Saturday, September 09, 2006

Using Ammonia in the Home

Remember the "smelling salts" of Victorian days? Our great-grandmothers used to carry decorative vials of ammonium carbonate, which releases ammonia when crushed. The stimulating odor could be waved under the nose of a woman who had fainted in order to revive her. You don't want to know what substances Vicotorian manufacturer's used in synthesizing these salts.
If you wonder why great-grandma felt it necessary to carry this stimulating salt with her, remember that she was tightly corseted. Her church and social activities often took place in hot, crowded rooms -- particularly in the summer. Under these conditions, she easily became a bit lightheaded from not being able to take in enough fresh air. On occasion, she probably received unpleasant news. Given all that, it's no wonder that Grandma was always prepared in case she keeled over.
Though we have dropped the custom of carrying our own vials around with us, smelling salts are sill used medicinally today. Though it's unlikely, you might find someone waving the salts under your nose one day. Be thankful that today's ammounium carbonate is clean!
In Great-grandma's day, ammonium carobnate was also known as "Baker's Ammonia," and was a forerunner of today's baking soda and baking powder.
Household ammonia is slightly different chemical variation of ammonia than smelling salts. It usually comes in a solution of ammonia that is 5 to 10 % by weight. Please note that cleaning ammonia is not intended to be used medicinally. As the fumes can be irritating to the respiratory tract, it would not be unwise to intentionally inhale it or to wave some under a fainting person's nose.
When I think of today's household ammonia, I think of it as being an ingredient in window and glass cleaners, as well as an ingredient in concotions that remove the dirt from jewelry and makes jewelry shine. However, it can also be used as a laundry booster and stain remover.
Many frugal housekeepers mix their own cleaning solutions for various items, and many of these "homemade recipes" include ammonia. Like chlorine, household ammonia is relatively cheap.
Remember, whether using a pre-mixed solution containing ammonia or when making your own, never, ever use it around or with chlorine containing products, such as bleach. I don't think that can be said enough.
Since ammonia is alkaline, you may want to think in terms of using it to neutralize acid-based stains. Fresh urine, fresh perspiration, and fresh anitperspirant stains tend to be acidic and can be removed by cleansing with an ammonia solution. If these stains are left long enough to "set", they will oxydize and will no longer be acidic. In that case, ammonnia will no longer work. It's better to clean these stains quickly, before this point. If, for some reason, you are dealing with older stains, you will want to use white vinegar instead of ammonia.
According to Cheryl Mendleson of Home Comforts, you can add 3/4 cup of household ammonia to the laundry before you add clothing, provided, of course, that you will not also be using any laundry product containing chlorine. She says that this can sometimes brighten a load of laundry. I, personally, have not tried this. I prefer to use other products.
If you would like to shine your windows -- inside and/or out -- ammonia is one of the most effective cleaners. You can use a commercially prepared product with ammonia in it, such as Windex. Or, you can make your own out of 1/2 cup per gallon of warm water. The same holds true for mirrors. However, if your mirror or shower glass has an aluminum frame -- such as might be common in a bathroom -- be careful not to get any of the cleaning solution on the aluminum. Some people avoid using ammonia on an aluminum trimmed mirrors all together, just to prevent the ammonia from accidentally contaminating the metal. Ammonia can be corrosive to aluminum. Check the bottle to see if you need to take the same care with other metals, as well.
(Here's something that I, as a longtime home keeper, should have known, but didn't until I read this fact in "Home Comforts": If you are cleaning outside windows with an aluminum solution or any other type of solution, try to do so on a cloudy day. Strong sunlight will dry them quickly, leaving streaks.)
Some people find mild household ammonia to be an excellent cleaner for gold or diamonds. It should not be used on silver and on certain gem stones. If you are interested in using ammonia as a jewelry cleaner, be sure to do some research first to make sure that you know what you are doing. Personally, I prefer to let a jeweler's clean my jewelry. I do occasionally use pre-mixed jewelry cleaning solutions, which you can buy at a jeweler's or in a drugstore. I would guess that these may have some ammonia in them, but I do not know for certain.
(By the way, a common "new wive's tale" is that a denture cleaning tablet dropped in a glass of water is good for soaking and cleaning jewelry. This does appear to work in the short term. But, many denture tablets have an agent in them which actually produces chlorine bleach. Over time, this can be very damaging to your jewelry).
Ammonia is such a common cleanser that it is found in many, many household products. Likewise for chlorine bleach. You might see these substances listed in another checmical form. For example, hypochlorite acts as a chlorine-type cleaner and ammonium carbonate acts as an ammonia agent. Be sure to read labels on both cleaners and the items to be cleaned, so that you can be sure you know what you are dealing with. If you do not know what a particular ingredient -- such as hypochlorite is -- you can always look it up or ask someone with chemistry expertise.


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