Bubble Cleaning

Bubble streams may be a good way to gently clean produce to remove dirt and bacteria.

Removing dirt and bacteria from fruits and vegetables is a delicate job; too much force can bruise the produce and hasten spoiling. That’s why fluid mechanicians want to give the job to bubbles. Placing objects in a stream of air bubbles inside a bath is a surprisingly effective method for gently cleaning surfaces. A recent study finds that 22.5 degrees is the optimal angle for sliding bubbles to scrape a surface clean.

As the bubbles slide past the surface, they exert a shear force that scrapes away debris, just as you might use a loofah in the shower. The angle the bubble makes with the surface determines how long it’s in contact and how much force the bubble exerts. Increasing the angle makes the bubble slide faster, increasing its shear force. But above 22.5 degrees, the bubble’s buoyancy means that it spends less time pressed against the surface, which decreases its cleaning ability.

The team hopes to use their results to build a “fruit Jacuzzi” device that will direct bubble streams to gently and effectively clean fruits and vegetables in a matter of minutes. (Image and research credit: A. Hooshanginejad et al.; via APS Physics)

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