Shannon Lush gets it wrong #4

Yesterday on 6PR Shannon Lush gave to a listener what is probably the most ridiculous advice I have ever heard given on-air about anything.

A listener called in with an ink stain from a biro on a beige leather sofa.

Shannon’s advice to remove it was to use rotten milk. She told the listener to put milk out in the sun for three days, and then after it has gone rotten, rub the “chunky bits” over the ink stain.

Two questions immediately spring to mind:

1. For all the people who politely say “thanks very much” when such advice is given, has anyone actually done this? Has anyone ever actually followed this advice? Or after ringing off do they jump onto Google to try to find something more practical?

2. What do you do about the smell of rotten milk all over your sofa (which brings me        back to Q1)?

Apparently she has never heard of isopropanol, otherwise known as isopropyl alcohol.

Image result for isopropyl alcohol

This stuff, available from Jaycar Electronics, will get it off easily with a bit of rubbing. It’s probably the most versatile and useful cleaning chemical in existence, so keep it around for 1001 other applications.

An alternative is acetone

Image result for acetone bunnings

Be a bit careful with acetone though – it’s a more aggressive solvent than isopropanol. It won’t damage the leather, but will probably leave the surface dull as it will strip the natural oils from the surface. This is easily restored, however, with neatsfoot oil

Shannon Lush Gets it Wrong #3

Shannon Lush is not a chemist, and in fact has no formal qualifications whatever.

We should therefore not be surprised when she gets things wrong when the topic is anything involving chemistry or, in this case, microbiology.

Yesterday on 6PR the topic of sterilisation was raised on the breakfast show. Instead of speaking to a medical or biological specialist of some sort, however, they chose to ask Shannon Lush.
Her advice was that to sterilise something it had to be in vigorously boiling water for three minutes.

This is in fact incorrect. Although boiling water will kill most pathogens, it will not kill all pathogens. And the problem is that some of the toughest bacteria to kill are also the most deadly. An example of this is Clostridium Botulinum, one of the causes of botulism, a potentially fatal disease. In fact these spores are so tough that they are often used to test a sterilisation procedure. That is, if the Clostridium Botulinum are dead, then you can be assured that everything else is.

But Shannon Lush is apparently unaware of this. The consequence of this is that if you are unlucky enough to have Clostridium Botulinum around somewhere, and you are foolish enough to follow Shannon Lush’s advice, you may finish up with botulism, a potentially fatal disease.

As anyone who has studied biology at even high school will tell you, autoclaving is required to ensure something is sterile. An autoclave is a device that will heat water to 121°C for 15 to 20 minutes. It achieves this temperature by pressurising the water, and is a standard device in any medical or biological laboratory.
I spoke with John Solvander, the program director at 6PR a few weeks ago and told him that Shannon Lush was an amateur, and that her advice was mostly wrong.

He chose to ignore this advice, however, and now 6PR has a problem. If incorrect advice is given on how to clean a carpet or shirt it doesn’t really matter that much. But when advice is given on a medical issue that is wrong, the consequence is a potential health risk, in this case a serious health risk.

I have advised 6PR of this, and that a public correction needs to be issued. They have yet to comply with this.
There are of course several simple chemical procedures that can sterilise things, the simplest being a 70% solution of metho. This is in fact what hospitals store medical instruments in. It is simple to make at home, and is cheaper than buying an autoclave.

Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of chemistry or biology would know that, but unfortunately Shannon Lush doesn’t even meet this standard.

Shannon Lush Gets it Wrong #2

Last week on 6PR Shannon Lush gave us her tips on cleaning in response to listener questions.
Are her tips right? Will they work?

Let’s look at it.
The first thing that needs to be understood is that Shannon is not a chemist. She doesn’t know much chemistry, and has little understanding of the chemistry and principles behind off-the-shelf products. The result of this is that whether her home-spun ideas work or not, there is usually an off-the-shelf product that will do the job just as well, or better, saving you a lot of time, and often money. She is not able to recommend these products, as she does not know what is in them, nor how they work.
Let’s look at the questions one by one.

The first caller wanted to know how to get sunscreen stains out of a white t-shirt.
Shannon’s answer was to use a dishwashing detergent as a spot cleaner. Put some detergent on the stain, close your eyes, and rub it in. When you feel the detergent thicken, this is caused by the detergent emulsifying the stain. She was not able to name a particular brand to use.

Is that why it thickens? Possibly, but the thickening will also be caused by the water in the detergent evaporating, and the thickening agent therefore being present at a higher concentration. She is clearly not aware that most dishwashing detergents are about 80% water, and the thick consistency is caused by a thickening agent to disguise this fact.
So will it work? Probably – but use Morning Fresh, as it has the highest concentration of surfactant (40% last time I looked).
Alternatively you could use acetone, which would probably work instantly.

If neither of these work, try Easy Off oven cleaner. Spray on, rub in and rinse. If that doesn’t work, try a powder laundry detergent, preferably one with enzymes. Make the powder into a paste and rub it on and rinse.

The next question involved gravy stains in microwave cookware. Shannon was not able to answer this, but merely advised the listener how to protect the cookware from being stained in the first place. Fortunately, I can answer it. Put some washing soda in there, make it into a paste by adding a minimum amount of water to it, and rub it into the gravy stains and it will come out.

The next question was about cleaning and maintaining leather car seats. In particular, the listener said that the product he was using left the car seats a little sticky. Shannon’s answer involved a concoction of lavender oil and a couple of other things. I haven’t tried this myself, because I don’t need to, as there is an off-the-shelf product that is a terrific leather cleaner and conditioner – Mr Sheen.

Originally marketed as a furniture polish, the people at Reckitts finally realized what I have known for years – that it is s terrific general purpose cleaner, and particularly for leather. It has just enough white spirit to clean grime off seats, and leaves a silky smooth silicone coating that leaves your seats smooth and shiny. It’s also terrific for sprucing up your dashboard, paintwork and engine. Spray it on the outside of your windscreen and it’ll help the raindrops run off and your wipers glide smoothly. But don’t spray it on the inside of the windscreen as it’ll promote fogging.

The final question involved a brown stain on a carpet. Shannon told us that it was caused by tannins that leached out of the carpet lining. Unfortunately, it doesn’t require a whole lot of analysis to see that this is completely wrong. She would have us believe that carpets contain a water soluble, brown substance in the lining, and all that has to happen for the stain to appear is for the carpets to get wet. Somehow I think that the people that make carpets are not quite that dumb.

I don’t know what the stain is, but I’d hit it with an enzyme cleaner (WhiteKing Stainlift) and if needs be, an oxidiser (Preen OxyAction). There are other more aggressive approaches if required – check the Q&A section on my website.


Is Water Fluoridation Safe?

The short answer is yes, it is, but it’s easy to understand why some people think it isn’t.

When we look at chemical toxicity, we need to understand that there are several different classes.

Firstly, there are chemicals for which any level of exposure is undesirable, as with sufficient exposure over time they will have an effect on our health, possibly with lethal outcomes. In this category we have asbestos, lead, and any of the tars and other combustion products in cigarettes.

There are other chemicals, however, which although toxic in higher concentrations, are either completely harmless, or even beneficial at low levels. In this category we have most transition metals such as copper, zinc and iron.

And fluoride.

But the trouble is that this is not obvious if you look at the data, and fluoride is a case in point. If you look at the MSDS for sodium fluoride you find that it is an S7 poison – the highest category. Little wonder that some people are leery about having it in their water.

So what does fluoride do in your body?

Mostly, it reacts with your bones. In this regard it is unusual, as most other toxins attack your organs somehow. But the fluoride attacks your bones. This is why in Breaking Bad it is the chemical of choice for disposing of bodies…..

So if you are exposed to enough of it to be harmful it causes horrible internal burns which are very difficult to treat. Whenever I have had to handle hydrofluoric acid (it’s used to make industrial strength brick cleaner) I’ve gone the full monty in terms of protective gear.

But in water it’s nowhere near this strength. The fluoridating agent in municipal waters is fluorosilicic acid, a by-product of aluminium production, and it gives a level of fluoridation of about 2mg/L.

At this concentration it is too low to be harmful – no matter how much water you drink – but it still reacts with your teeth. I don’t think anyone quite understands the mechanism, but it would be some sort of inorganic composite where the fluoride combines with the calcium phosphate (that your teeth are made of) to produce some sort of calcium fluorophosphate, that is in some way chemically resistant to the chemical decay process (caused by lactic acid that is made by anaerobic bacteria).

And this has certainly been confirmed by every study in this area – so you may drink municipal water – and use toothpaste, with absolute confidence that your teeth are being protected.

Shannon Lush Gets it Wrong #1

A substantial amount of what Shannon Lush says about the chemistry of cleaning is wrong. This shouldn’t surprise us, as she is not a chemist.

Paramount among these is the oft-given advice of mixing bicarb with vinegar. I have heard her say on air that this “makes hydrogen peroxide” and that’s what does the cleaning.

This is quite incorrect, and I and several of my colleagues have sent her emails in this regard down through the years. She apparently now realises this, as on Tony Delroy’s show on nightlife this evening she said that it “forces oxygen into things”

I was unable to get an explanation of this, however. For her benefit, when you mix bicarb soda and vinegar together, the reaction products are sodium acetate, water and carbon dioxide, not oxygen, and none of these compounds have any cleaning properties whatever.

The balanced equation is:


But let it never said I wasn’t open-minded. I now invite Shannon Lush to answer this question, and I’ll print her answer in full on this site.

Other things that she said that were wrong (off the top of my head) were

1. You cannot remove silicone (from Mr Sheen) from a plasma TV. I’m not sure why you’d want to remove Mr Sheen, as it is a terrific general purpose cleaner, but it can be removed with Shellite (from a hardware store) – that’s what painters use to pretreat automotive surfaces that have often been polished with silicone polishes.

2. You cannot use an acidic cleaner to clean marble. In fact marble is incredibly chemically resilient, which is why we still have marble structures going back to Roman times, and you can use hydrochloric acid on it if you want. But if the problem was mould and mildew, you’d use caustic soda on it.

3. You can mostly replace your laundry powder with bicarb soda. This advice displays an utter ignorance of both the chemistry of bicarb soda and washing powders. Washing powders are highly sophisticated formulas that contain up to 9 or 10 different components (surfactants, enzymes, oxidizers, builders, alkaline salts, fluorescing agents, antiredeposition agents, free-flow agents, fragrance, softeners), and you simply cannot replace these with any one chemical – particularly bicarb soda, which has almost no cleaning properties whatever.