Did you know that some bacteria can eat cleaning products?

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-technology/did-you-know-some-bacteria-can-eat-cleaning-products

Have you ever noticed the message on the front of a Lysol bottle: “Kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria”?

Well, that 0.1% is causing NASA some real issues. In order to prevent our organic matter from infiltrating other planets, and vice versa, NASA aims to provide what they call “planetary protection.” If a bacterium from Earth made it to Mars it may severely hinder any chance we have of finding native Martian life, so NASA takes every precaution to prevent cross-planetary contamination.

Hence the need for cleanrooms, inside which visitors must wear a face mask, hood, booties and coveralls, and still can’t come closer than several feet away from the probes and rovers contained within.

But despite everyone’s best efforts, some bacteria will always be present. Specifically, the bacteria that are the most hardy, having survived many rounds of chemical and UV cleansings.

In an environment that clean, however, these bacteria can’t dine on their usual fare of decaying plant and animal matter. So, in order to survive, they’ve actually developed the ability to eat the cleaning materials!

One study showed that Acinetobacter bacteria, a particularly persistent and troublesome bacterium for hospitals, is able to survive on only ethanol and can degrade cleaning products. These troublesome microbes are resistant to radiation, hydrogen peroxide, high pressures and high temperatures.

In 2014 Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut, proved that microbes are making it to space. He swabbed fifteen surfaces around the International Space Station and brought them back to Earth. From these swabs more than 12 000 microbes were identified!

It is important to remember though that the vast majority of these, just like the majority of microbes on your skin, phone and counter, are totally harmless. If even NASA’s cleanrooms can’t be microbe free, your home will never be either, and that’s ok.

The key to cleaning your teapot is chemistry

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-general-science/key-cleaning-your-teapot-chemistry

Do you ever try to wash a mug only to be confronted by tea stains that just won’t budge? A little bit of chemistry may be just what you need to get your mugs back to white.

Brewed tea, green or black, contains many compounds, including many polyphenols. These are compounds found naturally in tea leaves that have antioxidant properties and contribute to the taste of tea. However, they are also responsible for the stains left in your mugs and teapots.

Polyphenols are a large group of complex molecules that are structurally similar in that they all contain simpler components known as phenols. Tannins are a class of polyphenols that provide tea with its characteristic hue, and are responsible for those annoying stains. Being largely impervious to scrubbing, how can these stains be removed?

A little bit of chemistry.

Black tea has a pH of 4.9, meaning that it is slightly acidic. While tannins encompass a wide variety of compounds, they all tend to be slightly acidic. As such, to remove them from the sides of your mug, you need to neutralize them with a base. the most readily available of which tends to be baking soda.

Just make a paste of baking soda and water, rub it onto your stained crockery, leave it for 20 minutes or so, and then wipe it off with a sponge. It certainly worked wonders on my now much-cleaner teapot.