More sulfuric acid (sometimes spelled sulphuric acid) is made annually than any other manufactured chemical. The uses for sulfuric acid are countless, and it is commonly found in manufactured chemicals ranging from makeup to explosives. When used in the production of fertilizers, the superphosphate of lime is mixed with ammonium sulfate. Hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, detergents, pigments and sulfate salts are all made using sulfuric acid, and rayon and over-the-counter medications can also contain sulfuric acid.
About Sulfuric Acid
Sulfuric acid is a colorless, oily liquid that is water soluble when heated. This means that sulfuric acid will dissolve in water and can be diluted to different strengths depending upon the intended application. If not diluted, sulfuric acid is corrosive to metal and tissues and can cause a burn on the skin if it makes prolonged contact. It also can be used to char wood and other organic matter, which can be done for the purpose of creating a product for mass consumption or for art applications.
If it is not diluted, sulfuric acid can be hazardous to your health. Prolonged contact on the skin can cause burns, and if it is breathed in, it can cause other health complications. For these reasons, it is advised that you wear gloves and a mask whenever you are working with sulfuric acid.
Sulfuric Acid and Batteries
Sulfuric acid has countless potential uses. Because it is easily diluted, it can be used for anything from skin care to construction jobs. In addition, you can use sulfuric acid when you need to cause a specific chemical reaction. For this reason, sulfuric acid is a major component in various sorts of batteries.
Large-power batteries such as those found in hospital imaging equipment, car batteries and farm equipment batteries all contain sulfuric acid. Batteries like these rely on the chemical reaction that sulfuric acid has when it meets lead. The electrons that are generated from that combination are what the battery needs to produce voltage.
When this happens in a battery, there is also an inert compound created. Because of this, all sulfuric acid batteries have a lifespan of use, and you will get diminishing returns with the battery until it is spent.
Sulfuric Acid and Drain Cleaner
Another common use of sulfuric acid is for drain cleaner. Many industrial-strength drain cleaners or drain openers are extremely corrosive. They can cause severe burns on the skin if spilled. Some of these drain openers come in a powder that needs to be activated with cold water.
To use them, you must first pour a certain amount into your drain without getting it on your skin and then rinse with cold water to activate the chemicals. If you accidentally get this product on your hand, do not thrust your hand immediately into cold water. Instead, lather with soap and then rinse with warm water.
Household Products Containing Sulfuric Acid
Sulfuric acid is commonly found in household cleaning products, though it is not limited to that use. The reason that sulfuric acid household products are so common has to do with its corrosive properties. This makes it an excellent choice for products such as toilet bowl cleaners and drain cleaners/openers.
It may also be used in powdered laundry detergents, hand soap, dishwashing liquid and pet products. It is important to note that not all of these products contain sulfuric acid. If you are curious about what products in your home contain sulfuric acid, check the product labels.
Safe Sulfuric Acid Uses
As with any chemical product, it is important to follow all instructions given during use. Typically, it is advised to wear gloves, a breathing mask and eye protection. If a product states that you should use any protective gear, assume that it can cause severe skin burns. If you have any product with sulfuric acid, it is not advised for you to transfer the product out of the container in which it came for other storage.
If you do so, you risk having the sulfuric acid break down the new container. When storing anything with sulfuric acid, it is also advised that you store it on the floor or in lower cabinets. This reduces the risk of people pulling down the product and spilling it on themselves.
Can Sulfuric Acid Kill You?
Sulfuric acid can be deadly if taken internally. Externally, it can cause severe burning and even disfigurement. In its powdered state, sulfuric acid will still burn when it comes in contact with the skin. When that powder is mixed with cold water, it will break down skin with shocking speed.
If sulfuric acid is put in a glass of cold water, the glass will very quickly become too hot to hold in your bare hands. If dumped on a person, it will cause disfiguring chemical burns that may need multiple surgical procedures to treat.
Accidental Sulfuric Acid Ingestion
If sulfuric acid is ingested, do not attempt to throw up. Contact emergency services as soon as possible. To make certain that you will get the correct treatment, take a picture of the container or bring it with you to the emergency department if at all possible. You can also contact poison control at 800-222-1222 for other instructions.
Sulfuric acid is dangerous in all of its forms, so take caution to not inhale or ingest it in any way. If sulfuric acid is breathed in, you should still contact poison control. If breathed in, sulfuric acid can burn soft tissue like the eyes or throat, so it is very important to NOT rinse your mouth out with cold water. Before doing anything, contact poison control or your emergency health services.
The Importance of Sulfuric Acid
Without sulfuric acid, we would not have access to a whole host of products that most people use daily. Car batteries, for example, would not be as powerful as they are able to be. That would limit horsepower and reduce fuel efficiency.
In addition, most drain cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners contain sulfuric acid because of its ability to break down organic components such as hair. Some types of cleaners that are available at hardware stores are so corrosive that there has been some discussion in some states about needing a license to purchase it.
Sulfuric acid is so ingrained in many household products that life without it would be noticeably different. Even cosmetic chemical peels and scrubs make use of extremely diluted sulfuric acid. The use of sulfuric acid even in beauty products can be very dangerous if it gets into your eyes or gets ingested. To make sure that you are getting the most out of your skin care products, follow all instructions closely.
The Strongest Type of Acid
Until the invention of superacids, fluorosulfuric acid used to be considered the strongest acid of which we knew. However, superacids such as carborane superacids are hundreds of times stronger than fluorosulfuric acid. Strength, in this case, is not the same as measuring corrosiveness.
Carborane superacids are powerful proton donors and thus make for a stronger chemical reaction than other acids. This doesn't mean that the acid is particularly corrosive. In fact, when you are looking for a corrosive effect, hydrofluoric acid is extremely effective. This acid is so corrosive that it is capable of dissolving glass.
Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com), and she enjoys writing home and DIY articles and blogs for clients in a variety of related industries. She also runs her own lifestyle blog, Sweet Frivolity (www.sweetfrivolity.com).