Crunchy Thoughts

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chemistry in action

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Yesterday I found some neat little cordial glasses at a consignment shop. After I brought them home, I had to create some space for them. This led to a lot of cabinet shuffling and dragging out a bunch of kitchen knick knacks. As I was rearranging, Steven joined in the fun by fiddling with the overhead kitchen light which has been hanging funny. This has apparently been bugging him for a while. We yak shaved like this for about an hour.

At one point I came across a little silver trivet thing of my grandmother’s that was completely black with tarnish. Lord only knows where my grandmother got it from — there is a large engraved ‘N’ across the top of it. Knowing her, she probably found it at a flea market.

I dragged out our silver polish to see what I could do with it, but the polish did not make a huge dent in all that blackness. Steven, who was now finished with the light, did some googling and found a recipe that promised to remove all the tarnish without any scrubbing, so we set that up.

The mixture involved some stuff that made sense like vinegar, baking soda, and hot water, but it also included stuff that was a bit weird, namely aluminum foil. It was very insistent on the aluminum. So we set it up, plopped in the piece of silver, and then suddenly our kitchen smelled like a big nasty fart. It was pretty rank, but by golly it sure did remove the silver tarnish!

We speculated among ourselves about what chemical process actually happened. The fart smell made me think sulfur was involved, but I wasn’t sure where it came from.

This morning I actually found what the chemical process was, and I was right about the sulfur! The tarnish on silver is formed from silver and sulfur, though I’m not sure where the sulfur originally comes from. The air? Anyway, the silver sulfide reacts with the aluminum to create silver and aluminum sulfide, which creates the nasty fart smell.

So essentially we created silver-plated farts in the comfort of our own kitchen.

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