Getting it Clean and White
The other day I splashed some bleach on my pants, and soon there was a white spot where the colour had been. My wife wondered whether the colour was permanently removed, or just hidden.
Bleaches contain substances called oxidizing agents which react with coloured dyes. This changes their chemical structure permanently, so that the dye molecule is no longer coloured.
There are two main types of bleaches used today. Common household bleach is chlorine bleach. It’s a solution of sodium hypochlorite and is a powerful oxidizing agent. It bleaches quickly at ordinary temperatures, but is hard on fabrics.
Many laundry bleaches use hydrogen peroxide which causes less fabric damage. However, it requires higher temperatures and longer times to permanently bleach out the colour. Thus, it works well in long, hot wash cycles. It’s usually put in the detergent as a substance called sodium perborate. This breaks down at temperatures above fifty degrees celsius, thereby generating hydrogen peroxide.
One of the challenges for detergent manufacturers is to find catalysts to activate the peroxide so that it will work well in cold temperature washes. Other additives called optical bleaches are also used sometimes. They’re not real bleaches that remove colour, they’re rather brighteners.
So next time, unless you really like white spots on your pants, use that bleach carefully!
I have personal memories of a number of bad things that have happened to me when trying to use bleach. Over the years, I’ve ruined several articles of clothing through ignorance. Experience eventually taught me a thing or two about how to handle this common, yet powerful, chemical cleaning agent.
Ironically, each time I ruined something, I was trying to make it better. But my best efforts were foiled and I ended up making things worse. That’s not only disappointing, its frustrating.
Moving into the spiritual realm, there is a parallel. There are a host of methods and techniques to help us achieve meaning, fulfilment, self-actualization and the like. Some may be quite powerful, but the more powerful they are the more care we need to take in using them.
Just like using bleach, we need to use caution when applying these or we may do more harm than good. The big risk is self-absorption. We all need to pay some attention to getting our needs met. But if we design our lives so that we, as individuals, are the centre of the moral universe, we are setting ourselves up for big trouble in two ways.
First, the more focussed on ourselves we become, the more we monitor our own satisfaction levels and we may end up on a starry-eyed quest the goal of which is “my happiness.” Second, and this has more far-reaching ramifications, we are not the centre of the moral universe and acting out of faulty assumptions will always bring us to grief.
More often than not, when we try to fix up our own lives we end up with more problems than we had when we started. That’s because we live in closed systems with limited resources. When we use up energy, it becomes unavailable for other things. When the rich get richer, the poor get poorer because there are not enough available resources for everyone to get richer.
When we allow God to come into the paradigm, everything changes. The system becomes open. There is input into it which allows for positive changes throughout without corresponding negative ones. When we recognize God as our source and centre, everything changes.
David Humphreys and Ron Hughes
© August 2004