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Does a Bit of Steel Get Rid of That Garlic Smell?

You may not think about it, but your kitchen is a laboratory. You probably conduct experiments there every day. Whipping runny egg whites into stiff foam, altering the colors of meat and vegetables and somehow making raw eggplant and slimy scallops taste great.

Angie Frizzell of Chapel Hill, N.C., wrote to share a kitchen tip... and to ask what science lies behind it.

"Years ago my mom taught me a trick," Frizzell wrote: "After you've been cutting up onions or garlic and you have that odor on your hands, you can get the odor off just by rubbing your hands on the stainless steel faucet. Since then, I've noticed that in kitchen catalogues, you can buy a gadget for 20 or 30 dollars that does the same thing. It's just a chunk of stainless steel that you rub your hands on. Either way it works. But why?"

Dr. Bob Wolke, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of four books on everyday science. And he says he's not so sure it DOES work. But he was willing to try the scientific method out on the problem.

"As far as [Dr. Wolke] knows, there are no published studies on this stinker of a problem," Jacki Lyden notes. "So what would a chemist do? Conduct an experiment, of course."

Wolke took a head of garlic out of a pot on his own kitchen counter and smashed it with the side of a broad knife to get the skin off. Then he "smashed it some more," and rubbed it all over his hands.

Then he "rinsed the solids off under cold water" and "picked up the stainless steel block and I rubbed it on my hands."

Finally, the sniff test. And he could still smell the garlic on his hands.

He repeated the experiment with a plain old rock instead of stainless steel, and also with soap and water.

Wolke admits it wasn't a perfect scientific study, and allows that further experiments might show that the stainless-steel remedy is not just an old wives' tale.

But his result? "There was odor left on my hands after all of these methods."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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