Effects on indoor air quality of evaporating a lot of vinegar?
September 28, 2019 12:25 AM   Subscribe

For art purposes, I'm filling a plastic bin that's approximately the size of a small bathtub with 8-12 gallons of vinegar and then letting it evaporate. Will the acetic acid vapor that results require ventilation for sensitive houseplants and pets to remain happy?

I can do this, with more inconvenience, in the basement or in a carpeted room if I need to; however, the optimal spot to do this is in my kitchen which is also home to a large collection of various rare tropical plants - including tillandsia - and a gargoyle gecko. I do not want the gecko or plants to suffer, though, so I can do this in a less convenient spot if this would upset either.

I am anosmic, if it matters, so I am not able to judge the air quality myself via smell and have no smell-based context for knowing if this question is an absurd concern or a relevant one.
posted by vegartanipla to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's not at all an absurd concern, and if I were contemplating doing what you're proposing, forced ventilation would absolutely be well up my priority list and I'd be keeping a close eye on my houseplants for signs of distress.

You might care to dampen a few pH test strips with plain water and hang them at various distances from your evaporation site to get an idea of how much acetic acid vapour is likely to be making its way into your plants' leaves and your gecko's sensitive mucous membranes.
posted by flabdablet at 1:14 AM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is the evaporation the point of the art project, or do you just need concentrated acetic acid? Glacial (99% pure) acetic acid is cheap. Be aware that it is also a chemical that needs to be handled with care.
posted by rockindata at 4:10 AM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

A bowl of evaporating vinegar is often used to improve air quality, and it works, so my first instinct is that you'll be fine. I couldn't find out why that is by googling, so I'll just join the choir of keep an eye on things, till someone with chemistry knowledge looks in.
posted by mumimor at 6:18 AM on September 28, 2019

I would not do this in your kitchen or anywhere near your gecko.
posted by scrubjay at 8:29 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

rockindata, the evaporation is essential for the art purpose.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:45 AM on September 28, 2019

Can you do this outside, under a canopy if necessary? Having gallons of acidic vapor inside your home could damage electrical wiring, nails and other metal objects. It certainly won't do your lungs any good at all.

We used to keep chlorine powder for the pool inside a shed in closed containers, but enough hydrochloric acid vapor leaked out that it rusted all of the garden tools in that shed. The vapor also damaged a breaker box inside the shed, necessitating it's replacement. Concentrated acetic acid vapor will have similar effects.
posted by monotreme at 12:17 PM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure a chemist will have relevant experience here. I have a degree in chemistry, though I don't work in that field now, and I would try very hard to design my processes s.t. I never acquired any experience with evaporating 8-12 gallons of acetic acid in a kitchen. This is why we have fume hoods.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:42 PM on September 28, 2019

I wouldn't do this inside a house. Just because it is a household chemical does not mean that it is safe. 5 gallons in a tub designed to encourage evaporation will ensure a ready supply of acetic acid in the air for weeks at a time.

One important consideration is the fact that you will be exposed to whatever level of acetic acid is in your home for many hours of each day, which changes the concentrations which are safe.

You'll smell acetic acid at 1 ppm. 10 ppm is the Threshold Limit Value, below which is the accepted concentration for long term exposure (8 hours, though, not 16 or 24 hours). 1 ppm will corrode metal. Odor threshold values are reported to be in the range of less than 1 to 200 ppm.




posted by the Real Dan at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you're able to give more details about exactly what it is that you're intending to achieve via evaporation of large quantities of vinegar, you might get useful suggestions about ways to do that which don't risk poisoning your house's inhabitants and corroding the wiring.

For a start, is the evaporation part of the point of the artwork itself, or is it a process step on the way to achieving some effect you want in the finished work? If the latter, a sufficiently effective ad-hoc fume hood should be doable using plastic sheeting, tape, a bit of flexible ducting hose and an old computer fan running off a plugpack.
posted by flabdablet at 3:22 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

flabdablet, I am growing aragonite and/or calcite crystals on various substrates, and my process involves submerging limestone in vinegar and then as the vinegar evaporates the crystals form.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:15 PM on October 3, 2019

An ad-hoc fume hood with a very gentle extractor fan action, so that it doesn't significantly over-promote evaporation but also doesn't create a humid interior that suppresses it, would probably be the best thing then. If you can find an old 12V ex-computer fan that actually spins at all when you wire it to a 5V USB charger, that would probably be ideal.
posted by flabdablet at 12:36 AM on October 4, 2019

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