Hydrochloric acid is a strong acid, meaning it dissociates almost completely in water to yield hydronium ions (H3O+) and chloride ions (Cl-). Since it's a strong acid, it has a significant effect on the pH of a solution. This makes hydrochloric acid corrosive and can cause severe burns if it comes in contact with your eyes or skin. Nonetheless, hydrochloric acid is also a very useful industrial chemical found in many household items, from clog removal products to tile cleaners.
Video of the Day
Some cleaning supplies, including heavy-duty tile cleaner and toilet bowl cleaner, contain hydrochloric acid. It's also often used as a pool chemical to reduce the pH levels.
Heavy-Duty Tile Cleaner
Some tile cleaners, especially the heavy-duty brands available at some hardware or home improvement stores, contain hydrochloric acid. This ingredient acts to help dissolve scale and other debris on the surface of the tile, making it easier to remove stubborn stains. This cleaning power makes it an ideal solution for those hard-to-clean areas that never seem to truly shine.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of hydrochloric acid can also make these tile cleaners corrosive and create irritating or unpleasant fumes. Sodium bicarbonate will neutralize hydrochloric acid, so it can help in cleaning up spills. Often, however, there are other ingredients that cannot be so simply neutralized, so follow the manufacturer's instructions if dealing with a spill. Some people use hydrochloric acid by itself to clean tiles, but this can be especially dangerous.
Toilet Bowl Cleaners
Some toilet bowl cleaners also contain hydrochloric acid, again for much the same reason as the tile cleaner. It helps to dissolve some really tough stains like mineral deposits, rust, and scale. The concentration of hydrochloric acid and the pH of the solution vary depending on the product, so some of these are stronger and more corrosive than others. Just as with the tile cleaners, however, it's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions when you're working with these products to ensure your own safety, and always ensure you have adequate ventilation before working with this type of product.
Pool Chemicals to Lower pH
Hydrochloric acid is a common pool chemical, often sold under the name muriatic acid, to change the pH of the water. If the pH of your pool is too high, adding small amounts of hydrochloric acid to the water increases the hydrogen ion concentration, thereby reducing the pH.
It's important to observe good safety precautions when working with muriatic acid, because if you're careless or sloppy while diluting it, you can burn yourself severely. Ensure there are no swimmers in the pool before you add the acid and make sure the pump is running. It's also crucial to add the acid to water instead of the other way around as it can cause splashes. Finally, don't add large amounts at a time. After four hours, test the pH level again and adjust if necessary.
Using Hydrochloric Acid Products Safely
Hydrochloric acid can make household products corrosive. Always keep the area well-ventilated when using any cleaners, especially those with hydrochloric acid. Read and follow the package instructions carefully, and don't mix the hydrochloric acid cleaner with any other cleaning products as it could cause a dangerous chemical reaction. Wear heavy-duty rubber gloves to protect your hands.
Based in San Diego, John Brennan has been writing about science and the environment since 2006. His articles have appeared in "Plenty," "San Diego Reader," "Santa Barbara Independent" and "East Bay Monthly." Brennan holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.