Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Cleaning up powdered alumimun?

jgourlay - 15-10-2015 at 04:11

I've been messin' with powdered aluminum and the other day I got a little over-enthusiastic while mixing it into some stuff. I spilled some on the floor, and the stuff is a mess anyway because of the way it just hangs in the air. I need a clean up method.

The floor is plywood, as are the benches. Despite sweeping it up and wiping everything down with wet paper towels, the aluminum has worked its way into nook, cranny, and crevice. I was horrified this morning. I walked into the room (my pottery shed) to put a handle on a coffee cup. Then I walked back into the kitchen, turned around, and noted that I had left a set of silver boot prints all through my wife's kitchen! Also, every surface I touch leaves my fingers with a light dusting...which then gets on everything else I touch.

I haven't seen a mess like this since "The Great Ferrofluid Spill of 1998". In that case, we ended up moving. Not an option here.

What do you suggest?

Detonationology - 15-10-2015 at 04:25

I always make a mess with aluminum or dark aluminum. Their is almost no way to stop it. If you are using airflow, the problem just gets worse. I could use some tips too.

Metacelsus - 15-10-2015 at 04:42

Use a vacuum cleaner?

Detonationology - 15-10-2015 at 04:47

I am not sure if my vacuum cleaner has 5ยต bags :(

jgourlay - 15-10-2015 at 04:51

1. Broom 2. Vac Cleaner 3. wet paper towel.

Problem is all the nooks and crannies. Powedered aluminum is disturbingly 'sticky'. It takes a LOT of hot water scrubbing to get it out of the pores of your fingerprints. If, however, I am not OCD type thorough in taking a potters fingernail brush and cleaning my fingerprints, I will leave silvery fingerprints everywhere for DAYS after casual contact. Very much like ferrofluid.

Aluminum cathodically protects iron. I wonder if I could resolve this by spilling a bunch of small nails everywhere, then spritzing the whole area with a mild salt solution.

Sulaiman - 15-10-2015 at 05:25

to form an electrolytic cell each particle of aluminium would have to be electrically connected,
you could give a dusting of fine iron powder,
then work out how to remove the rust stains ....:D


WGTR - 15-10-2015 at 06:36

Paint everything with a wet, thinned-out coat of polyurethane, especially since everything is plywood (No cosmetic surfaces, I suppose). That should immobilize the dust.

AJKOER - 15-10-2015 at 16:59

Here are two chemical approaches that attack the Aluminum, but I am not sure if they are any better than a direct cover-up method (whose main disadvantage is no change in appearance and only effective as the coating remains in place).

First approach, treat the area with a mixture of vinegar/H2O2/touch of sea salt. Apply a heat lamp. Final product should be soluble Aluminum acetate. [Edit] Caution: even dilute H2O2 may cause a discoloration issue. One could apply fine dry salt to the area and use a steam cleaner (as suggested by Lavenatti) loaded with dilute H2O2/vinegar after testing for unacceptable bleaching. I would suspect that two applications would be needed.

Second idea is an electrochemical approach, based on the so called bleach battery (see discussion and half reactions at ), but I am not sure if the final appearance (and cleanup) is more of an issue, so you may wish to test on a small area.

Start by covering the area first with some copper pennies.

Then, mix chlorine bleach (NaOCl) with a small amount of sea salt. Spray the area with the mixture and keep it moist for a period of time.

The final product is expected to be mostly NaCl and Al(OH)3, but you could get some colorfully copper carbonate/hydroxide as well. Vinegar may (?) work to clean things up.

Clear disadvantage, the NaOCl will bleach/discolor the wood. Also, soluble copper salts are highly toxic to lower organisms (fungi, viruses, bacteria, fish,..) and can even poison small animals at times (like cats and dogs).

[Edited on 16-10-2015 by AJKOER]

lavenatti - 16-10-2015 at 02:20

One of the small steam cleaners will get pretty much everything up and immobilize it without blowing it around. I have a small Bissel Steam cleaner that has saved me from replacing flooring more than once.

It will take a while to clean the "shiny" out of the steam cleaner when you're finished.

OneEyedPyro - 16-10-2015 at 02:57

A little Al powder in the air won't kill you, what's the big deal?

As for cleaning it off of a surface, good luck! You'll likely just spread it around by wiping it.
I'd vacuum up as much as I could then try the chemical removal approach like AJKOER suggested, a dilute HCl solution might work.

kadriver - 16-10-2015 at 20:01

When we were kids we would dissolve aluminum foil in lye to create hydrogen gas. But lye would discolor the wood. Plus hydrogen might fill your shed, ignite explosively, and blow up your shed!

I think hydrochloric acid will dissolve aluminum also, but not good on your wood floor.


jgourlay - 19-10-2015 at 05:00

AJ: EXACTLY what I need! THanks!