main component of white vinegar is? It’ acetic acid. While it does a great job of cleaning surfaces around the house, it’s particularly fantastic for removing stains caused by metal deposits. Where would you see this most often? Generally speaking, they show up as rust stains around your faucets and fixtures.

If you see an orange buildup that you suspect to be caused by rust, you might notice that soap and water simply won’t do the trick. By using vinegar however, you are putting the metal deposits in an acidic environment which strips the metal of oxygen. With oxygen removed, the metal deposits once again become polarized and are much more happy to dissolve in water. Metal in an oxides state is next to insoluble, which is why it can only be removed by scraping, or by employing chemistry as we just discussed here.

Crank Up The Base

On the flip side of the pH spectrum, basic compounds are used all over the household. From ammonia, to bleach, soap, and Drain-O there are so many places where basic compounds come into play as cleaners. What do basic compounds work on? Grease. Why does it work? Well, similarly to how acid works on removing metal stains base works on removing grease stains. When grease is in an acidic in environment it becomes completely hydrogenated and subsequently non-polar. This means that it will resist water indefinitely. You could use a non-polar solvent such as mineral oil to remove these grease buildups, but you’ll always be left with an oily residue.

By raising the pH using something basic, you’ll strip the grease molecules of their protons giving them a polar functional group. Grease compounds are very unlikely to ever become soluble, but with polar functional groups they will be able to emulsify. Soap molecules will then form micelles around them, at which point they can easily be rinsed away. Side note – ever noticed how it’s easier to clean grease with hot water rather than cold? This is because you’re affecting the viscosity of the grease. More heat makes for less viscosity, and subsequently makes for easier rinsing.

Playing With Pressure

Chemistry isn’t just related chemical compounds, there are also the physical behaviors that can be manipulated to get the desired effect. One such phenomenon is pressure, which can also be used on both sides of the spectrum to clean around the house.

First and foremost is the vacuum. By using a high powered fan to create a void, you create a pressure gradient that causes air to come whipping into the chamber, taking dust and dirt particles with it. Want a stronger vacuum? Take a look at the ideal gas law:


You can either increase the power for the fan to lower the pressure, or you can decrease the volume of the vacuum chamber for the fan size you’re using. The problem with the former is that it will require more energy to run, and the problem with the latter is that you will have less time to clean before you have to empty out the vacuum chamber.

Let’s take a look at the flip side – using an abundance of pressure to clean. This is perhaps most properly visualized by looking at a pressure washer. Pressure washer’s take feed water and pump it through a small orifice, which results in a huge increase in the pressure leaving the orifice. This is like the effect of a syringe. The resulting pressure that comes out of the nozzle of a pressure washer is so much higher than that supplied by a garden hose that the water is able to bombard surfaces with a much higher force, and subsequently remove a lot more dirt and grime. This is the main principle behind how pressure washers work, such as those found here: https://www.thebestelectricpressurewasher.com/greenworks-reviews/ .

Chemistry is all around us, and it can be fascinated to dig into the simple things to see how it is rooted in nature. Do you have any explanations of household cleaning phenomenons that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

What’s The Chemistry behind Wood Burning?

Any chemical reaction between fuel and oxygen ignites together and becomes fire. For example, wood and gasoline. However, these two products don’t produce flame on its own because both are surrounded by oxygen. To have a good combustion, it needs high levels of fuel to generate heat and makes one set of fire.


Keep in mind that heat comes from different sorts of things. Wood burning can produce heat from friction, lightning, match, focused light or something that’s been burning. If the wood is heated over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, this starts to decompose heat and those types of materials that are made out of cellulose.

There are some materials released that are made out of volatile gases, and it is called as smoke. The production of smoke is a compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Moreover, its other materials are formed into as “char” that is nearly of ash or pure carbon. The wood does also contain materials that can’t be burned such as potassium and calcium. The “char” is known as charcoal which is also made of wood that’s been heated and removed nearly forming into volatile gases thus it leaves behind so much carbon. This is why you see charcoal fire doesn’t produce so much smoke.

Wood burning happens in two different reactions.


1. The volatile gases are too hot which is about 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The compound molecules are broken apart, and then the atoms are recombined to the oxygen to form products such as water and carbon dioxide. Meaning to say, it burns.

2. The char do also combine with oxygen but in a much slower type of reaction. This is why most of the charcoal during barbecue time can stay hot for a longer period.

Side effect


During a chemical reaction, there is a lot of heat which leads to the production of fire. Many fuels usually burn in just one step. For example, is the use of gasoline. As the heat vaporizes, this is the time that it burns as a volatile gas. Over the time, humans can produce and control fire.

Fire reacting to properties likes the ignitability, flame spread and heat release is the most relevant factor that could ever happen for the wood to perform fire. Charring can influence the characteristics of the property especially if the layers are protected.

Bottom line

To make a good production of wood burning, it needs enough to the higher temperature of heat for the wood to start burning. What it also depends on the way heat is produced. If the thermal properties are too damp or too low, the probability of heat is fifty-fifty. So, ensure that the materials are made of suitable materials to produce heat. This will surely come in handy in days where you might be out camping, and wood burning is all you need to keep you warm and able to cook your food.