I have used some aluminium foil to cover some windows and I notice a light smell in my small flat. I could be mistaken and it could something as I've been moving things around but this leads me to wonder does aluminium foil have an odour/gas off?

I notice it sticks to things as well so might this be an added solvent or what property of the foil gives it this characteristic?

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    $\begingroup$ chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/7916/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Apr 4 '20 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ Aluminium doesn't smell. But then again, foil isn't pure aluminium. There might be a polymer coating, to begin with... $\endgroup$ Apr 4 '20 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ Standard household aluminum foil has a light oil coating. You can buy lab grade foil that has been solvent cleaned. It is, of course, more expensive. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 4 '20 at 0:58

Here is related material I once posted:

Also, commentary in Bretherick, Volume 1, page 23-24, to quote:

A student mixed aluminium foil and drain cleaner in a soft drink bottle, which started emitting gas. Another student carried the bottle outside and was claimed to have been overcome by the toxic fumes [1]. Most drain cleaners are alkalis, so that aluminium will dissolve to produce hydrogen. The bleach that it is is suggested may have been present will produce no toxic fumes in alkali, and one would be surprised to find arsenic or antimony compounds present. If the collapse was not purely hysterical, the remaining, though remote, possibility would be phosphine. The soft drink the bottle had contained was one of the many perhaps best described as impure dilute phosphoric acid [2]. "

A related comment attributing the formation of gases like arsine and stibine from nascent hydrogen per this source.

Education on nascent hydrogen interaction is important so as to avoid toxic gases that may be inadvertently and unexpectedly created in significant amounts.

Now, in the context of extensive employment of Al foil in your home, there is a potential danger that an acid/base is attacking the foil. This could release active (nascent) hydrogen atoms.

The latter could interact, for example, with compounds in physical contact, like paint (containing perhaps zinc sulfide). This may, hypothetically, result in the release of odorous hydrogen sulfide. This is a problematic gas, but even more deadly gases could arise also (per source above).

As such, I would advise removing the Aluminum foil (or, at least areas in contact with paints,...).


Personally, I don't mind the odor from aluminum foil, whatever little there may be. Aluminum foil (household style) contains aluminum and its hard-to-separate sesquioxide (Al2O3), but also oil from the manufacturing process used to make it. If the odor you are sensing really comes from the foil, then that might be it. (though in my opinion unlikely) If so, there are more high quality options available for purer foil. Usually, I don't sense any smell from aluminum foil, except for when it gives off a "burnt" odor from an electrical discharge during a plasma globe experiment.

So if it is a burnt type of smell and the foil is the problem, it could be from the sunlight scorching the foil to the point where it emits odors. This would most likely happen over a long period of time, which i can't clarify at the moment because i don't think I have ever left out aluminum foil that long under direct sunlight before. The sticking phenomenon could be related to the solvent like you suggested, and this also might be a side affect of long term exposure to the sunlight.

If the smell itself is not like the burnt smell from aluminum conducting current, than it could still be from the oil solvent that was left under exposure to the sun. Aluminum itself should not be responsible for the stickiness, but the smell, like I said before, could be from scorched aluminum sesquioxide, and if not that, then the oil coating.


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