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Archive for the ‘Clean Chemistry’


October 03, 2009 By: NB Category: Clean Chemistry, UnSafe Cleaning Agents

oil well

oil well

Naphtha is a hyrdocarbon distillate left over from the process of refining petroleum or coal tar. It is a complex mixture of chemicals which is broken down into other chemicals through steam cracking or catalytic reforming. Some of the chemicals resulting from these processes are ethylene/ethene, propylene/propene, benzine, xylene, and toluene. These chemicals are used in many applications such as producing plastics, synthentic fibers, paints and finishes, solvents and strippers, waxes and polishes, camp stove fuels and to increase the octane rating of gasoline, just to name a few.

Naphtha was first used in cleaning in the mid-19th century when it was discovered that kerosene, paraffin or benzine would remove stains and soil from fabrics. This marked the advent of the dry cleaning industry. In the mid-1890s a process was developed that fixed a naphtha or petroleum benzine into laundry soap – which, during this period of history, came in bars that were shaved or melted in hot water for home laundry use. The first such soap commercially available was Fels-Naptha Soap which is today owned by the Dial Corporation and still on the market. Proctor & Gamble, at one time, produced White Naptha Soap but it is no longer manufactured.

This residue of petroleum refining and all it’s derivatives, all together refered to as “naphthas”, are volatile, flammable, insoluble in water, and incompatible with strong oxidizers. Many hydrocarbons are posionous by inhalation, and some by skin contact. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Naphthas, in general, could cause headache, dizziness, and performance speed reductions, as well as apnea or cardiac arrest as a result of acute exposure. In small amounts naphtha decays rapidly in the environment but can still affect air, water, and soil quality.

Given the possible health consequences, especially for susceptable or sensitive populations, and the possible environmental consequences, I feel that naphtha is not a safe ingredient in cleaning products. Even if it were safe, being a petroleum by-product, it is most definitely NOT a sustainable ingredient. For more in-depth information about naphtha download our special report On The History And Use Of Naptha In Soap in the Resources section.

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Vinegar Does More Than Flavor Food

September 14, 2009 By: NB Category: Clean Chemistry, Safest Cleaning Agents

white vinegar

white vinegar

Vinegar results from a natural fermentation process – the oxidation by acetic acid bacteria of the ethanol found in beer, cider, wine or any other alcoholic liquid. Acetic acid bacteria are a gram-negative, aerobic, rod-shaped bacteria present universally in foodstuffs, water, and soil. The acetic acid concentration of vinegar usually falls around 5 percent by volume for table vinegar up to 18 percent or higher for pickling vinegar. At a 5% concentration vinegar has a pH of about 2.4, slightly less acidic than lemon juice. Acetic acid is detectible by a characteristic smell.

Concentrations by weight of 10% to 25% are classified as an irritant. Higher than 25% is corrosive and must be handled with great care as it can cause skin burns, mucous membrane irritation, and permanent eye damage that may not even appear until hours after the exposure. Concentrations over 90% are also flammable. Common table vinegars, including distilled white vinegar, are safe for humans and animals.

Among vinegar’s versatile aspects you’ll find the following:

  1. Vinegar is antibacterial.

  2. It is also antifungal.

  3. Vinegar will dissolve mineral deposits including limescale and hard water spots from glass and hard surfaces.

  4. Vinegar included in a bath and tile formula as a rinsing agent will help prevent bathtub rings and soap scum.

  5. It is an effective solvent for epoxy resin and hardener.

  6. Vinegar is safe as a herbicide as the acetic acid is not absorbed into root systems. It will kill top-growth but perennials will reshoot.

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Eight Great Uses For Baking Soda

September 14, 2009 By: NB Category: Clean Chemistry, Safest Cleaning Agents

sodium bicarbonate

sodium bicarbonate

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate and to a lesser extent as sodium hydrogen carbonate, is a chemical compound found in the mineral natron. It is a white solid that is crystalline in structure but can appear as a fine powder with a slight alkaline taste. The natural mineral form of sodium bicarbonate is nahcolite but it can be produced artificially. Besides helping our baked goods rise and have a light texture, baking soda is a wonderful additional to our cleaning arsenal. Here’s why:

  1. Baking soda is antiseptic and helps kill germs not only in our homes but for personal hygiene as well. A paste made from baking soda and 3% hydrogen peroxide is a safe and effective alternative to commercial toothpaste. It also makes a good natural deodorant. It is more effective than vinegar, salt, or hot water alone when washing vegetables to remove pesticides.

  2. It’s anti-fungal and not only helps kill mold and mildew but will neutralize their odors.

  3. Baking soda will dissolve tarnish. A solution of baking soda in warm water ( 3 Tbsp to a quart of water) with a piece of aluminum foil laying in the bottom of the container will remove tarnish from silver when it comes in contact with the foil.  Caution: This method should NEVER be used on any plated items, only solid metal, and never on any piece of aluminum, or the finish will be damaged.

  4. Baking soda is a powerful odor absorber – in the fridge, freezer, down the drain, on carpets, upholstery, fabrics, even a pair of smelly sneakers.

  5. It’s gently abrasive. A smooth paste of baking soda and water will help scrub off caked on, baked on, dried on gunk from glass cook-tops, porcelain, fiberglass, stainless steel and enameled metals.

  6. Baking soda softens hard water and is superb as a fabric softener. As an aside. you never want to use a fabric softener on towels and washcloths – it hampers their absorbency.

  7. Baking soda will extinguish small grease or electrical fires. Don’t use baking soda on a deep-fryer fire though – it might cause the flaming grease to splatter.

  8. It is effervescent when combined with vinegar and will work wonders cleaning a grimy oven or clearing a clogged drain.

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The Difference Between Soap And Detergent?

September 14, 2009 By: NB Category: Clean Chemistry, Safest Cleaning Agents

Soap or Detergent?

Soap or Detergent?

People often use the terms soap and detergent interchangeably. They both have the same basic function but chemically they are different compounds. Soaps are usually made by processing a fat with an alkali, like sodium or potassium hydroxide, and results in salts of the acids contained in the fat. Detergents are typically made from synthetic substances such as petroleum by-products.

Both soap and detergent act as a surfactant in the cleaning process. The term surfactant is a portmanteau of the words surface acting agent. Surfactants accomplish two things. First, they lower the surface tension of a liquid which allows easier spreading. Used with water in a cleaning application then they essentially “make water wetter”. The second thing a surfactant does is lower the interfacial tension between two liquids. Surfactants have a hydrophilic end (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-fearing) end. Surfactants work by interacting with water molecules through their water-loving end and other liquids, solids, and gasses through the water-fearing end by forming spherical structures called micelles.

In the case of soap, the water-fearing end is a long hydrocarbon chain called its tail and the water-loving end is a carboxylate head. Oil and grease, which attract dirt, are non-polar molecules insoluble in water. The micelles that form when soap and oil are combined have their tails facing inward surrounding an oil molecule with the heads facing outward held in suspension in the water. Therefore, the grease and oil and the dirt they attract are trapped inside the micelle and can be rinsed away.

Soap is an excellent cleanser but has one attribute that should be understood and counter-acted when used in a cleaning formula. Mineral acids convert the salts of fatty acids in soap into free fatty acids. Free fatty acids are less soluble than the salts of fatty acids – this is what causes soap film – and can be counter-acted with a rinsing agent. Hard water – water rich in magnesium, calcium or iron for example, will cause soap to form insoluble salts. These insoluble salts are what cause “water spots”, bathtub rings and leave our clothes dingy and rough after repeated washings. This can be alleviated by including a water softening agent in cleaning solutions. While synthetic detergents don’t form insoluble precipitates in hard water the use of petroleum by-products in their production makes them a non-choice in my personal cleaning activities.

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Ten Reasons To Love Lemons

September 13, 2009 By: NB Category: Clean Chemistry, Safest Cleaning Agents

lemon aide

lemon aide

The citrus limon, or as most of us call it, lemon, is a fruit primarily used for its juice although the pulp and rind are frequently used in culinary applications. Lemon juice is approximately 5% citric acid by volume. It is the citric acid which gives lemons their tart taste and a pH of 2.2.

Citrus fruits also produce an essential oil in glands inside the rind. This oil can be steam distilled and is composed mostly (90%+) of a hydrocarbon classified as a cyclic terpene known as d-limonene. It is a colorless liquid at room temperature and is the substance responsible for the strong citrus smell. You will find lemon oil and orange oil used more commonly in commercial cleaners, strippers and de-greasers as the distillation process requires specialized equipment. You can, however, purchase essential oils of lemon and orange from suppliers of aroma therapy products.

So what makes lemons so great? Lemon juice and lemon oil are an effective, environmentally friendly and relatively *safe solvent that:

  1. Will dissolve grease and oil.

  2. Dissolves adhesives.

  3. Dissolves limescale and hard water spots and tarnish.

  4. Will bleach stains on household surfaces and fabrics. It will also bleach your hair and skin.

  5. Strips wax and polishes.

  6. Will neutralize strong odors.

  7. Is an antiseptic and antibacterial effective against candid albicans, e. coli and gram-negative household germs that cause salmonellosis, herpes simplex (types 1 and 2), influenza types A, A/Brazil, A2/Japan, intestinal bacteria, lebsiella pneumoniae, odor-causing bacteria, mold, mildew, salmonella (choleraesuis, typhi, and typhosa), shigella sonnei, staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus (faecalis and pyogenes) and trichophyton mentagrophytes.

  8. Is antiviral and will kill the the viral agents of typhoid, gastrotenteritis, rabies, enteric fever, cholera, several forms of meningitis, whooping cough, gonorrhea and some types of dysentery. It is not effective against tetanus, anthrax, polio, rhinovirus, or hepatitis B or C.

  9. Will soften hard water and allow soaps and surfactants to be more effective.

  10. Can be used as a non-toxic insecticide for house plants or in the garden.

*Citric acid and limonene are skin and mucous membrane irritants. Contact with the eyes can cause a burning sensation. Prolonged exposure of the eyes to high concentrations could cause blindness, as anything with a low enough pH will.

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