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Greenies: Eco-Friendly Stain Removers - 6/09

Eco-Friendly Stain Removers

by Belinda Pak, who won the First Prize in the Junior Division Chemistry category of the Annual Colorado Science and Engineering Fair.

Purpose

The purpose of this experiment is to investigate how effective environmentally friendly stain removers work on typical household stains, and how they compare with a commercial stain remover. My experiment focuses on greasy stains and combination stains. I will try to find out the effectiveness of common alkaline and acidic cleaners as stain removers, and how they compare to commercial detergents.

Hypothesis

There is probably not one agent that can deal with all stains. The effectiveness of a particular stain removing agent should depend on the chemical composition of the stain.

The Experiment

There are many categories of stains, for example, greasy stains, inorganic stains, petroleum-based stains and combinations stains. I chose to focus on six particularly common staining fluids in a household: wine, cranberry juice, chocolate milk, coffee, red sauce, and ink. Since there are also many recommended stain-removing solutions, I selected five that are commonly perceived to be easily accessible and environmentally friendly: water, vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and borax. In addition, I tested Tide detergent, a commercial detergent, for comparison.

Aimed to test all binary combination of staining and stain removing solution three times, I conducted 90 tests. In each series, I first submerged sheets of cloth into the staining solution and let them sit over a fixed period of time. Then, I let them dry. Next, I submerged the sheets in the stain removing solution. After two hours, I removed them and evaluate the results.

Color Scale Used to Rate Stains

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The Result

The numbers in the columns, labeled with the stains, are the averages of the difference between the color level of stained cloth before and after treatment.

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Conclusion

Generally, my hypothesis, that there is not one agent that can deal with all stains, and that the effectiveness of a stain removing agent depends on the chemical composition of the stain, is correct. However, I found that borax is the best overall stain remover of the six that I chose to investigate. Like what was stated in my hypothesis, the effectiveness of the stain remover is dependent on the chemical composition of it, compared to the chemical composition of the stain it tries to remove. This is shown in my experimentation with borax. My stains have acidic components, and borax is a base, so they react, though some more than others. In addition, borax also bleaches the stain to make it less visible. Borax can remove greasy stains, stains caused by food, or human and animal oils, and combination stains, complex stains that may require different means of removal. This is because many of the stains have acidic components. Borax probably does not clean petroleum-based and inorganic stains well, due to the chemical compositions. Different stains react differently with different stain removers according to chemical composition. In comparison to a commercial detergent, Tide, borax is even more effective. From this experiment, I have gained confidence that borax is an environmentally safe and effective solution to my laundry problems!

Reference

Vinegar
Using vinegar as an alternative cleaner helps to protect the environment by reducing the chemicals that are flushed down the drains, and out into the seas of the world. Buying fewer of these products cuts down on production and ultimately reduces global warming and climate change. This is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint.
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/551431/spring_clean_your_kitchen_with_vinegar.html

Hydrogen Peroxide
The effect of hydrogen peroxide on the environment is negligible. Its products of decomposition are oxygen, gas and water.
http://www.eka.com/Home/Functions/Bleaching/Bleaching+and+the+environment/Hydrogen+peroxide+bleaching/

Borax
Boron is naturally occurring and ubiquitous in the environment. Borax pentahydrate decomposes in the environment to natural borate.
http://www.etimineusa.com/pages/msds_penta.html

Baking Soda
Baking Soda is actually sodium bicarbonate. It is found naturally in mineral deposits, lake sediments and groundwater...Virtually all baking soda in North America today comes from the mined mineral, trona, which can be found in large amounts in one place - Green River, Wyoming...Baking soda is manufactured in one other factory - a natural factory: the human body.
Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You've Probably Never Thought Of (Lansky, Vicki)