Sodium hydroxide, a white crystalline substance, is also known in other terms such as lye, caustic soda, white caustic, soda lye, and sodium hydrate. Its chemical formula is NaOH, and it is known to be corrosive as well as soluble in water, alcohol, and glycerin.
The chemical may sound unfamiliar to you but it can be found in household products such as oven cleaners and drain cleaners. The thing about cleaners that contain the substance is that they tend to turn fats into soap, making them efficient in removing clogs from pipes which are usually a mixture of fats and grease.
Its value does not end in being found in these household products, though. It is valuable in many other ways just like its role in the paper industry where it is used to break down lignin in wood. Lignin holds together cellulose fibers in wood, and its removal is responsible for having the freed cellulose fibers form into paper. So you can now imagine how important the substance in the paper industry is.
Besides being a contributor to paper production, the substance is also of value to the food industry. It plays a vital role in chocolate and cocoa processing, caramel coloring production, chemical peeling of fruits and vegetables, and poultry scalding. The unique crust of the German pretzels also owes something to sodium hydroxide as they are poached in a cold solution of the substance first before baking. Moreover, the gelling of egg whites in Century production is caused by the substance.
The chemical is also used in manufacturing other chemicals, where it is commonly used in acid neutralization, pH control, and off-gas scrubbing. It is also used to remove acidic contaminants in the processing of oil and gas, thus making it valuable to the petroleum and natural gas industry.
It is also used in water treatment, glass making, cotton mercerizing and scouring, rubber reclamation, mining, laundering and bleaching, metal processing and cleaning, oxide coating, electroplating, and electrolytic extracting. Moreover, it is both available in solid form just like chips, sticks, and pellets, and in solutions. Other factors that contribute to its being widely used are its being cheap and being easy to detect and dispose.
You have learned the different uses of caustic soda, but it is also important to learn the first aid measures that can be taken just in case accidents relating to the storage and handling of the substance take place. If it comes into contact with the skin, the affected part of the skin must be flushed with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. If it is with the eyes, the eyes must also be flushed with water for at least 15 minutes. If someone swallows a solution of the substance, never induce vomiting. What should be done instead is to have the person rinse their mouth thoroughly with water. Also, the person must be given with 240 to 300 ml. of water to drink.
Although first aid measures can be taken when accidents take place, it is always better to prevent these accidents from taking place as much as possible. This can be achieved by maintaining proper storage and use of the substance. Its container must be tightly closed and it must be stored in cool, dry, and ventilated area. When handling the chemical, protective equipment must be worn, including protective eyeglasses and gloves.
These are just some of the basic things that you need to know about sodium hydroxide. Being informed about its uses will make us appreciate its importance in our day-to-day living and being informed about its proper use will help us prevent accidents from happening.