Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Better Living Through Chemistry

My undergraduate degree is in chemistry (well, actually "biological chemistry", but at my university that was essentially a chemistry degree with a requirement to take the bio for majors sequence and some graduate level biochemistry classes). I may not be doing lab work anymore, but I still think of myself as a scientist, and the bad press chemistry and- gasp!- chemicals gets annoys me. (Which is not to say that the bad press is not sometimes deserved. I'm looking at you, American Chemistry Council.)

(Amusing aside: a friend of mine was once stopped by a sale clerk in the make up department of a department store. The clerk touted her brand of make up as being "chemical free". My friend couldn't stop herself. She told the sales clerk that she actually hoped there were some chemicals in those bottles, because otherwise she was selling bottles of nothing. Even pure water is a chemical. Scientists must be a marketer's worst nightmare.)

Anyway, I think we sometimes forget about all the wonderful things that chemistry, and science in general, has give us. So tonight, I'll tell you about two marvels of modern chemistry that make my life easier:

1. Enzymatic cleaners, specifically Bac-Out, made by Biokleen. OK, so maybe this is really "better living through biotechnology", but biotechnology is based on molecular biology, which is just chemistry with molecules made by cells. So there.

This product is probably the sole reason that my bathroom does not give off an overwhelming odor of urine, since on a bad day, I can have more than 5 pairs of rinsed out peed on pants and underwear hanging over my shower rod. But, wait! There's more! We originally discovered this product during Pumpkin's first year. Petunia runs a fever every time she gets a runny nose. Pumpkin threw up. And then there were the actual bouts of norovirus. Let's just say that we got good at cleaning up baby vomit and this stuff takes the smell out of the carpet and other things you can't load into the washer.

During Petunia's newborn-hood, we learned that this product also does a great job of cleaning up the projectile poopsplosions she was prone to. How did she know to time her gigantic poops for when her diaper was off? And why did this always happen in the middle of the night? I'll never know, but at least we got it all cleaned up.

In short, it is a miracle of modern science. What did people use for this sort of thing before biotechnology?

2. My tablecloth made from recycled plastic bottles. Yeah, I get to feel all smug about closing the loop on recycling. But the real reason I love this tablecloth is the fact that it feels like cloth and looks like cloth but water (or milk or whatever else Pumpkin spills on it) beads up on it, and can be wiped up as easily as it was on the old, sort of ugly vinyl tablecloth it replaced.

It is like magic!

(The ugly/tacky factor of the old tablecloth wasn't bothering me. It was replaced because there was a hole in it. How do you get a hole in a vinyl tablecloth? Your toddler bites it.)

Your turn. What marvels of modern science make your everyday life easier?


  1. OMG, I MUST get one of those table cloths! That is exactly what I need!

    We use Nature's Miracle for getting pee smells out of things, because it is most commonly needed for my cat. Don't get me started.

    The modern science making my life at all possible? That would be the generic for zoloft. I just started it again as fall begins and winter looms. I am determined to stay on top of the SAD this year and feel normal all year long, and I know that I can thanks to the ADs.

  2. I use a household cleaner called Simple Green. I had never heard of it before until my MIL and GrandMIL brought this glorious stuff into my life. It will take out anything organic from fabric, carpet, upholstry, etc. On the spray bottle it says to use in bathrooms, kitchens, etc. but I don't, I mainly use it on clothes. It works incredibly well at getting out blood, even blood that's been dried and set-in (Rosie's been getting nose bleeds). I've used it to get out red wine or coffee. It's a freaking miracle cleaner.

    I hear you though on "chemicals" getting a bad rap. So many people out there are just so blissfully ignorant of how much they benefit from modern things that generally have a bad stigma against them. The ones that get me the most are the crowd who protest oil and gas development in the name of the environment, but they drive to the protest in their car and heat their homes with natural gas. Or the people who protest the need for a major power transmission line, but at the end of the day go to their home and use their lights and microwave and refigerator. I'll bet these are the same people who use "chemical-free" make-up and cleaners!

  3. I do like the enzymes in the solid stain stick we use and the highly-rated name brand detergent we used to use.

    But me allergy immunology doctor told me that she only recommends one name brand detergent because the proteins in the other name brands cause allergic reactions in so many of her patients. (The one she recommends is the one that claims not to have dyes, perfumes or enzymes; it is cheaper b/c those enzymes are expensive.)

    Doh! I should have remembered that enzymes are proteins. Proteins can sensitize allergic individuals (like myself). Now I use TJ's laundry detergent and the stain stick on clothes only where it is needed.

    I much prefer education and selective application of chemicals to blanket bans. Everyone's cost-benefit trade offs are a little bit different.

    FWIW, my husband and I both hold BSs in Chemistry, but we specialized in physical chemistry.

  4. I'm going to go with "The Internet" coupled with Google search. Seriously, I don't know how we existed without all the information in the world at our fingertips.

  5. Synthetic fabric clothing. Especially acrylic sweaters. My kids and I are allergic to all natural fibers except cotton and cotton sweaters aren't warm enough in winter, but acrylic ones are.

    Also, pharmaceuticals.

  6. ooh enzymatic cleaners getting gross smells out!!?? God, I hope they sell that here. What is the active ingredient/compound so I can ask or look at labels. I found the only way to find stuff here is know the chemical compound!!

    hmm the miracle of science I can't live without is electricity and a clothes washer. I am at that level. The Internet is just icing on the cake, but I love it so!!!

    oh, and Miralax stool softener for Sweet Pea. And since cooks are chemists, let's add chocolate to the list, too. Thank you, chemists of the world!!!

  7. Word up @caramama re: Nature's Miracle, @Melba re: Simple Green = love them, so necessary is our home filled with doggie and toddler pee + vomit.

    Hendrick's Gin is my current chemical of choice.

  8. I love the enzymatic cleaners too, and use one for vomit and poop and cat-cidents. But for the peed on bedclothes I actually just rinse with water then wash with the rest of my clothes. I've never noticed a pee smell...hopefully I'm not just used to it!

    Here's another vote for polar fleece

    and computers/internet/cell phones

  9. Superficially - benzoyl peroxide is my tops. It's cheap and works great. Only pregnancy kept my skin as clear as a quick smear of benzoyl peroxide does.

    Whatever compound puts children's medicine into a chewable rather than a liquid is my most favorite parenting chemical.

  10. @Geeks in Rome- my bottle just says "enzymatic cleaner"- presumably the precise mix of enzymes in use is a trade secret. Sorry!

    @zed- I use the enzymatic cleaner because I am too lazy to actually rinse out the large volume of peed on clothes. I just dump them in the sink with a squirt of the cleaner, and then come back an hour later or so and wring them out.


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