Chemicals Found in Household Products

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Chemicals sound scary, but they're all around us. Learn about some of the most common household chemicals and how they're used. Demonstrate what you've learned with a quiz.

What are Chemicals?

Chemicals! Something we should all avoid, some people say. But if we actually avoided chemicals, we would perish within days. Let's discuss why.

In a commonly repeated social experiment, a group of tricksters walk around a town telling people of the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. People become very concerned. Dihydrogen monoxide is being put into almost every product in the supermarket! Something must be done.

But it turns out that dihydrogen monoxide is just the chemical name for water. Indeed, everything around you is made of chemicals, from the water you drink to the food you eat to the soap you wash your hands with. You couldn't survive without them. A chemical is simply defined as a compound that has been prepared or purified. And a compound is anything containing more than one element--more than one type of atom. So that's really all a chemical is: a substance made of more than one type of atom that has been somehow produced, put together or made pure by removing other substances.

So what do people really mean when they refer to the dangers of chemicals? They're usually talking about toxic chemicals. Toxic means the same thing as poisonous--it in some way causes harm or danger, especially to humans. People also use the word chemicals to refer to artificial chemicals, or chemicals made by humans. So for the purposes of this lesson, let's focus on toxic and artificial chemicals found in the home.

What Chemicals are Found at Home?

Since everything is made of chemicals, it's probably not surprising to find out that there are a lot of chemicals in the home. Even if we focus on chemicals found in bottles made by humans, there are still a lot. Chemicals are found in hand sanitizers, soaps, bleach, bathroom cleaners, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, shaving foams, sunscreens and dishwasher tablets. The truth is that most of these things contain dozens of chemicals, so let's focus on a few of the most common ones:

Ammonia is a chemical containing one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms bonded together. It was traditionally used in many household cleaners, though today it's still found in glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaners, and smelling salts.

Ammonia molecule
Ammonia

Sodium hypochlorite solution is a chemical found in anything considered to be bleach. It's also used to chlorinate swimming pools and in many dishwasher solutions or tablets, as it's great at killing bacteria and germs.

Sodium bicarbonate is the chemical name for household baking soda. It's used to make cakes and other baked products rise in the oven. This happens because the chemical reacts with other ingredients to form carbon dioxide, which makes bubbles inside the mixture.

Baking Soda
Baking soda

Glycerol is typically found in soap. The chemicals found in soaps vary quite a bit, but in chemistry, a soap is defined as the salt of a fatty acid. A salt is the result of an acid and base neutralizing each other. So, it's where a fatty acid is neutralized by a base. Glycerol is added to this for consistency and to prevent soap from drying out.

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