Monday 3 May 2021

Chemical Changes that Occur in Your Home


When most people think of chemical changes and reactions, they usually think of scientists or chemists experimenting in a lab — certainly not in their own homes. Contrary to popular opinion, chemistry, naturally, is the scientific exploration behind chemical changes, and life is full of changes. These changes don’t occur in a vacuum, and instead, they consistently happen wherever life exists — even in our homes.

A guest post by Indiana Lee 

Some chemical changes are good, like those that occur when making a delicious cake. Some are not so great, like the tarnishing of our beloved silver. Still, it is important to understand these changes so you can have a better understanding of the world around you.

What Makes a Chemical Change?

To truly understand the chemical changes happening around your home, you first need to learn how to identify a chemical change and how it differs from a physical change. While an item may look different, it may not have anything to do with chemicals and may be considered a physical change. In essence, an item can still be considered the same substance even if it is a solid, a liquid, or a gas. For example, an ice cube is made of water when it is solid. When it melts, it is still water but in liquid form instead of a solid shape.


The true sign of a chemical change is when one thing has truly developed into something else permanently. One example of a commonly made chemical change is something as simple as bread. The bread rises because yeast breaks down the starches into sugars, which in turn becomes carbon dioxide and ethanol, and thus, the bread changes as it rises and becomes a different entity.


One of the most common chemical changes that occur around our homes is the tarnishing of our silver jewelry and silverware. While silver may last a while, it eventually tends to corrode and lose its luster. This can happen for many reasons. One is that when we wear silver jewelry outside and we sweat, the salt we produce creates a chemical reaction that leads to tarnishing. Additionally, swimming while wearing jewelry also can expedite tarnishing since the chlorine in many pools will react with silver and produce silver chloride, which can turn the ring or necklace black.

Chemical Changes in the Kitchen

If the idea of chemical changes intrigues you and you want to see more, all you have to do is step into your kitchen. After all, chemical reactions in our homes most often occur in food prep processes and appliances, whether they be favorable or foul. For instance, when you bake a cake, you will often see bubbles as it cooks. These bubbles are little pockets of gas that develop when the ingredients in the cake react with one another to create an entirely changed substance.


Many foods will create chemical changes when cooked. When you cook meat, you create something called the Maillard reactions, which create polymers that turn the meat brown as it cooks. Another type of browning is caramelization, which occurs when sugar is heated. Molecules dehydrate and polymerize, which can create a bitter taste.


Other chemical changes are not so great but understanding them can make life a bit easier and more pleasant. The biggest example is what happens in your dishwasher if it is not properly cleaned and maintained. It can begin to emit a foul odor. This often occurs when food becomes stuck in the food trap or the filter, and when it does, over time it starts to grow microbes such as bacteria, mold, and yeast, which causes it to smell. These foul odors exist to alarm us of a present danger which is also why rotting fruits left on a counter too long will emit these off-putting smells. The idea is to warn us not to eat them, so we don’t get sick.

Outdoor Chemical Changes

Many chemical changes are happening around the exterior of your house as well. One of the most obvious and consistent chemical changes is the changing of colors in the leaves around your property when the seasons pass. This occurs because the chlorophyll that turns leaves green in the summer for photosynthesis breaks down when autumn approaches. It is then replaced with anthocyanins and carotene that are naturally found in leaves which creates that reddish coloring.


Additionally, outdoor chemical changes can occur even in the most common of settings: a firepit. If you ever sit around the fire pit to watch the stars or roast marshmallows, you are witnessing many different chemical changes, starting with the chemical reaction known as combustion. You first see this when you strike the match: the friction creates heat, and when combined with oxygen, it makes fire. The match head then oxidizes, creating a new compound in the form of ash. This is the same as when the firewood starts to burn. It becomes ash which is, in essence, a different chemical substance.


The world is full of amazing changes that we often witness without really understanding, but by comprehending the transitions around us, we can start to connect with our environment and truly appreciate the complexities of life on Earth.


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