The Many Uses of Coca-Cola

  1. In many states the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the truck to remove blood from the highway after a car accident.

  2. To clean a toilet: Pour a can of Coca-Cola into the toilet bowl. Let it sit for one hour, then flush. Coke removes stains from the vitreous china.

  3. To remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers: Rub the bumper with a crumpled-up piece of aluminum foil dipped in Coca-Cola.

  4. You can put a T-bone steak in a bowl of coke and it will be gone in two days.

  5. A tooth left in coca-coca will dissolve overnight.

  6. To clean corrosion from car battery terminals: Pour a can of Coca-Cola over the terminals. (Take the battery out of the car first).

  7. To loosen a rusted bolt: Applying a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola to the rusted bolt for several minutes.

  8. To remove grease from clothes: Empty a can of Coke into a load of greasy clothes, add detergent, and run through a regular cycle. The Coca-Cola will help loosen grease stains.

  9. It will also clean road haze from your windshield.

The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid; before dilution, its pH is 2.8, strong enough to dissolve a nail in about 4 days. To carry Coca Cola syrup (the concentrate) the commercial truck must use the Hazardous material placards reserved for Highly Corrosive materials. Needless to say, it is greatly diluted before it reaches the consumer.

We've all seen this e-mail forward at one point or another; this one seems to be a pretty standard variation, although it doesn't have the usual conclusion: some form of "Coke is bad! Don't drink it!" I guess it's implied, though.

So, how much of this do you think is true? I usually clean road haze off of my windshield with water, so I'm betting that coca-cola will also do the job. Toilet bowl cleaning sounds possible; steak-eating less so. Mark down your bets, and then read on to see how you did!

Claim #1: The highway patrol uses coke to clean up blood -- False. While the ever-groovy MythBusters have shown that coke can be used to clean up blood, there are no verified accounts of it being used by any official agency to do so. (You can still give yourself partial credit if you said True).

Claim #2, 3, 6, 7, and 9: Coke will clean almost anything -- True!1. Carbonic acid is a useful cleaner, although soda water will make less of a mess and be just as effective in most cases. The phosphoric acid in coke will also attack rust, and while coke is not the best rust remover, it should work. (NOTE: I can not find any references that I trust that recommend that an untrained person should be trying to remove rust from car battery terminals. If you do decide to try this, some sites recommend baking soda and water as the first choice in car battery corrosion removal).

Claim #4 and 5: Coke will eat x -- Nearly always False2. Coke may eat a lot of the things that it is claimed to eat, but usually not in the time period claimed. Steak is up in the air - will it ever dissolve? Probably not. No one has ever cared enough to wait around and see.

Teeth enamel will probably dissolve, but it'll take a couple days before you start to see any effects, and you may need to use a milk tooth rather than an adult one (the teeth that children loose have already lost the root, and are hollow shells of enamel). Tooth enamel is sensitive to acid, and coke will eat it away. Other drinks, such as orange juice, have more citric acid than does coke, and therefor should be more effective solvents. To a large extent the tooth-eating claim is based on Clive M. McCay's testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives' committee.

In the fall of 1950, a Cornell University professor named Clive M. McCay testified before a select committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that the sugar in Coke caused cavities. And, he said, the phosphoric acid was a dangerous additive. Giving a vivid account that instantly became part of the national folklore, Dr. McCay described how a tooth left in a glass of Coca-Cola would soften and begin to dissolve in a period of two days.
-- Secret Formula, written by Frederick Allen.

I didn't find this all that convincing, so I started browsing dentistry pages. After much searching, I haven't come up with much more than the fact that acid is bad for your teeth, and will destroy the enamel. I would recommend running the experiment for at least a week, and possibly changing the coke every so often. By far the greatest coke-related threat to your teeth is the sugar it contains, which is why we have diet coke.

Nails are the same deal, only ever so much more so. In theory, the phosphoric acid will eat the iron, but at a much slower rate than it eats rust. I can find absolutely no information of how much coke would be needed, or how long a nail would have to soak, to dissolve. I am certain that it would be a lot, and a very long time.

Claim #10: Coke cleans off road haze -- True! But it makes your car all sticky.

And finally: do trucks carrying Coca-Cola syrup need hazmat stickers? The urban myth sites are unusually silent, but sometimes refer to antidotal evidence. The antidotal evidence is shaky. On the other hand, some of Coca-Cola's adds looking to hire drivers do require hazmat endorsements, although other adds just list them as a plus. Most likely some of the trucks delivering chemicals to the plants making the syrup do require these stickers, but those delivering the syrup to the bottling plants do not.3

References and comments:

1. These claims are collected from Joey Green's book Polish Your Furniture with Panty Hose. He is reprinting claims made by house-hold hints columnists Heloise (toilet bowl, battery terminals) and Mary Ellen (rust off chrome, rusted bolt, remove grease from clothes). I have not tested these out myself, but the Coca-Cola company has not sued his book off the market, and (urban myth busters) recognizes the book as a reliable source. More importantly, none of these people has anything to gain by recommending false household tips in their columns and books; that would be counterproductive. See:
Polish Your Furniture with Panty Hose, Joey Green, 1995, Hyperion Books. and
On the other hand, coke may stain; in at least one experiment, it stained the toilet bowl it was supposed to clean.


And a few adds:

Other references: