Pop quiz: What single substance has been used in history as:
- a tooth whitener?
- wound cleaner?
- a gas mask?
- a health drink?
- an ingredient in gun powder?
- a leather-tanning soak?
Give up? The answer is (…drum roll…) urine.
Yes really! Just to clarify:
- Using urine to clean wounds is the next best thing if there’s no sterile water about, as the stuff is practically sterile when it is fresh.
- It’s true that soldiers in World War I were handed cotton pads to wet on and stuff in front of their faces in the event of chlorine gas attacks, not realizing that the ammonia in their tinkle created a deadly gas itself when it reacted with the chlorine. So, that one was kind of a mistake. (Or a really sick practical joke.)
- Urine’s historic medicinal applications were legion: topical applications for skin diseases, internal for just about anything else. By the way, urine has not proven effective in neutralizing jellyfish stings; it might even make them worse. (So carry vinegar.)
- Yes, people still swear by its health properties today. (Me, I’ll just stick with tea, thanks.)
- Tanners soaked hides in urine to remove the fur. And dyers still use urea, which is an ingredient in urine, to prepare cloth to take dyes.
But wait, there’s more!
- Urine is fabulous in the garden, as it is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. In fact, it’s nearly a complete fertilizer all by itself. Be careful using it directly on plants, however, it’s too acidic. Dilute one part liquid gold with about eight parts water. And lay off the chips, as too much salt isn’t good for those begonias.
- New research indicates that urine could be used to create electricity! It turns out that the stuff urine “is rich in chemicals that can effectively be used in the cathode half of a fuel cell to react with bacteria in the anode,” creating a microbial fuel cell, according to the article in this link. Not only that, but the process of producing the electricity would also “effectively clean the urine so that it could be safely discharged into the environment, removing the need for costly and energy-intensive treatment by wastewater companies.”
NOW what would you pay?
Ha-ha; that’s the cool thing about urine: We can all produce plenty of the stuff for basically free. Who knew a waste product could be so useful?
Hang on: Lots of innovators have made themselves rich on “waste products,” actually.
- Kerosene, a product made from that nuisance “seep oil” did more to save the whales than Greenpeace.
- Petroleum jelly from oil rigs kept fouling up drilling equipment, but the rig workers covered in the stuff discovered that their wounds healed faster.
- Cream of tartar is a byproduct of winemaking, but try getting those high peaks on your meringues without it.
- Rendered fat from slaughterhouses can make a nice sweet crude oil in as little as twelve hours.
- Excrement and other rotting organic materials create biogass, which has several exciting applications.
- Fallen leaves are also fantastic for the garden, providing trace elements, tilth and superior water retention.
Sufficiently motivated, we’re very good at turning trash into treasure. Look around at what you have and what you can make of it.
One last fun fact about urine: Alchemists tried to extract gold from it, assuming that the golden color meant there were precious metals in there somewhere. Instead, they discovered the very useful compound white phosphorus, which glows in the dark and has various incendiary qualities.
Elise Cooke is the author of The Miserly Mind, 12 1/2 Secrets of the Freakishly Frugal, which is all about how the independently wealthy make the most of whatever they’ve got, and whatever life throws at them. Visit her website at SimpletonSolutions.com.