|Caustic Soda (Sodium Hydroxide) from Wiki|
Right on top of my things-to-do this weekend was 'Clean kitchen baffle filters'.
The last time I tried it had turned out to be a right royal mess. I spent a couple of hours with strong detergent, hot water and scrubs, only to see bits of grime wedged deep in the aluminum netting.
This time around I tried a simpler, more elegant procedure from the web. All it took was a dash of caustic soda, rubber gloves and 30 minutes of soak-time. The filters came out looking brand new.
Somewhere along the way, a careless tilt of my gloved hands sent some of the caustic soda dripping down my exposed elbow and upper arms, and I instantly understood the meaning of the term "alkali burn" -- a soapy, stinging feeling that makes your skin crawl.
What caused this burn? Why was this soda so damn caustic?
The key apparently lies in the sodium ion which is so fond of water that it can bond with as many as 25 H2O molecules! This is enough to break down anything that contains fats or proteins into a gooey mess within minutes.
Here is an excellent article from BBC on how caustic soda has been used by chemical industries, bakers, doctors, cleaners... and murderers!