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!

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.