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Author Topic: Any chemists/biologists to explain to me this weird thing that happened?  (Read 486 times)

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Offline Twizel

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Awhile back I found some old papers that had gotten wet and then suffered mildew damage. Since they were sentimental, I packed them in a plastic bin (the lid was on but it was not airtight) and put a liberal amount of baking soda in with them. Then the bin sat and I forgot about it for gosh, nearly a year!

Fast forward to today. The bin was not opened till now, and has been stored at room temperature, not exposed to water (although I live in a pretty humid area and its been a muggy summer). When opening the bin, a lot of mildew smell is gone, the papers are bone dry, and the baking soda of course has gotten everywhere. This is the weird part, though - on the outside and top of the bin, not the inside, are droplets that appear like beaded condensation, of a clear liquid that feels slightly greasy. It has dripped onto some of my other things, though it doesn't appear to have caused any damage beyond spreading a faint odor. Weirdly, it has a mild vinegar-y smell, sort of tangy but not sharp - it doesn't smell like the mildew at all.

What odd chemical reaction is causing this? I have a zillion of these bins, and this is the only one doing this, so I assume its some sort of reaction caused by the baking soda. Is this water, or chemicals from the plastic, or something else entirely? Should I be worried about toxicity? From what little I remember, baking soda is a base, so is this acid from somewhere fleeing the baking soda on the inside of the bin?
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Offline dragonfly

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Re: Any chemists/biologists to explain to me this weird thing that happened?
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2019, 10:17:39 PM »
Hmmm wow! Interested to hear

Offline Thimble

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Re: Any chemists/biologists to explain to me this weird thing that happened?
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2019, 03:19:13 AM »
Not an expert, but I do know that many forms of fungus secrete liquids.
But check first for any possible critters, given that the container holds potential food or nesting materials.
Another option being leakage or condensation dripping from above, especially if its humid. Condensation is a real problem with  storage.
If you want to science it out yourself, you could google some tests you can do with household materials. Could be an interesting project...
Personally, I'd say wash everything thoroughly, get some dehumidifier packets to put in the box, and store it separately. If it reoccurs, its likely to be the box itself. If it spreads from the original location, probly alive.
I definitely wouldn't handle it with bare skin though. It might not be toxic, but it could be something icky. (Totally scientific term, lol.)
« Last Edit: September 16, 2019, 03:23:49 AM by Thimble »
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Offline Mewtwofan1

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Re: Any chemists/biologists to explain to me this weird thing that happened?
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2019, 04:09:29 AM »
     Biology IB graduate here. My answer? No idea. At all. I’ll try googling later, but for right now I have little explanation.
This. Sentence. Is. False! Dontthinkaboutitdontthinkaboutit.

Offline Twizel

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Re: Any chemists/biologists to explain to me this weird thing that happened?
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2019, 04:44:07 PM »
Another option being leakage or condensation dripping from above, especially if its humid. Condensation is a real problem with  storage.
Personally, I'd say wash everything thoroughly, get some dehumidifier packets to put in the box, and store it separately. If it reoccurs, its likely to be the box itself. If it spreads from the original location, probly alive.

The odd thing is, this box wasn't in storage. I mean, it was a plastic storage bin, but it was in our extra bedroom, not an off-site facility. I can verify there's no other leakage or condensation from above, it does get humid in that room is all.

I've found one hypothesis via frantic googling, maybe someone can tell me if it sounds viable. Baking soda is a base, which reacts with acid. Mildew prefers a slightly acidic environment, and old paper (from the mid-1900s and earlier, like what was in the bin) is mildly acidic (apparently that's why older paper yellows and gets fragile while newer paper doesn't), plus there could be some acetic acid in the polyethylene bin. Baking soda + an acid = carbon dioxide and water. The box wasn't airtight, but being that it was a small closed space left for a year-ish, could the baking soda have slowly reacted with those acids to cause water condensation?

I should also mention - the mildew smell was so strong it made me gag when I found it, and there was gray powdery stuff everywhere. (the upstairs neighbor's apartment was vandalized by his (now ex)-wife who broke a main water pipe, and we're right below, soooo yeah we needed new furniture, ceiling and floor). However, after the year of sitting in the box the mildew smell is still there but faintly, and I can't see visual evidence of it at all.
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Offline Breyer600

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Re: Any chemists/biologists to explain to me this weird thing that happened?
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2019, 07:34:34 PM »
Since you described it as smelling vinegary and it's on a plastic box, it makes me think it might be "vinegar syndrome."  Certain types of plastic are made with acetic acid (same thing that's in vinegar) and when they start breaking down it can come to the surface.  Breyers made in the late 80s/early 90s can become "shrinkies" or "oozies" due to this which is how I heard of it.  It's a problem for old film too and you can read more about the details here
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