Last updated 5-3-16
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Field Lab 10: Smart Consumerism
Examining bogus products like magnetic water softeners and most homeopathic remedies.

Magnet blanket on horse

MAGNETS:  Because most people don't understand magnets, they believe that they have magical powers.    This has resulted in many people selling magnet-related products that exploit people's ignorance.   Magnets only do three things.  They 1) attract and repel other magnets 2) attract certain metals like iron and 3)  they cause electrons to move (like in a electric generator).    If the magnet-related product does one of these things, then it is a legitimate product.  However, if it is doing something else, I would bet that it's a bogus product.

Magnets sewn into pockets on blankets for use with people and horses.   The claim is these magnets offer some sort of therapy.   Unless you've swallowed some iron nails, I can't think of any therapy the magnets would do.

Plutonium pills

This is a homeopathic remedy that is made from plutonium, the radioactive element that is used to make atomic bombs.   Plutonium is about the most dangerous substance in the world, yet in homeopathy it's turned into a pill.    The label says "Plutonium Nitricus" which in plain English means Plutonium Nitrate, a salt you get when you dissolve plutonium metal with nitric acid.   The label that is visible doesn't show the homeopathic dilution; but in homeopathy the active ingredient (plutonium nitrate in this case) is usually diluted to the point of not being detectable. In other words a homeopathic doctor could label these sugar pills as Plutonium and write the dilution as 30X, 30C, or 200C, and that guarantees there is no plutonium in the pills.   So these would likely be safe to ingest, but there's nothing there but sugar pills.

(Photo by Theodore Gray)

Below is the box for Walgreens brand of homeopathic ear pain drops.   On the upper right are the "Active Ingredients".     Chamomilla is a flower that is more commonly called "chamomile".   It is used is some herbal remedies.   However at 10X dilution, that means it was diluted to one ten billionth of its original strength.   10X is 1 followed by 10 zeros (10,000,000,000).   In other words there is less than a speck of chamomile herb in the whole bottle.   Mercurius solubilis is Latin for "Mercury that is Soluble".  However, mercury is not soluble unless it reacts with an acid.  For example, if nitric acid (HNO3) is placed on mercury (symbol Hg), the mercury will become mercury(I) nitrate with formula of HgNO3.   Again, "Mercurius Solubilis" is not a real chemical name.  It could be mercury nitrate or mercury chloride, but the ingredient doesn't say which one.  However, at a dilution of 15X  (1 followed by 15 zeros), there is no way this could even be detected.  It would be like placing a grain of sugar in a large swimming pool and expecting the swimming pool water to be sweet.  The third ingredient of Sulfur at 12X diluted to 1 following by 12 zeros, which is one trillionth.   Again, that means no laboratory could even detect any sulfur in this bottle.   On the bottom left side of the label, you see the "Inactive Ingredient" as vegetable glycerin.    This is an odd name because glycerin is glycerin whether it came from vegetable oil or from animal fat.    Like most all homeopathic products, the Active Ingredients are so diluted that you can assume they are not even in the product.  The only thing present is the "Inactive Ingredient".    So that basically means these ear drops depend solely on glycerin (a sweetener).   Unless you believe that invisible amounts of chemicals are potent like homeopaths believe.
Homeopathic ear pain drops
radiation drops

On the left is a homeopathic remedy for treating fatigue, itching, trembling, cough with phlegm, fever, sticking pains in head and face, vomiting, and warty growths.  It also is supposed to help you with exposure to various forms of radiation.  Which is surprising because many if its ingredients are radioactive salts which would expose you to additional radiation especially because you take these drops internally.


Below is the full label of this bottle.      The first three ingredients are plants.  The fourth is sulfur.  The next one is X-Ray with 6X dilution.   As you know X-rays are a high energy form of light.   You can't bottle up light and make drops out of it.  So this ingredient is completely bogus.     The last ingredient is "Electricitas".  That is Latin for "electricity".  Again, you can't bottle up electricity and make drops out of it.  

1)   Two of the ingredients include radioactive metals.   Which two are they?

Recall a 8X dilution can be written as 1 followed by 8 zeros.    So 8X means there is only one drop of the active ingredient for every 100,000,000 drops of the inactive ingredients.  Here the inactive ingredient is a mixture of demineralized water (distilled water) and ethanol. 
2)  The ingredient Cadmium Iodatum (cadmium iodide) with 3 different dilutions (8X, 15X, and 30X) was added to these drops.  To get a 30X dilution, you would take 1 drop of cadmium iodide solution and add it to how many drops of the Demineralized water/ethanol solution?  
Recall a 1C dilution takes the original substance and dilutes it to one hundredth strength.   1 out of 100.   "100" has 2 zeros.  So for every C, you add two zeros.  So a 3C dilution is one followed by 6 zeros (3x2).    So 3C is 1 out of 1,000,000.  
3) Some of the dilutions below are 30C.   So that is 1 drop of the active ingredient out of how many drops of the water/ethanol mixture?

Radiatin Label
On the label, EMR is referring to electromagnetic radiation (all forms of light).   EMF  is electromagnetic fields, such as the electric fields that surround electric power lines and electric wiring of a house.  NUC is referring to nuclear radiation.  On their website, this liquid is also to combat people's adverse reaction to EMR, EMF, X-Rays, and Nuclear radiation.  Homeopathic logic is to give you small doses of what is making you sick.   It's like while you are drunk, someone gives you a small amount of alcohol to combat drunk symptoms.    If this makes no sense to you, then you are like the vast majority of scientists and doctors who think homeopathy is overrun with bogus products.

You can visit the website to see that the above product is real and being sold.


If you do an image search for magnetic water softeners, you will see hundreds of these kind of products (see below).   There must be millions of dollars wasted on buying these magnet or electromagnet products that say they just like real water softeners (ones that use salt).    For example, the Army Corp of Engineers tested many of these kinds of magnetic & electronic water softeners (conditioners) and found them to do nothing to prevent scale or have any affect whatsoever on the chemistry of the water.    Except for the sellers bragging about the products and some buyers thinking they work, there's no evidence that they do anything that they claim.   Most of the websites point out the hassles with normal water softeners as their main way to persuade people to buy their product, which is more hassle free (but doesn't work)   Some of these vendors list some ridiculous claims such as the water passing through their magnetic device will give you energy and make your plants grow fast and large. 
magnetic water softeners
Electronic water softener

Even Home Depot sells a product that has you wrap some wire around the pipe and device will pulse electricity through the wire which will produce a weak electromagnet.    Strong electromagnets have thousands of windings of wire not 80.    But it doesn't matter how strong of a magnet it creates, it's not going to effect the water or the chemicals (salts) dissolved in the water.  This product costs $995 at Home Depot.

I like what one reviewer said, "Lights flash, not much else happens".  Then he went on to say, "After installing, I waited eagerly for it to start doing its thing. After two months, I could see no difference in the water."

This next guy used a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter like you did in the lab.   He said, "Have only had unit installed for about a month now. Am monitoring the levels with a TDS Meter. Have only seen slight improvement during this time. According to the experts, don't expect significant changes for at least 90 days. In other words, the manufacturer said don't expect changes until after the return time has passed (90 days). Another buyer revealed the same instructions.  "Very easy to install. Haven't noticed any difference yet, but instructions point out that it needs 90 days to work. Again, after 90 days they can't return it to Home Depot. So the manufacturer is more devious than I even realized.

Soap anim Soft water is defined as water will low concentrations of calcium and magnesium ions.  Hard water is water that has high levels of calcium ions and/or magnesium ions.  They call the water hard because soaps bind to calcium and magnesium ions which then become solid pieces of soap that leave the water and coat the container (tub, washing machine, shower, sink) with soap scum.    Since magnets can't remove calcium and magnesium ions from the water, they do nothing to turn hard water into soft water.   Yet hundreds of online vendors say their magnetic water softeners do just that.   Regular water softeners replace the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions (from sodium chloride/table salt).  That's why people how own regular water softeners have to buy and add salt from time to time. Soap molecules will not bind to sodium ions. So soap molecules can do what they do best which is to inject their long chain into a oil drop while the exposed charged end attracts water (see animation).
Premiere logo

Visit the below website of a company that installs equipment to enhance water quality.

4) In the section titled "Independent Performance Testing for Saltless Water Softeners", what six organizations did they list as doing testing on magnetic water softeners?   (Magnetic water softeners are sometimes classified physical water softeners because they use no chemicals)

Email your answers to Ken Costello at