THE WORKS Toilet Cleaner Blows!

In an incident sure to go on their permanent records, four South Carolina college students were arrested after detonating several “Works Bombs” in an around their dorm. A “Works Bomb” is a new one by me, but is apparently a well-known prank among our idle youth, with many how-to’s and videos abounding across the internet. And no wonder, because with just an empty plastic bottle, “The Works” toilet bowl cleaner and some aluminum foil, any idiot can become a frathouse legend for years to come. From,

via State Law Enforcement Division on the scene.

via A State Law Enforcement Division van on the scene.

Four Newberry College students were arrested and charged Thursday, accused of causing multiple explosions in a dormitory which led to an evacuation and police search of the building…[snip] Vice President Chuck Wendt told students a water bottle filled with toilet bowl disinfectant was set off in the parking lot of Brokaw Hall at around 11:30pm Tuesday….[snip]..Wendt said another device was set off in the dorm’s first floor lobby at 12:50am. Sheriff Foster said officers in the area mistook the sound for a gunshot and investigated, but could not find the source of the blast. At around noon Wednesday, a third device went off. The dorm was evacuated as agents from the State Law Enforcement Division searched the building with police dogs and a robot.

It’s actually a “pressure bomb” caused by gas buildup from the reaction of the hydrochloric acid in “The Works” and the aluminum foil.

How’s it work? Thanks to, here’s the science in a nutshell:

The chemistry explanation:  The aluminum foil in your kitchen is coated with a type of wax.  This is to prevent you from being burned by the aluminum since it is a strong skin irritant.  The Works toilet bowl cleaner (and some others) contains hydrochloric acid.  The acid strips the coating away, exposing the aluminum.  Hydrochloric acid reacts rapidly with aluminum to produce Aluminum Chloride (soluble) and Hydrogen gas.  Here’s the reaction:
3HCl(aq) + Al(s) –> AlCl3(aq) + 3H(g)

Like many fun and irresponsible acts, this can be dangerous! Hydrochloric acid can burn your skin and your eyes and kill green living things!  You should observe all safety procedures when handling it. (Who knew toilet bowl cleaner could be this toxic?)  The remnants of the explosion may well contain acid. So understand, careless people: this is very dangerous!  Naturally, we are not responsible for any injuries or legal consequences caused by some numbskull reading this and attempting it. This information is for educational purposes. Now go away and put the knowledge to use and study for your chemistry test.