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Glowing under blacklight

Glowing under blacklight

I’ve heard that in the 1960’s, blacklight posters were all the rage.  Glowing things are cool!  How does blacklight actually cause things to glow?  

“Blacklight” is an invisible form of light that operates in the ultraviolet range.  Because light takes on a wave form, the frequency of the peaks and troughs in the wave are known as wavelengths.  In the visible spectrum, reds and oranges have the longest wavelengths, and at the other end of the spectrum, blues and violets have the shortest wavelengths, meaning they have higher frequency.   Ultraviolet light is not visible to us, yet exists beyond the violet shade.  The wavelengths of ultraviolet light are grouped into 3 bands: A, B and C.   

UV-A, with wavelengths ranging from 320-400 nanometers (nm), is the safest form of UV light and often referred to as Longwave UV.  This kind of UV light is generated by Blacklight units (the dark purple fluorescent tubes) as well as UV LED flashlights.  Black lights are considered safe for use in the home as well as theatres and night clubs etc.  Most quality sunglasses will protect eyes against UV-A.  

UV-B, at 280-320nm wavelength, is the one that can cause sunburn when over-exposed. It can also be used in the medical treatment of certain skin conditions.  Most quality sunglasses will protect eyes against UV-B.

UV-C, at 200-280nm wavelength, is totally absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, but also widely used as a germicidal sterilizer in hospitals. 

Obviously, UV light has had good and bad press.  As you may know, certain types of UV light are known to cause eye and skin damage and cancer.   And certain types of UV light are used to kill microbes, making the air you breathe (or surfaces you touch) safer.  We have a whole article on some of the ways researchers are using UV light to sanitize.  In this article, however, we’re going to look at some of the more useful ways to use blacklight (UV-A) in your life–to literally “see” the invisible!

Blacklight makes some of the invisible, visible, because it illuminates items that fluoresce.  These items contain exposed phosphorus atoms that reflect short wavelength UV light back to our eyes. For instance, paper shines under a blacklight because of the fluorescent chemicals added as a whitener. (Using Blacklights to Find Pet Urine)

Urine glows under UV light because it contains phosphorus. 

Pet Urine:  Unlike the synthetic fluorescents added to white paper, natural fluorescent substances such as dog and cat urine etc, do not glow brightly under UV. In fact, they are generally quite dim, so do not expect a supernova!  You will be looking for patches a little brighter than their background; you’ll know them when you see them.  Cat urine glows particularly well under a black light, as it contains high levels of phosphorus, but the intensity of the glow can vary depending on the animal’s diet and health.  When examining soft surfaces like carpet and fabrics, remember that liquids can quickly soak down into them, so that not a lot of urine remains on the surface to “glow”. It’s also easier to find it:

  • When fully dried, because liquid or damp urine will not glow.
  • When new–the “glow” slowly fades over time as the urine ages.

If you do find “accidents”, try a cleanser that uses enzymes.   You can read all about enzyme cleansers in our article.  (Stain Detective Pro)

Rodent Urine: Rats and mice are incontinent and will urinate and defecate on the move, up to 80 times a day! This means you will be looking for a trail of urine droplets or streaks leading in the direction of travel. Urine and droppings are deposited where the rodents spend most of their time and where they travel.  Amino acids in rodent urine will fluoresce, or emit light of a different color, when exposed to ultraviolet light. This makes it possible to see rodent, rat, mouse, hamster, guinea-pig or squirrel urine even in dark places. (Rodent Detector Pro)

Mold often glows under blacklight.  In this video, mold stains that are not visible in normal light are shown on the ceiling under blacklight.  If you are not seeing stains in an area that has leaked before, or has a high level of humidity, the key may be to shine the light at an angle against the wall.  You should shine the ultraviolet light closely along the sides of the suspected surface or walls. The angle of illumination will show the presence of fungus, however, some cleaning products also leave a glow, so be careful not to mistake cleaning residues for mold. (How To Detect Mold With A Blacklight)

Hand Washing: Blacklights make it possible to see if you are washing your hands effectively and make training on hand-washing easy!  If you apply some UV Germ Grease (which simulates the way germs cover your hands; it’s just a clingy grease with glowing particles), wash according to this video and check them under blacklight to see if any of the grease remains, you’re more likely to get your hands cleaner after this training.

Here are some other interesting items you can get to “glow” in your home: (Got a new UV torch? Here are some things to shine it on

  • Tonic water – the quinine in tonic water glows blue
  • Honey – the aromatic molecules in honey can glow green
  • Turmeric root – the curcumin in turmeric glows yellow
  • Eggs – a compound in eggshells called protoporphyrin IX can glow red
  • Rocks, jewels and gemstones – lots of minerals glow under UV light
  • Cash – banknotes have added photoluminescent details to prevent fraud
  • Cleaning materials – detergents (including laundry detergents) often have photoluminescent molecules to make them easy to see
  • Highlighters and dyes – fluorescence is a type of photoluminescence, so fluorescent markers and dyes will often glow under UV light
  • Vitamins: Vitamin A and the B vitamins thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin are strongly fluorescent. Try crushing a vitamin B-12 tablet and dissolving it in vinegar. The solution will glow bright yellow under a black light. (16 Things That Glow Under Black Light)
  • Antiques that have been repaired or touched up will glow or fluoresce differently in the area where the repair has been made.
  • Insects such as scorpions glow bright green, and Harvestman (Opiliones, also sometimes called Daddy Long Legs) glow blue, as do certain other spiders.

Here are some tips about selecting UV blacklights: 

  • Although many people associate blacklight with a purple light, if you can see the light, it’s not blacklight, and the contribution of visible light diminishes the ability to “see” any hidden markings. 
  • The frequency of UV light emitted determines the quality of results obtained.  There is a sweet-spot for UV which is between 365nm and 385nm.  However, to manufacture LEDs capable of emitting in this frequency range is far more expensive.
  • There are different types of lamps that are used to make UV light:
    • Mercury vapor lamps are used in theaters and large spaces where it’s needed to project UV light over a distance
    • UV fluorescent tubes or bulbs are smaller and more portable, with decent quality
    • UV LED lights: these come in a wide spectrum of quality (wavelengths), but they are very portable and consume little energy.

So....I went sleuthing one night with a small, inexpensive blacklight borrowed from a friend, and it works!  First I looked around some registers I knew had sweated when I had an older, less efficient HVAC system, and there they were--old stains and mold that was not even visible in the daylight (I have some popcorn ceilings so shining the light at an angle really accentuates the stain).  Next, I looked and saw a white patch where stains had been "touched up"--proof that not everything was stained or mold.  Then, I found a pet stain in a small rug that had absorbed and was unnoticeable in daylight. 

A small blacklight flashlight could be a cool science project for you and your kids, by not only finding things that glow, but eliminating the yucky animal pee and poo as well with enzyme cleansers.  Remember that the wavelength (365-385nm) is important to get quality black light, and many cheap flashlights don’t fall in that range. Here are some lights that will give the best results for your detective work:

Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

Get more fresh air ventilation with Nanofiber Window Screens (Easy DIY Project!)

Get more fresh air ventilation with Nanofiber Window Screens (Easy DIY Project!)

If you’ve never thought about them, it’s time to give your window screens some attention.  If your windows open, you’ll want to have screens that are clean and in good repair to keep out insects and other creepy crawly things (won’t go into what could possibly come through an open window).  It’s even more important in seasons of extreme heat or power outages to have a way to get fresh air.  Keeping your windows closed all day can cause levels of CO2 to build up in your home that cause drowsiness and inability to focus or concentrate (check out our article here), so it’s best to let some fresh air in whenever the outside air temperature, humidity and quality permit.

Window screens have been around for a long time (like the 1800’s!) but even age-old products can get an upgrade, making our lives easier.  This upgrade doesn’t have to involve AI or “smart” anything, requiring the internet and electricity.  In this case, window screens have been upgraded with a new material, nanofiber.

Traditionally, window screening came in several varieties of material and color, such as aluminum and fiberglass, and black, silver, gray or bronze colors.  Standard screens have a mesh size of 18 by 16, meaning there are 18 squares per inch from the top left corner to the top right corner (also referred to as warp) and 16 squares per inch from the top left corner to the bottom left corner (also referred to as fill). (Replacement Window Screen Buying Guide)  These are able to prevent most flying insects from passing through, but they do allow a lot of dust and smaller particles to pass through.   The use of nanofibers (each fiber is less than the width of a human hair) allows the holes to become much smaller, because they are spaced very closely, allowing air but not fine particulates to pass through.  Voila!  Nanofiber window screens offer protection from the next “pest”, dust and allergens.  By just replacing the screens you already have with nanofiber material, you can save yourself some cleaning, coughing and add the ability to open your windows more often because of this protection.   What’s even better is that it doesn’t take a lot of time or special tools (just one cheap one) to replace the screen material with some new nanofiber screening.

Here’s the DIY part: replacing your screens with nanofiber screens is a homeowner project that just takes a few hours and supplies.  If you’re not familiar with how window screens are held in place, they are held into the narrow channel on the screen frame with a rubbery spline, or cord.  

There’s also an ALTERNATIVE INSTALLATION with Magnetic Tape (which is practical if your screen frames are broken or missing).  Scroll down to the bottom of this article for the alternative installation.

Here’s what you’ll need for the traditional installation:

  • The nanofiber window screen (order yours here)

  • Spline (if the spline in your screens is not cracking or falling apart, you can reuse it)

  • Window screen rolling tool, $4

  • Small flat-head screwdriver

  • Sharp utility knife to trim the screen after installation

There are lots of videos online showing how to replace screens, but I like this one for its simplicity (step 1 starts at 1:50).  Here are the basic steps:

  1. Remove old spline and screen

  2. Size and align new screen over the frame (1-2 inches extra on each side)

  3. Push screen into channel on first side (using the convex side of the tool)

  4. Insert spline into grooved screen and channel (using the concave side of tool) (Repeat steps 3 and 4 for other sides)

  5. Push spline into corners using screwdriver, trim excess screen carefully with utility knife

And here are some additional tips:

  • If you have to get new spline, take a small piece of the old stuff to the hardware store in order to select the right diameter.

  • Some people like to hold the frame in place by taping it to the work surface, but this doesn’t allow you to rotate it easily if you can’t access all 4 sides of your work surface.

  • You can use a gallon of water or full can of paint to help hold the screen in place to get started.

  • Some people like to use the spline in one length, bending it at the corners as you go around; some like to cut it at each corner. 

  • Be careful not to press too hard on the spline as you work, in case your tool slips, so that you don’t cut the screen accidentally.

  • Normally you shouldn’t have to “stretch” the screen, just gently smooth it out, while rolling the last two sides, as you don’t want too much tension on the frame when you’re done.

  • If you get too frustrated or find that one of the screen frames is broken, many small hardware stores offer “rescreening” services and repair of the frames; just bring them your nanoscreen with the frame(s).

It may take a little more time to get your first screen replaced, but you’ll get better as you go along and have some new functional “filters” in your windows.  Sit down to enjoy the fresh, clean air and admire the fruits of your hard work!  After a few months, you will notice dust collecting on the outside of your screens as they do their job, but you can easily clean them by removing them and using a gentle spray of water on them from the inside out to wash off the dust.  If necessary, use a mild detergent like liquid dish soap or car wash soap and a soft brush to remove any stubborn dirt or bird poop. 

Nanofiber window screens can help you breathe easier all year long, because let’s face it, there always seems to be an “allergen” in the air.  They can also cut down on the dust going onto your HVAC filter, your TV screens, your rugs and furniture—you name it!  Maybe most importantly, they can help you open windows for fresh air more often and be prepared for a power outage in the summer, when open windows (but not dust!) are a necessity.  

ALTERNATIVE INSTALLATION:  Many times the screen frame is broken or missing altogether, or you’re just not sure about doing the traditional install yourself.  Instead, you can use Magnetic Tape to install the screen.  The kit has everything you need to make a nice, flexibly-framed screen that installs easily over your window frame.  (Note that you’ll need to remove the screen to open or close the window, but that’s easy to do.)  The video on the product page gives step by step instructions.

What’s hiding in that pallet wall?

What’s hiding in that pallet wall?

Another embarrassing but true story:  

Once upon a time in New Orleans, I rehabbed a house that was gutted post-Katrina.  In a neighborhood built in the 1950’s, I took down a few walls and set about making this little 1500 square foot home into my Pinterest dream.  No matter that the sloping floors would make a soup can roll from front door to back with no effort and amazing speed; all of the reclaimed furniture and materials available at that time were more than sufficient to supply the ideas that came into my head.  Some of my favorite places to go were the local “Green Project” or Habitat for Humanity stores.  Green Project had a small lumber yard of reclaimed wood and salvaged architectural pieces.  I don’t know whether I found this particular piece of wood there, or from the side of the road, but it looked perfect. 

My carpenter had framed in split-level bar countertops on either side of the newly opened-up kitchen, and to keep the cost of countertops low, I decided that the top of the bar would be reclaimed wood.  The chunk of wood I found was long enough for both tops, and the color of dark chocolate, a perfect contrast to the cream-colored kitchen.  I cut the pieces, sanded the edges, coated them with a few layers of varnish and set them outside to dry for a week or so.  Time to install!  They looked beautiful.

Throughout processing this wood, I did notice a “smell”.  It didn’t seem too strong, probably because I was doing the cutting, sanding and painting outside.  But soon after I installed it inside, the headaches started.  I had a constant strong headache most days for a week, until I made the connection and removed the wood.  Bingo!  Problem solved.  This was probably a decade before home VOC-testing equipment was available, but my brain and respiratory system was telling me that this wood was poisonous. Looking back, it was probably treated with creosote, which gave it the (beautiful!) dark brown color.  Creosote is derived from the distillation of tar from wood or coal and is used as a wood preservative. Pesticide products containing creosote as the active ingredient are used to protect wood used outdoors (such as railroad ties and utility poles) against termites, fungi, mites and other pests. (epa.gov) The EPA has also determined that coal tar creosote is a probable human carcinogen (over longer exposure periods).  Thankfully, I was the only one in the household who seemed to be affected.  

I’m still a fan of reclaiming wood and other materials, but I’m a little more cautious nowadays.  That’s the major drawback to most reclaimed wood: you just don’t know its history.  Whether it’s been soaked in smelly chemicals like creosote, or sprayed with non-odorous pesticides, or just sitting outside accumulating mold and insect droppings, it has a mysterious history that you may or may not be able to neutralize when you “reclaim” it.  Following are the main dangers of using some (not all) reclaimed wood (cdawood.com) indoors.  

  • Like my experience above, reclaimed wood that has been treated with harsh chemicals, like paints or stains, or contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds), can release toxins into the air.  Unlike my experience, you may not always smell these VOCs or toxins, which is a “silent” risk.

  • Wood is quite a porous material.  Mold and mildew can be hiding in the crevices of the wood, especially reclaimed wood that has a lot of “character” (read: cracks, knots and grains).  Mold and its toxic byproducts, mycotoxins and MVOCs, can make you quite sick and even spread to other parts of your home via dust and spores.  

  • You could bring pests inside.  Anyone who’s lived in the southeastern US would be familiar with termites, possibly carpenter bees, and maybe carpenter ants.  These are all wood-loving pests that can hitch a ride into your home inside of the lovely reclaimed wood.  They generally exit or die when the wood is agitated or dried out.  But have you heard of powder-post beetles?  These tiny pests can spread to other wood furniture and even the framing of your home, reducing the wood to “powder”.  Imagine losing your grandma’s precious antique dresser, or your kitchen floor joists, to these destructive pests because you decided to “reclaim” some wood for a table top: not a good trade-off!

If part of the reason to use reclaimed wood is “saving money” (one of my original reasons for creating those bar tops), are you really saving if one or more of these problems surfaces because of using it?  Here are a few ways to be more cautious with reclaimed wood: (Brunsell.com)

  • Consider the source: Grocery store palettes are likely to have been in close contact with food, so they run a higher risk of having bacteria (from spills), so don’t use them indoors.

  • Check for signs of how the wood has been treated: Know if and how the wood’s been treated. Heat-treated wood, also known as kiln-dried wood, is generally marked with an “HT.” In terms of your health, HT wood is preferable to chemically treated wood. You forgo the chemicals, and the heating kills off bugs. 

  • Consider the end-use of the wood:  If it will be in close contact with children, pets or food, it’s best to use new, untreated wood and opt for non-toxic finishes (like the paints and stains we mention in this article). 

If your gut says, I don’t know about this piece of wood, it might be best to listen to your gut!   Manufacturers have honed in on the reclaimed trend and created vintage looking wood and furniture from new materials.  

  • CdA Wood in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is one such company that has the slogan “Barn wood but better”.  They take new untreated wood and make it look like old barn wood without paints or stains, using a patented “Xcelerated” process.  In the words of the VP, they “age wood indoors without using paints or stains”.  

  • Another company that values indoor air quality is EarthPaint.net.   All of their coatings are non-toxic, so you can start with new wood and get a fabulous aged finish without VOCs, mold, toxins or pests.   

  • Here’s a slew of ways you can add “character” to new wood with tools and a little elbow grease; just substitute non-toxic finishes for the stains used in the last few slides.

  • Did you know that charred wood naturally resists water, pests and further aging?  Developed by the  Japanese, Shou sugi ban is the art of preserving and finishing wood using fire.  Cedar wood works best for shou sugi ban because of its natural chemical properties, but you can also use shou sugi ban on pine, hemlock, maple, or oak.  This article tells you a little about the history and how to DIY your own burnt wood!  EarthPaint.net also has “Special Linseed Oil” similar to what is used in the article.  I’ve personally used shou sugi ban on some wood supports for my shower curtain, as well as an outdoor table. 

At HypoAir, we aim to bring the best of the outdoors inside.  We’re very selective, though, to make sure that hidden pollutants or pests don’t slip in with the good stuff…and with vigilance you can be too.  It’s time to raise the bar on reclaimed wood, to make it as healthy as it is beautiful!