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What Breaks Down Meth?

  1. Nov 21, 2011 #1
    We have remediated several rental houses with meth in them using bleach & 409 with success. It's too expensive to pay an contractor 3-5K to do it every year or two when we get someone who uses or has a friend who uses (very common in Utah rentals these days about 30- 40%)

    One university article I read said that bleach broke it down completely. but it is hard to get the bleach to stay on the hard surfaces like duct-work or walls long enough.

    Other than bleach what would break down meth (crystal meth) completely? is there a way to make the bleach foam that would be better than just washing with bleach? We are having to wash multiple times and retest to get rid of it. Maybe something that could mix with borax and bleach that would foam to stay on the surface a bit longer would be ideal..Any ideas?

    We used Crystal Clear (expensive commercial meth formulation) but it didn't seem to be any better than washing with bleach and 409.. We had to go in afterwards and wash with bleach and 409 again anyways to get rid of it :(

    It seems that what works best for cleaning end user meth smoke etc. (not meth labs) is a closely guarded secret and the government websites say to just wash the surfaces and don't mention what works best. the DEQ mentioned "Simple Green" but that doesn't work very well at all for us.

    Surely one of you genius people here know what the makeup is and what would break it down easily and quickly. This is way beyond my limited chemistry knowledge.

    This is an answer that would be worth paying for..;)
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2011 #2
    While I don't know anything that will "break it down completely", if the aim is just to remove any traces of drugs or whatever the hell the previous inhabitants tainted the place with, piranha solution would remove any and all organic residues. Piranha solution is a mixture of peroxide and sulfuric acid:
    I'm guessing you're not a chemist though so I don't advise playing with something like piranha solution unless you know what you're doing. They don't call it piranha solution for nothing. I'm not sure if it eats through ceramic but it will destroy any wooden surface it comes in contact with. It also eats through steel, copper and probably any metal commonly encountered in a house/appartment building. Another approach if you're not worried about damaging the surface would be to just use paint thinner to dissolve and remove any organic residues. If you want to avoid damaging any surfaces (which you probably do) then old fashioned scrubbing with soap and water is probably your best bet.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  4. Nov 21, 2011 #3


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    I guess burning the house will be also effective, but it is not kind of solution the OP looks for.
  5. Nov 21, 2011 #4
    lol yeah setting the contaminated area ablaze probably would do it. Yeah trying to clean anything other than concrete, glass or ceramics with piranha solution would be insane. It may eat through the glaze of ceramics so its probably not a good idea to use it on ceramic either.

    OP: If soapy water doesn't seem like an effective solution to you, maybe you'd opt for acetone. Its used in the average lab as an all purpose cleaning solvent because it dissolves a wide range of different substances. Most nail varnish removers are made up mainly of acetone. Keep in mind that it will also dissolve paint and varnish so don't use it on painted walls or varnished wood. I made the mistake of using methylated spirits to clean a stain on my kitchen table once. It removed the stain alright but it also removed the varnish from the wood.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  6. Nov 22, 2011 #5
    That might be a good suggestion for cleaning the metal ducts? I don't think I want to try it on the wood or the walls. Usually if we scrub the walls and then encapsulate in oil based paint it seems to work pretty well when we retest. The main problem is the duct work and cold air return.

    Piranha solution sounds wicked! I wonder if it might be as bad as the meth? :)
  7. Nov 22, 2011 #6
    Yeah acetone will work well on aluminum (or whatever metal/alloy they are made of) ducts, copper (or lead) pipes and any other metal that needs cleaning. You should know that meth smoke is methamphetamine in its freebase form, not salt form. This means is should be quite non polar. Consequently, non polar solvents such as hexane should dissolve it very well. Hexane is too volatile for something like this though, maybe naphtha would be more suitable. Also glass and ceramics are highly inert so acetone and other solvents won't do any harm to them either. Be careful with plastics though.

    I'd personally prefer to be around meth than pirahna solution. The peroxide will decompose over time but concentrated sulphuric acid doesn't have a reputation for being corrosive for nothing. From my experience with it over the years, I've developed a healthy respect for it. With that said, its not like how they portray in the movies, it doesn't instantly burn right through anything it comes in contact with, its a gradual thing. If you get some on your skin, you will feel it start to tingle and that tingling sensation will keep intensifying so your instinctual reaction will probably be to wash it off. However, if a drop of it were to get in your eye, it will permanently blind you. ALWAYS wear safety glasses when dealing with corrosive chemicals and solvents, thats a rule I live by these days.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  8. Nov 22, 2011 #7
    We are doing one this morning and I will give the Naptha a try as it is easily obtainable at Home Depot..:)
  9. Nov 22, 2011 #8
    Naphtha reeks so remember to have all the windows open to have adequate ventilation. You'll need to do that anyway to avoid breathing in the fumes. Acetone should be easily obtainable at Home Depot too. It has a low boiling point of around 60C so it quickly evaporates by itself afterwards.
  10. Nov 22, 2011 #9
    Just a quick caution! Using flammable solvents for cleaning (like acetone and paint thinner) needs to be done very cautiously, as the risk of fire from the vapors is very likely. A house will have many sources of ignition that are often overlooked. Switching on a light, a gas water heater, a cell phone or radio nearby, even a hot light bulb can be problematic.

    Since meth is a base (alkali) a small amount of vinegar and soap should work to pick up and make soluble salts. Rinse well to remove all traces of acid and then follow with bleach to destroy the molecule. If you have an ozonizer or UV light the ozonolysis or photo-oxidation of the materials may enhance destruction. Keep in mind that some plastics and rubber are susceptible to breakdown, and if possible put the system on a timer and then leave the room while the these are going on.
    The pyrolysis products (smoking the meth) may always need something like 409 to pick up the complex tars formed. Ozonolysis may be be the only way to work the ducts adequately.
  11. Nov 22, 2011 #10
    How would the Ozone generator break down the meth? Does it work in inorganic compounds or non living compounds? I have seen it used for mold and bacteria caused odors with great success but wasn't aware that it would break down meth residue. But I have heard of them being used for smoke odors etc. and maybe that would help as you mentioned.

    So in regards to vinegar you are saying only to use like a 1/4 C to gallon? Just a very little amount?

    Thanks again,

  12. Nov 22, 2011 #11
    Randall- vinegar by itself is a good cleaner, but the organics from meth may need something that is more hydrophobic- thus the use of a detergent (dish soap is nonionic and won't be affected as much by the acidic vinegar- bar soap won't work) and vinegar solution. Get the big jugs of 6% distilled vinegar, and use liberally.

    Ozone is like oxygen on steroids and will attack carbon compounds that have a double bond (meth is aromatic and has three). The ozonides are then prone to light induced bond scission. It can also attack the N in meth but is less effective than bleach which makes chloramines that are then decomposed by excess bleach acting to oxidise the chloramines to N2 gas. Ozone in water and bleach rely on the same active oxygen species to destroy organic molecules. The color safe bleaches are sodium percarbonate (peroxide-carbonate) and are a weaker form of peroxide- unfortunately it is also basic (alkaline) and will make the meth residues greasier, and less water soluble. Peroxide can also act with UV light to be a strong oxidizer especially in an acidic solution. The ones we use in chemistry are too strong though, and adding 3% H2O2 to 6% vinegar is not effective enough to replace ozone or bleach.

    All of these reactions are helped by the energy of sunlight or UV light as reactive free radicals can form and will destroy the molecules enough, to make them more soluble in the detergent and water.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  13. Nov 22, 2011 #12


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    Aromatic doesn't mean double bonds. Aromatic systems are relatively stable, even in the presence of ozone, at least when compared with other organic compounds.
  14. Nov 23, 2011 #13
    Fire breaks meth apart, hence, why meth pipes are lit from the bottom to vaporize it as to not break apart the meth molecules.

    I don't know what you're trying to clean from your house because meth is usually odorless, and anywhere it could be, I don't see why you don't just sweep it up and throw it out.
  15. May 27, 2012 #14
    I am in the process of figuring out how to clean meth out of my rental home and I happened upon this blog. I am not a chemist. I am actually an attorney in northern Colorado. However, since I am a public defender, I cannot afford $10K to pay someone to clean up. I am going to try and do this myself.

    I was wondering if the 409/bleach mixture worked out? I will unfortunately have to clean the duct work in my house, would you all recommend acetone for the duct work? Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
  16. May 28, 2012 #15


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    What material is the duct work? If it isn't a hard smooth surface, it is best to replace it.
    I don't provide this cleaning service myself but I have over two decades experience in the organic lab. I wouldn't use acetone to clean anything on as large a scale as a home. The fumes are flammable/explosive, many gloves don't hold up well to vigorous use with acetone over an extended time and anything you clean off can find its way into your body transdermally should your gloves fail or exposed skin come in contact.
    I wouldn't consider cleaning a contaminated house a DIY project. There are good reasons this service is so pricey.
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  17. May 28, 2012 #16
    Trust me, I would much rather hire someone than do this myself. Unfortunately, my financial situation does not put me in a position where I have the requisite $20K sitting around to hire someone to do this for me.
  18. May 29, 2012 #17


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    The problem that I see with the cleaning is that most surfaces in the house are porous. Using volatile solvents is a real concern because they are very difficult to completely remove from unfinished wood, gypsum board, insulation and so forth.
    409 is known in the trade as a "hard surface cleaner" for a good reason. These cleaners can 'chase' lifted dirt from a porous surface and redeposit it deep inside the pores. Bleach can oxidize whatever is lifted but the products of the oxidation could remain redeposited in pores. Not so much of a problem if you intend to repaint after cleaning. If you go the 409/bleach route, be aware that bleach isn't compatible for long with that product. You should mix only small quantities and use it up quickly or use them separately.
  19. Mar 1, 2013 #18
    I just registered to let you know that most of you are wrong. Acetone is useless to remove Meth.

    Methamphetamine in the US is sold in its salt form, i.e. Methamphetamine Hydrochloride - also called Ice. It comes as a white powder, or more commonly white crystals that look like broken glass.

    Methamphetamine Hcl is soluble in alcohol and water. It is NOT soluble in Acetone, Naphtha, MEK, Toluene, etc.

    Unlike Crack Cocaine, it is NOT a freebase, it is a salt. So just plain old water should do the trick. Meth is very soluble in H2O.

    Out of curiosity, though.... if anyone of you guys is still monitoring this thread... I've never heard of a house cleanup due to an occupant's meth use... actually, I've never heard of a test to detect if meth had been smoked inside a property.

    - How did you come to find out that someone had smoked meth in your rental property, and what agency/authority issues orders to clean it up?

    - What kind of test do they use? How sensitive is that test? I mean, how much freakin' meth would someone have to smoke for it to be detectable and identifiable on a property's walls, beyond reasonable doubt?
  20. Mar 1, 2013 #19


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    I don't completely understand this thread, either. How much meth may there be on the walls and how should it get perilous to persons?
    I suppose that the meth on the walls are deposits from smoking it. Upon vapourisation, meth will probably break down mostly into free base and HCl and the salt may also react with the chalk in the wall. So it may not be readily soluble in water.
  21. Mar 1, 2013 #20
    I doubt it is exhaled as freebase, because if I recall, I can't get drain cleaner (sodium hydroxide) from the store because it is used in the manufacture of meth.
    I did a quick google search, and I'm seeing Meth Hcl has a pKa of 10.1 and it would take an aqueous solution with pH > 12 to turn it from salt to freebase.

    Of course we're also all assuming that when druggies smoke meth, they are blowing a lot of it back out.... I'm guessing they must not be aware of that fact, otherwise they'd be blowing it out into balloons and sucking it back in ad nauseam.
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