June 25, 2009

Oxalic Acid – an Incredibly Versatile Cleaning Agent for Your Home

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When it comes to maintaining a decent appearance in and around a home, any home owner knows that there are a thousand different places and ways in which stains develop and different kinds of crud or grime build up.From oily driveways to faded and stained wood surfaces to rusty metals, the combination of human activities and exposure to the elements cause many different kinds of wear and tear, staining and dirtying in various areas of a property, both inside and outside.That’s why home owners need to know which kinds of cleaning agents are suitable for solving certain situations, and which ones can serve the most possible functions.


Perhaps no other cleaning agent is as useful around the home as oxalic acid: from improving the appearance of wood to removing rust to eating away at a wide variety of residual coatings, there is hardly a task this powerful solution can’t perform.It is important, however, to understand how and when to use oxalic acid-based products in combination with other chemicals or with certain manual processes beforehand or afterwards, to return that new look to decks and other areas of a home.


Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring acid that can actually be found in many plant species, such as rhubarb, spinach, and—particularly—oxalis, which is a type of weed with a bright yellow flower.When in its concentrated and pure form, oxalic acid is a toxic and dangerous substance that needs to be handled with extreme care (most products are diluted and do not present much risk, though care is still needed).Coincidentally—and completely apart from whatever home improvement uses oxalic acid may have—this acid causes certain insoluble precipitates when it comes into contact with certain minerals, like calcium, and this is the primary cause of kidney stones in humans.No need to worry about kidney stones when working on refinishing your wooden deck, sideboards, or scrubbing down a marble countertop, however!


The best-known use for oxalic acid would have to be its wood bleaching capacity.Any wooden surface—especially if this happens to be located outside, and more so if it is not protected from rain and sunshine—will fade and weather with time, and in order to keep the value of your home up it is necessary to refinish these wooden assemblies from time to time.First it is necessary to strip the old finishing from the wood, which is a relatively simple process most of the time; this can be accomplished in a few different ways, such as using chemical strippers, or by manual means such as sanding or using a power washer (beware of these last two measures, as if you are not trained in how to do so you could damage the surface of the wood and lift the grain).Once the old finishing has been removed, oxalic acid (in solution, diluted, available in many stores as “wood bleach”) is applied in order to lighten the color and soften the tone of the wood, leaving a brighten surface behind.Afterwards, a new finishing is applied and the process is repeated several years down the road when the wood looks gray and faded again.In addition to counteracting the effects of sunlight, the oxalic acid is also particularly effective at removing the bluish-black stains produced from metals, specifically nails.Many popular varieties of wood naturally contain certain tannins, and when these tannins come into contact with iron they produce very noticeable dark stains that can only effectively be removed with oxalic acid (other deck cleaners like chlorine bleaches and oxygen bleaches simply can’t do the same job).


There are many other wonderful applications for oxalic acid that make it one of the most useful and versatile chemicals to have around the home (always in a secure area away from the reach of children and pets!).Just as it can be used for restoring decks, oxalic acid is great for treating any old wood, which is why it is applied to many kinds of furniture and other wooden surfaces within a home.Furthermore, oxalic acid is a perfectly suited agent to use for removing rust stains from old tubs and sinks; simply apply with a sponge and let act for several minutes, and then rub away with a damp cloth for a few more minutes.The best part is that the oxalic acid only acts on the rust, and does not begin to eat away at the healthy metal (or other materials, such as ceramics or stone) below…practical as well as versatile!


Many homes have stone surfaces used as luxury or aesthetic components, from marble countertops to a simple mineral rock collection.Oxalic acid is ideal for cleaning and polishing practically any stone, and can be applied by rubbing and grinding or otherwise loose stones can be immersed in a diluted oxalic acid mixture and allowed to sit for a protracted period of time, letting the agent act on its own (no elbow grease necessary!).In fact, a lot of bike fanatics use precisely this technique for different parts of their frames, which saves them a lot of time and hassle and scrapes and scratches from the arduous work of using a steel wool pad to get rid of buildup and stains.One material on which oxalic acid has a particularly astonishing effect is chrome, which is left brilliant and shiny afterwards, as if it were brand new.


A last few applications for oxalic acid—to really fill out the repertoire of uses for this versatile product—include the following: in mild solutions, this acid can be very effective at removing ink or rust stains from fabric, such as clothing or furniture fabrics; in slightly stronger solutions, it is ideal for getting rid of hard water stains that can appear in many different areas of a home, such as in and around the shower and the bathroom in general, on plumbing fixtures, and even on driveways and sidewalks.You can find it at most hardware stores, and remember to always dispose of it properly, as should be the case for any toxic chemicals.

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