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UPSC Chemistry Chemistry in Everyday Life Chemistry in Everyday Life

Chemistry in Everyday Life

Category : UPSC

 Chemistry in Everyday Life


1.           Antibiotics


  • Antibiotics are used as drugs to treat infections because of their low toxicity for humans and animals. Initially antibiotics were classified as chemical substances produced by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and molds) that inhibit the growth or even destroy microorganisms.
  • The development of synthetic methods has helped in synthesising some of the compounds that were originally discovered as products of microorganisms. Also, some purely synthetic compunds have antibacterial activity, and therefore, definition of antibiotic has been modified. An antibiotic now refers to a substance produced wholly or partly by chemical synthesis, which in low concentration inhibits the growth or destroys microorganisms by intervening in their metabolic processes.
  • The search for chemicals that would adversely affect invading bacteria but not the host began in the nineteenth century. Paul Ehrlich, a German bacteriologist, conceived this idea. He investigated arsenic based structures in order to produce less toxic substances for the treatment of syphilis. He developed the medicine, arsphenamine, known as salvarsan.
  • Paul Ehrlich got Nobel prize for Medicine in 1908 for this discovery. It was the first effective treatment for syphilis. Although salvarsan is toxic to human beings, its effect on the bacteria, spirochete, which causes syphilis is much greater than on human beings.
  • The range of bacteria or other microorganisms that are affected by a certain antibiotic is expressed as its spectrum of action. Antibiotics which kill or inhibit a wide range of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria are said to be broad spectrum antibiotics. Those effective mainly against Gram-positive or Gram-negative bacteria are narrow spectrum antibiotics.
  • If effective against a single organism or disease, they are referred to as limited spectrum antibiotics. Penicillin G has a narrow spectrum. Ampicillin and Amoxycillin are synthetic modifications of penicillins. These have broad spectrum. It is absolutely essential to test the patients for sensitivity (allergy) to penicillin before it is administered.


2.           Antiseptics and disinfectants


  • Antiseptics and disinfectants are also the chemicals which either kill or prevent the growth of microorganisms.
  • Antiseptics are applied to the living tissues such as wounds, cuts, ulcers and diseased skin surfaces. These are not ingested like antibiotics.
  • Commonly used antiseptic, dettol is a mixture of chloroxylenol and terpineol Bithionol (the compound is also called bithional) is added to soaps to impart antiseptic properties.
  • Iodine is a powerful antiseptic. Its \[2-3\]per cent solution in alcohol water mixture is known as tincture of iodine. It is applied on wounds. lodoform is also used as an antiseptic for wounds. Boric acid in dilute aqueous solution is weak antiseptic for eyes.
  • Disinfectants are applied to inanimate objects such as floors, drainage system, instruments, etc. Same substances can act as an antiseptic as well as disinfectant by varying the concentration. For example, \[0.2\]per cent solution of phenol is an antiseptic while its one percent solution is disinfectant.
  • Chlorine in the concentration of \[0.2\] to \[0.4\]ppm in aqueous solution and sulphur dioxide in very low concentrations, are disinfectants.
  • Birth control pills essentially contain a mixture of synthetic estrogen and progesterone derivatives. Both of these compounds are hormones. It is known that progesterone suppresses ovulation. Synthetic progesterone derivatives are more potent than progesterone.
  • Norethindrone is an example of synthetic progesterone derivative most widely used as antifertility drug. The estrogen derivative which is used in combination with progesterone derivative is ethynylestradiol (novestrol).


3.           Artificial Sweetening Agents


  • Natural sweeteners, e.g., sucrose add to calorie intake and therefore many people prefer to use artificial sweeteners. Ortho-sulphobenzimide, also called saccharin, is the first popular artificial sweetening agent. It has been used as a sweetening agent ever since it was discovered in 1879. It is about 550 times as sweet as cane sugar. It is excreted from the body in urine unchanged. It appears to be entirely inert and harmless when taken. Its use is of great value to diabetic persons and people who need to control intake of calories.
  • Aspartame is the most successful and widely used artificial sweetener. It is roughly 100 times as sweet as cane sugar. It is methyl ester of dipeptide formed from aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Use of aspartame is limited to cold foods and soft drinks because it is unstable at cooking temperature.
  • Alitame is high potency sweetener, although it is more stable than aspartame, the control of sweetness of food is difficult while using it.
  • Sucrolose is trichloro derivative of sucrose. Its appearance and taste are like sugar. It is stable at cooking temperature. It does not provide calories.


4.           Food Preservatives


  • Food preservatives prevent spoilage of food due to microbial growth. The most commonly used preservatives include table salt, sugar, vegetable oils and sodium benzoate, \[{{C}_{6}}{{H}_{5}}COONa\]. Sodium benzoate is used in limited quantities and is metabolised in the body. Salts of sorbic acid and propanoic acid are also used as preservatives.
  • Soaps are the detergents used since long. Soaps used for cleaning purpose are sodium or potassium salts of long chain fatty acids, e.g., stearic, oleic and palmitic acids. Soaps containing sodium salts are formed by heating fat (i.e., glyceryl ester of fatty acid) with aqueous sodium hydroxide solution. This reaction is known as saponification.
  • In this reaction, esters of fatty acids are hydrolysed and the soap obtained remains in colloidal form. It is precipitated from the solution by adding sodium chloride. The solution left after removing the soap contains glycerol, which can be recovered by fractional distillation.
  • Only sodium and potassium soaps are soluble in water and are used for cleaning purposes. Generally potassium soaps are soft to the skin than sodium soaps. These can be prepared by using potassium hydroxide solution in place of sodium hydroxide.


5.           Types of Soaps


  • Basically all soaps are made by boiling fats or oils with suitable soluble hydroxide. Variations are made by using different raw materials.
  • Toilet soaps are prepared by using better grades of fats and oils and care is taken to remove excess alkali. Colour and perfumes are added to make these more attractive.
  • Soaps that float in water are made by beating tiny air bubbles before their hardening.
  • Transparent soaps are made by dissolving the soap in ethanol and then evaporating the excess solvent.
  • In medicated soaps, substances of medicinal value are added. Shaving soaps contain glycerol to prevent rapid drying. A gum called, rosin is added while making them. It forms sodium rosinate which lathers well. Laundry soaps contain fillers like sodium rosinate, sodium silicate, borax and sodium carbonate.
  • Hard water contains calcium and magnesium ions. These ions form insoluble calcium and magnesium soaps respectively when sodium or potassium soaps are dissolved in hard water.
  • These insoluble soaps separate as scum in water and are useless as cleansing agent. In fact these are hinderance to good washing, because the precipitate adheres onto the fibre of the cloth as gummy mass. Hair washed with hard water looks dull because of this ' sticky precipitate. Dye does not absorb evenly on cloth washed with soap using hard water, because of this gummy mass.


6.           Synthetic Detergents


  • Synthetic detergents are cleansing agents which have all the properties of soaps, but which actually do not contain any soap. These can be used both in soft and hard water as they give foam even in hard water. Some of the detergents give foam even in ice cold water.
  • Synthetic detergents are mainly classified into three categories: Anionic detergents, Cationic detergents and Non-ionic detergents.
  • Anionic detergents are sodium salts of sulphonated long chain alcohols or hydrocarbons. Alkyi hydrogensulphates formed by treating long chain alcohols with concentrated sulphuric acid are neutralised with alkali to form anionic detergents. Similarly alkyi benzene sulphonates are obtained by neutralising alkyi benzene sulphonic acids with alkali.
  • In anionic detergents, the anionic part of the molecule is involved in the cleansing action. Sodium salts of alkylbenzenesulphonates are an important class of anionic detergents. They are mostly used for household work. Anionic detergents are also used in toothpastes.
  • Cationic detergents are quartemary ammonium salts of amines with acetates, chlorides or bromides as anions. Cationic part possess a long hydrocarbon chain and a positive charge on nitrogen atom. Hence, these are called cationic detergents. Cetyltrimethyl- ammonium bromide is a popular cationic detergent and is used in hair conditioners. Cationic detergents have germicidal properties and are expensive, therefore, these are of limited use.
  • Non-ionic detergents do not contain any ion in their constitution. One such detergent is formed when stearic acid reacts with polyethyleneglycol. Liquid dishwashing detergents are non-ionic type. Mechanism of cleansing action of this type of detergents is the same as that of soaps. These also remove grease and oil by micelle formation.
  • Main problem that appears in the use of detergents is that if their hydrocarbon chain is highly branched, then bacteria cannot degrade this easily. Slow degradation of detergents leads to their accumulation. Effluents containing such detergents reach the rivers, ponds, etc. These persist in water even after sewage treatment and cause foaming in rivers, ponds and streams and their water gets polluted.
  • These days the branching of the hydrocarbon chain is controlled and kept to the minimum. Unbranched chains can be biodegraded more easily and hence pollution is prevented.


7.           Polyhalogen Compound


  • Chlorine containing antibiotic, chloramphenicol, produced by soil microorganisms is very effective for the treatment of typhoid fever. Our body produces iodine containing hormone, thyroxine, the deficiency of which causes a disease called goiter. Synthetic halogen compounds, viz. chloroquine is used for the treatment of malaria; halothane is used as an anaesthetic during surgery. Certain fully fluorinated compounds are being considered as potential blood substitutes in surgery.
  • Dichloromethane (Methylene chloride)
  • Dichloromethane is widely used as a solvent as a paint remover, as a propellant in aerosols, and as a process solvent in the manufacture of drugs. It is also used as a metal cleaning and finishing solvent.
  • Methylene chloride harms the human central nervous system. Exposure to lower levels of methylene chloride in air can lead to slightly impaired hearing and vision. Higher levels of methylene chloride in air cause dizziness, nausea, tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes.
  • In humans, direct skin contact with methylene chloride causes intense burning and mild redness of the skin. Direct contact with the eyes can bum the cornea.


  • Trichloromethane (Chloroform)
  • Chemically, chloroform is employed as a solvent for fats, alkaloids, iodine and other substances. The major use of chloroform today is in the production of the Freon refrigerant R-22.
  • It was once used as a general anaesthetic in surgery but has been replaced by less toxic, safer anaesthetics, such as ether. As might be expected from its use as an anaesthetic, inhaling chloroform vapours depresses the central nervous system.
  • Chronic chloroform exposure may cause damage to the liver (where chloroform is metabolised to phosgene) and to the kidneys, and some people develop sores when the skin is immersed in chloroform. Chloroform is slowly oxidised by air in the presence of light to an extremely poisonous gas, carbonyl chloride, also known as phosgene. It is therefore stored in closed dark coloured bottles completely filled so that air is kept out.


  • Triiodomethane (lodoform)
  • It was used earlier as an antiseptic but the antiseptic properties are due to the liberation of free iodine and not due to iodoform itself. Due to its objectionable smell, it has been replaced by other formulations containing iodine.


  • Tetrachloromethane (Carbon tetrachloride :\[CC{{I}_{4}})\]
  • It is produced in large quantities for use in the manufacture of refrigerants and propellants for aerosol cans. It is also used as feedstock in the synthesis of chloro- fluorocarbons and other chemicals, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and general solvent use.
  • Until the mid-1960s, it was also widely used as a cleaning fluid, both in industry, as a degreasing agent, and in the home, as a spot remover and as fire extinguisher.
  • There is some evidence that exposure to carbon tetrachloride causes liver cancer in humans. The most common effects are dizziness, light headedness, nausea and vomiting, which can cause permanent damage to nerve cells. In severe cases, these effects can lead rapidly to stupor, coma, unconsciousness or death. Exposure to \[CC{{I}_{4}}\] can make the heart beat irregularly or stop. The chemical may irritate the eyes on contact.
  • When carbon tetrachloride is released into the air, it rises to the atmosphere and depletes the ozone layer. Depletion of the ozone layer is believed to increase human exposure to ultraviolet rays, leading to increased skin cancer, eye diseases and disorders, and possible disruption of the immune system.


  • Freons
  • The chlorofluorocarbon compounds of methane and ethane are collectively known as freons. They are extremely stable, unreactive, non-toxic, non-corrosive and easily liquefiable gases. Freon 12 (\[CC{{I}_{2}}{{F}_{2}}\]) is one of the most common freons in industrial use.
  • It is manufactured from tetrachloromethane by Swarts reaction. These are usually produced for aerosol propellants, refrigeration and air conditioning purposes. By 1974, total freon production in the world was about 2 billion pounds annually.
  • Most freon, even that used in refrigeration, eventually makes its way into the atmosphere where it diffuses unchanged into the stratosphere. In stratosphere, freon is able to initiate radical chain reactions that can upset the natural ozone balance.


  • Dichlorodiphenyl trichloro ethane (DDT)
  • DDT, the first chlorinated organic insecticides, was originally prepared in 1873, but it was not until 1939 that Paul Muller of Geigy Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland discovered the effectiveness of DDT as an insecticide. Paul Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1948 for this discovery.
  • The use of DDT increased enormously on a worldwide basis after World War II, primarily because of its effectiveness against the mosquito that spreads malaria and lice that carry typhus.
  • However, problems related to extensive use of DDT began to appear in the late 1940s. Many species of insects developed resistance to DDT, and it was also discovered to have a high toxicity towards fish.
  • The chemical stability of DDT and its fat solubility compounded the problem. DDT is not metabolised very rapidly by animals; instead, it is deposited and stored in the fatty tissues. If ingestion continues at a steady rate, DDT builds up within the animal over time. The use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1973, although it is still in use in some other parts of the world.


8.           Alcohols, Phenols and Ethers


  • Ordinary spirit used for polishing wooden furniture is chiefly a compound containing hydroxyl group, ethanol. The sugar we eat, the cotton used for fabrics, the paper we use for writing, are all made up of compounds containing -OH groups.
  • The simplest hydroxy derivative of benzene is phenol.
  • Methanol,\[C{{H}_{3}}OH\], also known as 'wood spirit', was produced by destructive distillation of wood. Today, most of the methanol is produced by catalytic hydrogenation of carbon monoxide at high pressure and temperature and in the presence of \[ZnO-C{{r}_{2}}{{O}_{3}}\] catalyst.
  • Ethanol,\[{{C}_{2}}{{H}_{5}}OH\], is obtained commercially by fermentation, the oldest method is from sugars. The sugar in molasses, sugarcane or fruits such as grapes is converted to glucose and fructose, (both of which have the formula \[{{C}_{6}}{{H}_{12}}{{O}_{6}}\]), in the presence of an enzyme, invertase. Glucose and fructose undergo fermentation in the presence of another enzyme, zymase, which is found in yeast.
  • In wine making, grapes are the source of sugars and yeast. As grapes ripen, the quantity of sugar increases and yeast grows on the outer skin. When grapes are crushed, sugar and the enzyme come in contact and fermentation starts. Fermentation takes place in anaerobic conditions i.e. in absence of air. Carbon dioxide is released during fermentation. The action of zymase is inhibited once the percentage of alcohol formed exceeds 14 per cent. If air gets into fermentation mixture, the oxygen of air oxidises ethanol to ethanoic acid which in turn destroys the taste of alcoholic drinks.
  • Ethanol is a colourless liquid with boiling point 351 K. It is used as a solvent in paint industry and in the preparation of a number of carbon compounds. The commercial alcohol is made unfit for drinking by mixing in it some copper sulphate (to give it a colour) and pyridine (a foul smelling liquid). It is known as denaturation of alcohol.
  • Ingestion of ethanol acts on the central nervous system. In moderate amounts, it affects judgment and lowers inhibitions. Higher concentrations cause nausea and loss of consciousness. Even at higher concentrations, it interferes with spontaneous respiration and can be fatal.
  • Diethyl ether has been used widely as an inhalation anaesthetic. But due to its slow effect and an unpleasant recovery period, it has been replaced, as an anaesthetic, by other compounds.


9.           Aldehydes, Ketones and Carboxylic Acids


  • Aldehydes, ketones and carboxylic acids are widespread in plants and animal kingdom. They play an important role in biochemical processes of life. They add fragrance and flavour to nature, for example, vanillin (from vanilla beans), salicylaldehyde (from meadow sweet) and cinnamaldehyde (from cinnamon) have very pleasant fragrances.
  • They are used in many food products and pharmaceuticals to add flavours. Some of these families are manufactured for use as solvents (i.e., acetone) and for preparing materials like adhesives, paints, resins, perfumes, plastics, fabrics, etc.
  • In chemical industry aldehydes and ketones are used as solvents, starting materials and reagents for the synthesis of other products. Formaldehyde is well known as formalin (40 per cent) solution used to preserve biological specimens and to prepare bakelite (a phenol-formaldehyde resin), urea-formaldehyde glues and other polymeric products.
  • Acetaldehyde is used primarily as a starting material in the manufacture of acetic acid, ethyl acetate, vinyl acetate, polymers and drugs. Benzaldehyde is used in perfumery and in dye industries. Acetone and ethyl methyl ketone are common industrial solvents. Many aldehydes and ketones, e.g., butyraldehyde, vanillin, acetophenone, camphor, etc. are well known for their odours and flavours.
  • Methanoic acid is used in rubber, textile, dyeing, leather and electroplating industries. Ethanoic acid is used as solvent and as vinegar in food industry. Hexanedioic acid is used in the manufacture of nylon-6, 6. Esters of benzoic acid are used in perfumery. Sodium benzoate is used as a food preservative. Higher fatty acids are used for the manufacture of soaps and detergents.


10.        Amines


  • Amines constitute an important class of organic compounds derived by replacing one or more hydrogen atoms of ammonia molecule by alkyl or aryl group. In nature, they occur among proteins, vitamins, alkaloids and hormones.
  • Synthetic examples include polymers, dyestuffs and drugs. Two biologically active compounds, namely adrenaline and ephedrine, both containing secondary ammo group, are used to increase blood pressure. Novocain, a synthetic amino compound, is used as an anaesthetic in dentistry. Benadryl, a well-known antihistaminic drug also contains tertiary amino group.
  • Quaternary ammonium salts are used as surfactants. Diazonium salts are intermediates in the preparation of a variety of aromatic compounds including dyes.


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