Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/111

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101
THE CHEMISTRY OF CLEANING.
THE CHEMISTRY OF CLEANING.[1]

By Prof. VIVIAN LEWES.

AS a great city grows, and the agglomeration of struggling humanity increases, such questions as the disposal of sewage and other waste matter rise from comparative insignificance into problems of almost insurmountable difficulty; and while we are able to put the burden of cleansing our towns upon the urban authorities, the responsibility of keeping our homes and bodies in a condition of at least sanitary cleanliness devolves upon the individual, and a knowledge of the causes of dirt and the methods by which it can be removed can not be regarded as devoid of interest, or at any rate of utility.

Observation shows that in our town houses only a very short interval of time is needed to cause a considerable deposit of dust upon any horizontal surface, while vertical surfaces and draperies, especially if their surface be rough, also accumulate a perceptible quantity, although of a lighter and more finely divided kind. We also find that this dust is borne to its resting place by the air which penetrates from the outer atmosphere, and that its deposition is caused by the comparative condition of rest insured to it by the absence of wind or violent currents.

The presence of these air-borne particles of solid matter can be made visible in any town by allowing a beam of sunlight or a ray from an electric lantern to pass through the air of a darkened room. If the room be filled with air previously filtered by passing it through cotton wool, the beam of light is invisible until it strikes the opposite wall; but if the air be unfiltered, the path of the beam is mapped out by the suspended matter reflecting and dispersing portions of it, and so becoming visible to the eye as "the motes in the sunbeam." The heavier the nature of the particles the more quickly will they settle, with the result that the dust on horizontal surfaces, such as the tops of sideboard, piano, and mantel-board, may be expected to differ somewhat from the lighter form, which has continued to float until contact with vertical surfaces has brought it to rest.

These particles of dust are composed of matters of the most varied nature, and will be found, when collected, to consist partly of mineral and partly of organic substances.

The heavier portions of the dust are found to contain ground-up siliceous matter, pulverized by traffic in the road; small particles of salt carried inland by winds from the sea, together with sulphate of soda, with other impurities of a local character. If a

  1. Abridged from a lecture delivered at the London Institution.