How do "molecular odor eliminators" work?
November 10, 2011 8:43 PM   Subscribe

How do "molecular odor eliminators" work?

I've sprayed this stuff all around my house tonight now that the cat that had been staying with me has moved out for good:

For the most part, it seems to be working to eliminate the smell of urine and musk. How is this possible? I'm curious to hear a scientific explanation but I don't know enough about chemistry to even know where to find an answer.
posted by macinchik to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
IANA chemist, but - oxidization, that's how. Here's the patent. The main ingredient is allegedly tosylchloramide. The chloride and sulfonyl moieties are pretty reactive and tend to swap electrons around with mercaptans and sulfides to make them into less stinky compounds.
posted by gingerest at 9:13 PM on November 10, 2011

Good snag, gingerest, since all of these product companies are keeping a tight grip on their proprietary information. IANA chemist either, but this is what I gleaned:

Some claim that a complex protein prevents oxidation by locking up the odor molecules in a non-reactive compound until the moisture in them evaporates. Ok, not so bad, but what do they do on contact with pets or human skin? And what do they become when the moisture evaporates? Free agents?

Some claim that they bond with the odor-causing molecules and prevent them bonding with the receptors in the human body that recognize odor until the moisture evaporates. This sounds like something from Plan 9 from Outer Space.

I think I'll stick with the vinegar or baking soda cleaning recipes for now. I am glad it seems to work on the tough stuff.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:35 PM on November 10, 2011

What Halfbuckaroo is describing is the method of action for Febreze which uses cyclodextrins (which are very tiny little rings of starch, sort of the opposite of Cortex's doughnut). The offending compound ends up in the hole of the doughnut (I could explain why given a whole lot of time, so just imagine I waved my hands in the air a bunch and said something obscure about partial charges and rotational freedoms).

If it lands on your skin it sort of sticks to you in much the same way that spray starch or a flung blob of mashed potatoes would. I'm not sure if they're digestible or if they're more like bran or cellulose in that regard.

This sounds like something from Plan 9 from Outer Space.

That's how aspirin and viral neutralizing antibodies (and about a zillion other things in biochemistry) work - by glomming onto their targets (cyclooxygnase or viri respectively) so that they no longer will fit into their binding sites. You'd miss them if they quit. But not for long.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:25 AM on November 11, 2011

The placebo effect is very powerful.
posted by KRS at 1:25 PM on November 11, 2011

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