Caustic soda – or sodium hydroxide – is a strongly basic substance used in many areas.
Caustic soda is commercially available in solid form, but also in the form of solutions at different concentrations. It is a reagent widely exploited both at an industrial and domestic level, as it is widely used in various types of research laboratories (chemical laboratories, chemical-pharmaceutical laboratories, etc.).
Although it can also be purchased by private individuals for domestic use, due to its danger, the use of caustic soda requires special precautions and knowledge.
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The term “caustic” comes from the Greek ?a?st???? (kaustikòs) which literally means “burning”.
Caustic soda is the common name that indicates the chemical compound having the brute formula NaOH . This compound, more correctly called “sodium hydroxide “, is a strong base which – as can be easily deduced from its name – is capable of exerting a strong caustic action when it comes into contact with certain living materials and tissues.
In some cases, caustic soda is also incorrectly defined as “sodium hydrate”, “sodium hydrate” or “sodium hydrate”.
Caustic soda should not be confused with ” soda “, a common name with which you want to indicate a completely different chemical compound, ie sodium carbonate (Na2CO3). In fact, the latter compound is the sodium salt of carbonic acid and not a strong base like sodium hydroxide.
Caustic soda is a solid compound at room temperature, but highly hygroscopic (i.e. it is able to absorb the humidity contained in the air) and, consequently, deliquescent.
In other words, due to its remarkable ability to absorb humidity present in the air (hygroscopic properties), caustic soda changes its physical state from usually to liquid (deliquescence phenomenon).
However, caustic soda looks like a white odorless solid. Normally, in the solid-state, it is found in the form of flakes or pearls.
Another characteristic of caustic soda is that of producing heat when placed in water. In fact, the dissolution of sodium hydroxide in water is highly exothermic, so much so that the temperature reached during this operation can even exceed 95 ° C. Caustic soda solutions are generally colorless, clear or sometimes slightly turbid and, depending on the amount of sodium hydroxide they contain, have a more or less basic pH.
Caustic soda is not only soluble in water, but also in ethanol (or ethyl alcohol, if you like). The dissolution of caustic soda in ethanol is even more dangerous than that in water, this because the strong heat that is released during the dissolution of the substance can even make the vapors of ethyl alcohol ignite (remember, in fact, that ethanol is a very volatile substance).
As mentioned, caustic soda is a compound used both at an industrial and domestic level and can be used in many areas, from cooking to cosmetics.
In the industrial field, caustic soda is used as a reagent in numerous chemical reactions, but it can also be used in the form of an additive. In detail, caustic soda is used:
Caustic soda is also used in the home, especially for unclogging sinks, showers, tubs, toilets, etc., therefore, for unclogging domestic drains. However, this practice is not highly recommended, both because of the danger deriving from handling caustic soda and because – if not properly diluted – sodium hydroxide could damage the pipes.
However, in addition to this type of use, caustic soda can also be used in the home for:
Although caustic soda can also be sold to private individuals and can be used in the aforementioned domestic activities, we remind you again that the use of this substance entails a series of potential risks and that, therefore, it must be carried out with extreme caution and with all precautions of the case.
Caustic soda and its solutions must not be disposed of in the sewers or in the environment but must be disposed of according to the regulations in force in specifically authorized waste collection points.
In case of doubt, therefore, it is necessary to contact the service provider for waste management in your area, or contact companies specializing in the disposal of similar chemical products.
The companies producing caustic soda, together with the product, must provide a safety data sheet (SDS) that contains the warnings and all information on the chemical-physical, toxicological and environmental hazard properties of the chemical produced. This information is necessary to be able to handle and use caustic soda correctly and safely.
Among the various data in the safety data sheet which must also be present on the label, we mention the risk phrases and the classification of the product according to the EC regulation 1272/2008.
In the specific case of caustic soda, the risk phrase reported is ” R35: Causes severe burns ” and the substance is classified as ” Corrosive ” and accompanied by the corresponding hazard pictogram (see figure).
This pictogram indicates that the chemical compound in question – therefore, in this specific situation, caustic soda – can be corrosive to metals and causes serious skin burns and serious eye injuries.
In addition to the aforementioned information, the safety data sheet must also contain information on the manufacturing company, information concerning product handling and storage, information on first aid measures, on fire prevention measures and on the measures to be taken in case of environmental release and information related to the transportation and disposal of the product.
Given the high basicity and the consequent high corrosive power of caustic soda, in case of contact with eyes, skin or mucous membranes, in case of inhalation and / or in case of ingestion, it is necessary to immediately call medical help and go to the nearest first aid.
Pending the arrival of the emergency medical personnel or the doctor, however, some operations must be carried out in order to remove the caustic soda coming into contact with it from the body. Therefore, here below you will find some useful first aid advice to put into practice in case of accidents with caustic soda.
Regardless of the type of contact with caustic soda (with clothes, with the skin, with mucous membranes, etc.), the speed of intervention is fundamental in order to limit the damage; just as it is essential to immediately contact the doctor or the emergency room immediately after putting the above first aid tips into practice.
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