Some people absolutely adore spending time in the garage working on their latest experiments or projects. If this sounds like you, it is easy to understand how fun and exciting home chemistry can be. I first encountered chemistry when I was little and it was a perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon with my parents.
I was very lucky that my parents were very encouraging, and would always support me in anything that I wanted to learn or discover. We spent many weekends like this, playing, learning, experimenting.
It’s now the 21st century and the tradition is continued with my family. Age has not diminished my scientific mind. But what if all this fun was not so innocent after all? What if by partaking in my favorite activity with my family was somehow illegal?
After all, rules and regulations change often. This was something that crossed my mind recently and I dropped everything and started to explore the big question.
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Is it illegal to do chemistry at home?
The answer to this is not a straightforward yes or no, as with most things there are a lot of caveats. Every chemistry set on the market will definitely be legal and adhere to strict rules and guidelines about safety and materials. Performing chemistry experiments at home outside of these sets is not inherently illegal, but there are a lot of rules and regulations that govern different aspects of home chemistry and things start to get complicated.
These rules focus on limits to the amounts of certain chemicals you are allowed to possess at one time, the safety of the equipment you are using when handling potentially dangerous substances, the location that you are performing the experiments as well as some outright banned substances that could potentially be used in the making of drugs and explosives.
What rules should I follow to keep on the safe side?
In the USA, many areas have strict regulations concerning ownership of chemistry chemicals and equipment. As an example, until 2019, Texas required registration of even the most simple lab glassware. Yet each state will have different laws so it’s important to do some specific research for your area.
The US drug enforcement agency (DEA) keeps lists regarding the classification of illicit drugs, containing chemicals that are used to manufacture drugs. Therefore, any substances on these lists should be avoided.
When it comes to chemistry glassware, there is also a mixture of laws out there, depending on the state. Again, Texas is the most stringent of them and you should consult a local government body. Some areas in the US have restrictions on certain glassware types, such as the Erlenmeyer flask, because of its use in the making of illicit drugs.
However, most glassware is perfectly legal to own around the USA. The same goes for test tubes and beakers, which are perfectly fine possessions to have on a home lab.
The other area where you could fall foul of the law is in the health and safety conditions of your home lab area. When dealing with potentially hazardous chemicals, they are required to be well ventilated, have fume hoods over workspaces, extractors in the cupboards as well as locks.
We do not claim to be legal experts and, if you are considering setting up an amateur home chemistry lab, it is vital that you consult an expert or your local governing body to make sure you are not breaking any laws. Otherwise, you could just stick to the many chemistry sets available today and have peace of mind that you are staying within the laws of the land.
How can I make a chemistry lab at home?
Your first instinct might be to set up a home lab on your coffee table, but this would not be advised. For the average household, the best location is in the garage or garden. The main concerns when choosing a suitable location are ventilation, spill containment, access to power and water and fire safety.
Next, you have to select the chemicals you will be working with, be they safe or potentially hazardous. So much can be done with household chemicals too, so you may not have to go too far for selection. Make sure safeguards are in place to protect your home and your family at all times.
In addition, chemical storage is important. All chemicals should be stored out of reach of children, high up if possible, behind a locked cabinet. Some chemicals should not be stored together as they may pose a fire or poison risk.
Gathering some lab equipment should be your next step. This is very simple and you can easily contact your scientific supply company online to source what you need. But remember, a lot of home chemistry experiments can be conducted using things found around the home.
What chemicals and materials are easily accessible at home?
There are some chemicals that can either be found or made at home with ease. They are all relatively safe for children to use in chemistry as long as there is adult supervision. If you have some of them, you can simply google some cool experiments to do.
Water – Distilled is better but tap water is fine.
Table salt (Sodium Chloride) – Often found in the store and used for baking and seasoning food. Growing salt crystals is a nice experiment you can do with them.
Lemon Juice – The tasty fruit can be used to make invisible ink.
Mineral oil – An example of mineral oil is baby oil. The fragrance will not affect results so it can be largely used.
Citric acid – Sold in the supermarket and safe to handle.
Vegetable oil – Any cooking oil is fine, a cheap and versatile tool.
Flour – You can use it to make a paste that will harden when dry and construct buildings. Playdough is also a possibility for younger children.
Calcium Chloride – Sold as laundry detergent or road salt for when it gets icy.
Glycerin – You can find this in the pharmacy or craft stores. Used in making lovely bubbles.
Gelatin – A staple in many kitchens used in candy and jello, it plays a big part in experiments.
Food coloring – A family home baking favorite and easily found in stores.
Using homewares in chemistry experiments is only as limited as your imagination. Stay safe and go have fun!