Lots of stuff in apartment glows under uv-light. Is this normal?
June 18, 2008 10:32 PM   Subscribe

I bought a uv-light (black light) to help locate a urine stain in my living room. I located the urine stain (from cat) but then I took the uv-light around the house and stuff glows on EVERYTHING. Am I living in a toxic waste of an apartment?

The walls have stuff that glows and in the kitchen the cabinets, stove and especially the wall behind the stove. The light switches are disgusting. The bathroom looks terrible. The walls are 90% covered in glowing stuff. The bathroom especially freaked me out so I scrubbed the walls and ceiling as best as I could (for HOURS) but the stuff keeps coming back. This stuff doesn't look dirty when the uv-light isn't on. There's stuff in the shower that glows that I have scrubbed relentlessly and it still glows. I feel disgusted and like I am living in some germ filled apartment now.

Is this a big deal? I know the stuff on the kitchen wall behind the stove is most likely oil from cooking that has splattered, but what about all the other stuff? Should I be worried? I clean and the stuff looks clean but I'm not some miracle cleaner who scrubs the walls or scrubs the cabinets. I don't know what to do but I am freaking out a little about all the gross stuff that seems to be lurking EVERYWHERE in this apartment.
posted by rainygrl716 to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Tons of things glow under blacklight, including a lot of common detergents, cleansers, minerals, dyes and pigments. Although some body fluids (including, yes, urine) do fluoresce, your association of fluorescent potential with "germiness" basically has no scientific basis. Quit freaking yourself out with the black lite, go get some Pink Floyd posters or something at the head shop and try to relax.
posted by nanojath at 10:43 PM on June 18, 2008 [6 favorites]

Yep. Sounds like it's residue from cleaners someone used years ago. My mother in law got one of those UV lights just last month to find cat pee & "germs"... I have a feeling that some rogue marketing campaign is afoot to lead people into false expectations of what those lights are for.
posted by crapmatic at 10:50 PM on June 18, 2008

Florescent dyes are used in cleaners and laundry products to enhance colors. This is what makes whites "whiter than white", for example. A friend of mine once kept a bottle of carpet cleaner sitting out, just because it looked so cool in the black light (it did).
posted by Goofyy at 10:53 PM on June 18, 2008

Well, and conversely, it has to be pointed out that the absence of fluorescence is no guarantee of cleanliness or sanitation.
posted by nanojath at 10:57 PM on June 18, 2008

I used to work in a club that used florescent dye as a hand stamp that we then read under a blacklight. We ran out of dye and somebody brilliantly refilled the ink pad with laundry detergent. It totally worked. Until people washed their hands in the bathroom that was outside of the club entrance. DOH!

I guess what I am trying to say is lots of stuff glows. Also my pants glowed when I stuffed too much in the washer and the soap didn't was out.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:01 PM on June 18, 2008

I knew a bloke who'd paint himself in curtain cleaner before clubbing.

Loads of stuff glows. Mix yourself a gin and tonic.
posted by pompomtom at 11:03 PM on June 18, 2008

Watch this video. Then stop worrying about it. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:06 PM on June 18, 2008

have a feeling that some rogue marketing campaign is afoot to lead people into false expectations of what those lights are for.

It's CSI's fault. On that show, nothing except blood and semen glows... and even then only when they need to find it.
posted by rokusan at 11:09 PM on June 18, 2008

Fun with Black Light for Home Chemists from Popular Science, July 1939.

Materials that glow under Black Light from About.Com Chemistry.

Note that the first link says that boric acid glows. Boric acid is one of the main ingredients in roach and ant poisons. So that may be what's behind the stove/under the cabinets.

The fact that you're scrubbing your walls down probably just makes it worse, since you're putting glowing chemicals right back on the wall.
posted by aristan at 11:28 PM on June 18, 2008

As the posters above pointed out, many many things fluoresce, both natural and artificial. Not something to worry about. Your walls especially would appear bright because of the pigments in the (I'm guessing white) paint. Many white paints are designed to emit blue light in the presence of UV and near-UV in order to appear whiter in the yellowish light of ordinary tungsten bulbs (see Stokes shift for the science here).

BTW urine does not equal germs - many things considered 'dirty' do not have the ability to infect you, if germs are your primary concern.

More worryingly is how the idea is affecting you: "I feel disgusted and like I am living in some germ filled apartment now." "scrubbed the walls and ceilings for HOURS"

In light of your earlier post about mercury from a broken bulb I get the feeling that you worry a lot about the safety of your home environment. If your concerns are affecting your peace of mind you may want to ask yourself if there are alternative sources of your anxiety that you are expressing through this one.
posted by bdizzy at 12:33 AM on June 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

Laundry detergent has a TON of fluorescent dye in it as Goofy said, to make colors seem like they're fading more slowly. Reminds me of my time in the dorms when someone brought a black light in their room and switched it on for the first time, revealing an awe-inspiring, previously invisible mural of the caterpillar scene from Alice in Wonderland that had been drawn in Tide. We spent the rest of the semester creating secret messages and hidden pictures on the walls for future generations of freshmen.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:27 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Completely normal. Here's pics I took of my place with a black light. It's probably the detergent, but could be anything really.
posted by jwells at 6:54 AM on June 19, 2008

Your home is probably clean by now, but if you're really germ-phobic, use a mild bleach solution, 1 part bleach to 4 parts water, to clean the parts of the bathroom and kitchen that are bleach safe. Wash your hands a lot. Then stop worrying.
posted by theora55 at 7:20 AM on June 19, 2008

Another thing that glows dramatically is strong sunscreen (the SPF 25+ stuff). The kind I got in Morocco made me look like a glowing purple monster under some kinds of fluorescent lights.
posted by sindark at 11:06 AM on June 19, 2008

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