Your urine, believe it or not, has a purpose. Since ancient times, scientists and inventors with steel stomachs have known that liquid waste can be helpful. The Romans traded in urine, collecting it publicly and paying taxes. People all over the world have used urine, both human and animal, for a variety of purposes throughout history. But how was our pee used over time?
Our pee has been used for various purposes throughout history, including tanning hides, cleaning clothes, making gunpowder, and whitening teeth.
Urine as Cleaner
Ammonia, as previously stated, is a common ingredient in cleaning products. Ammonia is a weak base on the pH scale, which means it is more neutral than essential; however, it is also caustic, which means it has a destructive reaction when it comes into contact with certain substances. Because it neutralizes grease and dirt, it’s a valuable ingredient in cleaning products.
Soap is widely believed to be a modern invention. Soaps of various types have existed for several thousand years. They did not compare to the use of urine, which, when diluted with water, could be used as a soak for dirty clothes.
Launderers in ancient Rome stomped on wet linens like vintners stomped on grapes, similar to how modern washing machines spin and shake the load. (Source: The Vintage News)
Urine as Softener and Brightener
Urine is beneficial not only for cleaning clothes but also for treating them. The acidic nature of ammonia dissolves more than just dirt; it also aids in the removal of hairs from animal skins, softening leathers, and animal pelts.
Urine was also used to make clothing more colorful. Natural dyes must be properly treated in order to keep their color in textiles. Ammonia was an essential resource for the textile industry in 16th century England because it acted as a mordant, a bonding agent, that fused the dye to the cloth.
Every year, Yorkshire would receive cask after cask of human urine to be mixed with alum to make a strong mordant. This combination would ensure the brightest fabrics. (Source: The Vintage News)
Urine as Whitener
Urine not only brightens but also whitens! Previously, specialists insisted that using it in a mouthwash would whiten teeth. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory, but there is the poetic verse on the subject.
In the land of Celtiberia, whatever each man has urinated, he is accustomed in the morning to rub his teeth and his red gums with this so that the more polished those teeth of yours are, the more urine they proclaim you to have drunk. Perhaps this is why no one brushed their teeth back then. (Source: The Vintage News)
Using Urine for Explosives
Urine has explosive properties, which may astound you. Of course, only when combined with the appropriate elements. The main component of gunpowder is saltpeter, also known as potassium nitrate.
Gunpowder manufacturers could extract it from urine before modern times allowed for its synthetic creation. Ammonia enters the picture, forming nitrates when it reacts with oxygen.
Geologist Joseph LeConte illustrates the result of mixing liquid manure with straw, ash, and leaves in his 1862 Instructions for the Manufacture of Saltpetre. As the heap ripens, he explains, evaporation brings the nitre to the surface, appearing as a whitish efflorescence detectable by taste. (Source: The Vintage News)