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Meriwether

Help! Chemical storage question, may be urgent

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Or not. Because I don't know. I got home from church and thought I smelled something. I opened the cupboard where I have chemicals and thought it smelled stronger. I have an outside door open (close by), but it is about 30 degrees out. I also have a kitchen fan on.

I looked inside the cupboard and don't see anything open. Nothing got bumped or spilled. Everything but one stock solution we made up is in it's original container and most of it is in additional tubs.

 

What should I check and how?

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Have you checked the rest of the house?  Maybe the laundry room, pantry, or bathroom?  Just thinking of some other places that might have cleaners left open or spilled, or food that is going bad and causing a smell.  Rotting oranges, onions, or potatoes can all have a weird chemical smell.  

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Can you describe the smell?  Is it like vinegar?  Or solvent-like?  Or something else?  I might be able to help you narrow it down if you can describe the smell. 🙂

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It was a sharp smell, but I don't remember exactly what it was like. I aired the house out immediately. Maybe like fingernail polish remover? Maybe like an ether? But it wasn't really strong. The kids didn't notice a smell. I do believe the smell from the cupboard where I have the chemicals was the same smell.. 

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Nail polish remover smell would make me check my Isopropyl Alcohol 70% and Isopropyl Alcohol 90% bottles to see if my bottles’ cap are not screwed on tight.

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Reading what I wrote last night, it sounds like I'm unsure there was a smell. I smelled a distinct, but not strong, chemical smell. I immediately opened the chemical cupboard and it smelled stronger. Again, not strong, but stronger. I aired everything out immediately, but I'm concerned I've got an issue with chemical storage. I'm pretty sure the isopropyl alcohol is back with my First Aid stuff not the chemical cupboard, but I will definitely check.

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Do you have acetone?  That will smell like nail polish remover.  It also evaporates pretty quickly so if the smell died down fast, that would explain it.

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Yup - acetone is the compound in nail polish remover.  After you aired out your house, @Meriwether, did the smell come back?  If it didn't come back, then it probably isn't something that in your house.  The smell could have come from outside and was carried in through an open window or through your air exchange system for the house.

In terms of storage safety, most things that would be real issues aren't legally available for purchase outside professional or academic labs so you probably don't have any of them. 🙂  If you've got any organic substances (things like acetone or any alcohols, esters, ethers, other ketones, aldehydes), those would be most likely be your culprits.  Most non-organic substances wouldn't be volatile enough to give off a strong scent, particularly in the amounts that most homeschoolers would have.

This is meant for a lab setting but gives some advice as to where certain families of compounds should be stored in relation to one another:

https://www.cmich.edu/fas/fsr/rm/EHS/Documents/chemical storage guidance.pdf

Flinn Scientific used to have a whole chemical storage safety section of their catalogue that was basically free info on how to safely store your chemicals but now it looks like one has to buy the info. 😞  In general, store your oxidizers separately (chlorates, nitrates, permanganates), store your strong acids separately, particularly if they are also concentrated, i.e. not diluted (hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid), and store your organic substances separately from everything else and make sure that the cabinet that they are stored in isn't sealed air-tight.  You don't want flammable vapour building up inside the cabinet. 🙂  The one compound that can cause real problems if left to sit is hydrogen peroxide but not at the concentrations that are solid in the supermarket or drug store.  If you have any 30% hydrogen peroxide, it can break down in the bottle into water and pure oxygen gas which can then explode if exposed to heat or a spark.  I don't think the average person can buy 30% hydrogen peroxide, though, so you're probably OK there.

Feel free to PM me with a picture of what's stored in your cabinet (preferably with close-ups so I can read labels 🙂 ) and I can tell you if you've got anything worrisome.

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Thank you. That sounds reassuring. There was a smell again, but even less distinct. I have the chemical kit that goes with the Home Illustrated Guide to Chemistry. I have the chemicals separated by label (different tubs but same cupboard). Do I need to separate them further? I have a 4 year old, so I have limited places to put things completely out of reach. But I will figure something else out if necessary. I'll take a picture.

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6 minutes ago, Meriwether said:

Thank you. That sounds reassuring. There was a smell again, but even less distinct. I have the chemical kit that goes with the Home Illustrated Guide to Chemistry. I have the chemicals separated by label (different tubs but same cupboard). Do I need to separate them further? I have a 4 year old, so I have limited places to put things completely out of reach. But I will figure something else out if necessary. I'll take a picture.

Is it the Honors kit or the Standard kit, Meriwether?  How long have you had the kit (i.e. how old are the chemicals)?  In either kit, the only somewhat concentrated solutions you have are the 6.0 M ones - acetic acid, ammonia, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide.  The phenolphthalein will be in a solution of alcohol, as will the iodine and any other indicators, most likely.  The other solutions all seem to be quite dilute aqueous solutions that shouldn't have any smell and wouldn't be volatile.  Do you have the ammonia and hydrochloric acid in the same tub?  If so, they should be separated.  I would take the ammonia solution and store it in a different cupboard, if you can, but not near bleach.  If a different cupboard isn't an option, just make sure it isn't in the same tub as the hydrochloric acid.  If you have the Honors kits, the salicylic acid could be breaking down in high heat and humidity and producing an acrid kind of smell but it's probably unlikely.

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I checked them all again. I had the hydrochloride acid in its own tub. If I can find a good spot for the ammonia, I will move it. I couldn't find anything likely. I did have some things in a flat tub that had to lie down, like sodium bicarbonate, but I moved them to an upright tub. I don't think it is what and humidity. We got the chemicals in October. They are in a closed, dark cupboard. We keep the house at 71 in the day and cooler at night. The fish tank water evaporates quickly and clothes are drying quickly on racks. We didn't do chem lab last week (several families join us every other week) because my boys had a FLL competition on Saturday. (They won the project portion and are going to state!) We needed the time for extra practices. So the cupboard hadn't been opened in awhile. Maybe the smell has always been there, but I didn't notice it when I would open the cupboard one week to plan and the next week for the labs?

Edited by Meriwether
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22 minutes ago, Meriwether said:

I checked them all again. I had the hydrochloride acid in its own tub. If I can find a good spot for the ammonia, I will move it. I couldn't find anything likely. I did have some things in a flat tub that had to lie down, like sodium bicarbonate, but I moved them to an upright tub. I don't think it is what and humidity. We got the chemicals in October. They are in a closed, dark cupboard. We keep the house at 71 in the day and cooler at night. The fish tank water evaporates quickly and clothes are drying quickly on racks. We didn't do chem lab last week (several families join us every other week) because my boys had a FLL competition on Saturday. (They won the project portion and are going to state!) We needed the time for extra practices. So the cupboard hadn't been opened in awhile. Maybe the smell has always been there, but I didn't notice it when I would open the cupboard one week to plan and the next week for the labs?

First - congratulations to the boys! 🙂  And yes - if the cupboard had been closed for awhile, the vapors would have built up a bit more from anything that was volatile.  I think I can imagine your smell now - it's that "chem lab" smell that all my university chem texts have.  It's not really specific to any one compound.  Weirdly, I like that smell.  But then, I like chemistry.   🙂

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11 minutes ago, Meriwether said:

Thank you for taking the time to talk me through this. I appreciate it very much. 

You're welcome!  If it does get stronger, then it's probably something that needs to be looked into.  Definitely let me know and we can try to troubleshoot. 🙂

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