Don’t use Kitchen Glassware for Chemistry Experiments

Kitchen chemistry can be fun. The same baking soda chemical reaction that makes a cake light and fluffy can also be used to make a “working” volcano. When home chemistry leaves the realm of the edible, however, it is time to leave behind the kitchen glassware and pull out the proper equipment. To do otherwise is much too risky. Kitchen glassware is not designed to deal well with heat. Many popular home chemistry experiments are exothermic (they release heat). Other home chemistry experiments must be heated to work: these reactions are endothermic (they absorb heat). Either way, the heat involved can and will crack kitchen glass.

Without precise measurement, reactions can be stronger than expected. Kitchen measuring cups do not have the precision needed for chemistry experiments. Glass is relatively inert, but if a measuring cup is plastic or metal, the chemical being measured may additionally interact with it, contaminating both the measuring cup and the entire experiment. Under enough strain, kitchen glass does not simply crack, it shatters. Flying glass shards can cause severe eye injury, and continue to be a hazard underhand and underfoot until completely cleaned up. If the accident happened in a food preparation area, there is also a high danger of accidentally ingesting glass shards.

Further complicating any cleanup are the spilled chemicals themselves. They could be hot, they could be freezing cold, they could be extremely caustic. Many chemicals are also poisonous: not something to let loose in a kitchen. Even if the kitchen glassware survives the experiment, it will not do so unmarked. Glass is not actually a solid but a highly viscous liquid. With thin, untreated, kitchen glassware, it is quite probable that chemicals will seep into the glassware itself. Corrosive particles will also etch glassware, making it more likely that it will break the next time. Whether to keep foreign elements out of the next experiment or for family food safety, it is crucial to get all the residue out of any glassware used for chemistry. Under normal kitchen conditions, even with the soapiest and hottest of dishwasher cycles, it is nearly impossible to do so. Even glasses that look clean often still have some chemical residue.

After the experiment, chemicals should always be stored in labelled containers. Many chemicals used in home chemistry look no different from innocuous substances such as sugar or water. It is good practice to store chemicals in a different location from foods. Of course, long-term storage will also increase the probability of chemical residue. Beakers, test tubes, and other glassware designed specifically for use in chemistry have a much higher heat tolerance. Yet even they can crack eventually, so replace any chemistry glassware that looks old or etched. Kitchen glassware was never designed to deal with the kinds of chemicals and energies in most home chemistry experiments. Play it safe, and use the proper equipment for home chemistry experiments.