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Flushing Sodium Down the Toilet Could Be the Last Thing You Do

Grant Thompson does silly stuff with science and when he received a request to flush sodium down a toilet he knew who to call—the man who flushed mercury down a toilet with a hypnotic swirl. All cleaned up, the mercury toilet meets its ultimate demise in a mushroom cloud of destruction.

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Sodium metal is one of the most highly-reactive metals on the periodic table and it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that this toilet would not survive a standard flush. So, the guys played around with some other experiments first.

They start with a pinch of sodium metal about the size of a marble and demonstrate how the pressure of small wooden block being dropped on it creates enough pressure to blast the wood into the air.

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Next up they try flushing a tiny bit of the metal in water which results in a modest, fiery explosion that’s somewhere along the lines of a cherry bomb.

By the time we finish with the grand finale, this commode will never flush again.

[Grant Thompson]

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When I took undergrad inorganic Chemistry at the University of Washington, the professor told of being an undergrad in Chemistry at U. Alaska shortly after the war (WWII?). The army had for obscure reasons been stockpiling sodium metal nearby and wanted rid of it, so they gave it to the university Chemistry department. The future professor was working as a lab assistant, and his boss told him to get rid of the stuff. He remembers from his freshman year that sodium reacts with water, and isn’t an environmental hazard, so figures he can dump it in the first large body of water he finds, and puts the container (I no longer remember the amount - many pounds, in any case) in the back of a pickup. But it’s Alaska, and all the nearby bodies of water are completely frozen over. Being a smart young man he drives to the nearest power plant, on the river, and sure enough the outfall from the plant’s cooling system has kept a nearby patch of the river free from ice. He backs up the truck, dumps in the sodium metal, and is driving away when he hears a loud THUMP. As he told the story, the river was boiling a mile downstream of the power plant.