Stain Removal Arcana

Today’s revelation regarding strange interactions of matter comes from the arcane world of stain removal (did you know there are stain removal instruction videos on youtube?!). What makes chewing gum stick so persistently to my black stretch dress (I read somewhere that chewing gum molecules have an affinity with those of asbestos and therefore stick to roads especially well…) and what makes it come off again? Luckily we have the internet. Rubbing the stain with washing up liquid and salt worked for me, but suggested was also: leaving peanutbutter on for 10 days and then breaking the peanutbutter with the chewing gum off (after that I thought I would have to look into removing fatty peanutbutter stains…), soaking the dress in petrol, white spirit, vinegar or egg white (!), or freezing the garment. Even more eclectic collections of stain removal wonder cures can be found for other persistent substances: rub crushed ‘full strength’ aspirin tablets with cream of tartar into perspiration stains, use hairspray to remove acrylic paint, brush curry off with toothpaste, make ink stains vanish in milk and nail polish with banana oil.

My favourite one is: ‘Red Wine? Straight away pour White Wine on the affected area and soak up’ ( This site also features the intriguing category ‘Unkown Stains’. It gives the following recommendation how to deal with these: ‘If a stain cannot be identified, treat with cool water first, then sponge with a good quality laundry liquid solution. Rinse well and if stain persists try equal quantities of methylated spirits (wood alcohol) and ammonia, testing first to note effect on colour and fabric. If colour is affected, omit ammonia. As a last resort, try a mild bleach, e.g. A diaper wash/sanitiser container sodium percarbonate.’

The interplay of staining substances and stain removing substances has fascinated me since I tried out silk painting at school where salt is used to partially take dye of the fabric to achieve patterned textures (salt removes the colour pigments – works with red wine stains as well ;D). I once asked an examiner from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health whether I could also use vinegar or bicarbonate of soda for cleaning instead of using the ‘nasty’ recommended cleaning products. He replied that somebody ran a test once where one house was cleaned with vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda, and another house was cleaned with chlorine based cleaning products. The result was that no difference was found in bacteria levels.

Talking of weird matter interactions, I have to read up on the weird ingredients that go into food flavouring. I dimly remember sitting in Physics class while the Chemistry class next door produced noticeable banana flavour/odour with something like metal? Does anyone recall the ingredients or other strange chemistry classes?

Here is one related experiment:

Tangling your tastebuds!


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