Most of us are likely to think of a science lab when we hear the term “chemical reaction.” In reality, nature is full of endless chemical reactions occurring all the time. We either just don’t see them, like the ones that take place in our own bodies all day long, or we don’t even think about them. But they’re out there, they’re happening, and some of them are more unpleasant than you might think.
10. The Chlorine Smell In Pools is Actually a Reaction Between Chlorine and Things Like Pee
Have you ever taken a trip to the public pool and that chlorine smell was just so potent it almost made your eyes water as you approached? It’s like a sting in your nostrils and makes you think they must really take their pool cleanliness seriously if they’re adding so much chlorine to it. We have unfortunate news for you.
Chlorine doesn’t normally have a powerful smell at all. But it is a very reactive chemical and so, when it meets other compounds, it can produce a pungent and even dangerous chemical reaction. That smell from the public pool is one such reaction.
The pool smell is not from chlorine itself but chloramines. You get chloramines when chlorine mixes with things like sweat, oils, cosmetics, and urine. This is the reason some pools tell you to shower before you swim, to remove many of these compounds from your skin. The urine is another matter.
Even though it seems like that smell means more chlorine which means a cleaner pool, the opposite is true. When the disinfectant chlorine hits your sweat and pee it breaks down into the smelly chloramines which no longer work to clean a pool. So you may want to rethink a swim if you have a potent pool.
9. A High School Student Lost Her Fingers to a Chemical Reaction in Art Class
Art class was, for many of us, the most fun class in school. You don’t necessarily need to think super hard and you get to be creative. Hard to go wrong with that. But it’s still possible for things to go very wrong.
In 2007, an art class took a very wrong turn for a 16-year-old girl who was trying to make a sculpture of her hands. The plan was to put her hands in plaster of Paris to make a mold of the hands and then presumably fill the molds with whatever material she was going to sculpt with. Unfortunately, she misheard the teacher who told her to make a clay mold and then fill it with plaster. She was unaware of the chemical process of how plaster of Paris dries.
Like cement, plaster of Paris creates an exothermic reaction when water is added. The powder starts out as gypsum but then is heated, forcing moisture out. So when water is reintroduced, a reverse reaction occurs.
As the substance dries, the water molecules react with the plaster to create heat. With the girl’s hands fully immersed, the mixture heated to 60 C, or 140 F. By this time the plastic was too dry and too thickly packed for teachers to get her out in time. All she could do was endure the slow, steady burns.
By the time she was freed the damage was too severe and she ended up losing all but two of her fingers.
8. Adipocere Is The Result of a Chemical Reaction Turning Body Fat Into a Waxy Substance In A Coffin
Have you ever thought about what happens to a corpse once it’s been buried? Most of us know that a body will rot and eventually only a skeleton remains, but the process of rotting is an interesting and off-putting one that has several stages.
At some point in the process your body will produce a substance called adipocere, otherwise known as grave wax. As long as you have suitable conditions in which a body has moisture but little oxygen, the substance can form.
When your adipose, or fat tissue, decomposes, it can form this waxy substance thanks to the hydrolysis of triglycerides into glycerin and free fatty acids. This is very similar to how we make soap. It gets the nickname thanks to the fact it will have a waxy texture at first but will crumble over time. That said, it can help preserve a body for years.
7. Pistachios Will Spontaneously Combust In the Right Circumstances
People seem to love pistachios. Americans eat 0.7 pounds of them each per year. That makes for a lot of nuts out there and, all things being equal, that’s potentially dangerous. Pistachios are vulnerable to a chemical reaction that can cause them to spontaneously combust.
Pistachios are one of the most dangerous nuts in the world and they need to be shipped and stored carefully. A room full of pistachios could suffocate you because, even after harvest, they absorb oxygen and give off carbon dioxide.
Because pistachios have low water and high fat, they can be quite flammable. As the nuts absorb oxygen and give off CO2, they’re breaking fats down into fatty acids and this chemical reaction produces heat. If they get warm enough, the fat in the nuts becomes fuel and they can burst into flames. If you’re transporting millions of nuts together in shipping containers, you may ship a pistachio bomb as a result.
6. Pit Stains Are Caused By a Reaction To Your Deodorant
The global deodorant market is worth nearly $70 billion so you can safely assume most people don’t want to stink or even look like they might stink with those telltale sweat stains. For most people this isn’t too big of an issue but for some people, especially when they wear white, it can be. Have you ever seen a dreaded yellow pit stain? It’s not a desirable thing for most people. But it’s also not technically caused by your sweat, either.
While it may seem like yellow stains are caused by poor hygiene or excess sweating, that’s not the case. Instead, it’s a chemical reaction caused by the deodorant some people choose to wear. Obviously it doesn’t happen to everyone but the aluminum in your deodorant and antiperspirant can react with proteins in your sweat to produce the yellowing agent that stains clothing.
If it becomes an issue, using an antiperspirant made without aluminum might do the trick to make the stains go away.
5. A Chemical Reaction Between Tin Foil and Lasagna Causes “Lasagna Cell”
Lasagna is an immensely popular food and with good reason, it’s delicious. It’s the most-loved pasta dish by Millennials, at least according to one survey. But it hides a secret danger most of us have never heard of.
Lasagna needs to be stored in a glass or plastic dish or not covered with aluminum foil thanks to a chemical reaction called lasagna cell. In so many words, you risk turning your lasagna into a battery if you don’t.
Lasagna is a prime environment for galvanic corrosion if the dish you’re storing it in is made of metal other than aluminum. Because you have a salty solution working as an electrolyte in the form of the sauce, the lasagna will break down the aluminum in the foil and the molecules of foil act as an anode and will try to bond to the dish, which is now a cathode.
In as little as a few hours you could notice holes in the foil if you have your lasagna stored in the fridge and tiny blobs of corroded aluminum on the surface of your meal.
4. The Smell of Pennies Is Actually Your Own Odor After Reacting to Pennies
Have you ever smelled a penny and found the odor unusual or offensive? Before you blame that poor, mostly worthless coin you need to know that it’s not the penny’s fault. Pennies don’t smell, it’s just that they cause us to smell.
If you notice an unpleasant odor on a penny or your hands after handling them, it’s actually the result of a chemical reaction between the copper in the coin and oils in your own skin. The same thing happens when you handle iron or brass. Your body will produce different compounds in reaction to the contact with the metals, some that smell worse than others.
Not everyone produces the same chemical compounds so what you smell after handling pennies could very well differ from what someone else smells. Regardless of how it manifests, what you think of as a metallic odor is just a misperception and it’s actually body odor.
3. A Chemical Reaction Causes Beer, Weed, and Skunks to Smell Similar
When beer goes bad, we often call it skunky. This is because skunky beer is an unpleasant situation and if you get one that has gone skunky enough it actually reeks a bit like our smelly little mammal friend. That’s not a coincidence, either. The chemical reaction at play is in the same ballpark as what’s going on in a skunk’s hindquarters.
Beer gets skunky when it’s exposed to light. Light interacts with something called iso-alpha acids, which are released when hops are boiled in the brewing process. You want these normally as they’re part of the bitter flavor in beer. But light destroys them.
When they break down, they bind with other compounds in the beer that have sulfur in them and now we’re in skunk stink territory. The compound is called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol or prenythiol. It’s also in weed and if it’s an especially potent or skunky weed, that’s what causes it.
2. Humans Cause Their Own Indoor Air Pollution
Air pollution has been a cause for concern for years now but usually when we talk about it we mean the air outside. It’s a global sort of concern caused by toxic chemicals being burned and pumped into the atmosphere, right? Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean the air in your house is doing a lot better. Turns out humans are polluting the indoor air, too.
Human skin interacts with chemicals in the air in your own home to produce its own sort of polluting haze. Normally, outdoors, the weather and UV rays take care of a lot of these chemicals but that can’t happen inside. Our bodies create what has been described as an “oxidation field.”
Oil in human skin can react with ozone to produce new compounds. Our bodies produce an oil called squalene. When this meets ozone, which is a compound that exists freely out in the world, it produces a compound that further reacts with ozone to make hydroxyl radicals. These can react to all sorts of things in your house and create toxic compounds.
Out in the wild, hydroxyl radicals are natural and helpful in the air. But in an enclosed space like your house they can be more dangerous. There are potential long-term health effects we can’t know about yet depending on what sort of reactions could occur in any home.
This isn’t a new thing, but it wasn’t until covid and concern over indoor air quality that scientists began inspecting the spaces in which we live and how healthy they are.
1. Babies Produce a Chemical That Makes Women Aggressive But Does the Opposite to Men
Do you think it’s possible for a smell to change your behavior? The idea that you can use pheromones to do such a thing isn’t new, even though there’s not much evidence to suggest humans work that way. That said, there is some evidence that there are chemicals in body odor which can affect human aggression.
We’re not talking average armpit stink here, rather a chemical produced by babies. Hexadecanal is a compound produced in babies’ heads. Ever seen someone sniff a baby like it was a new car? That’s part of what they’re smelling. Research shows this compound reduces aggression in men but has the opposite effect on women, making them more aggressive.
It’s believed that a reaction like this is a survival technique. If a baby’s smell makes the mother more aggressive, she may become more protective. Conversely, the father, being less aggressive, is less of a threat as a result. Other mammals have similar reactions to various odors.