Sulfuric acid is an incredibly corrosive acid form of sulfur. It is used in a wide variety of industrial processes, from byproducts of large-scale mining operations to bleaching flour to fruit and vegetable preservation. It is also a common ingredient in many household products, especially cleaning products. Its corrosive properties can make it dangerous.
Sulfuric acid is in numerous household cleaners, particularly toilet bowl cleaners and drain de-cloggers. It is also in some powdered laundry detergents, pet-care products, rust-dissolving solutions, metal cleaners, hand soaps, dish-washing liquids and rain repellents used to prevent streaking on automobiles as well as some products associated with glass-making and other arts and crafts. Not all brands of these products include sulfuric acid.
Sulfuric acid in household products can be dangerous in two distinct ways. As a corrosive acid, it can burn through human skin and many household surfaces and materials. It is also reactive, meaning that one household item accidentally combined with another household item may create some form of sulfuric acid, such as when a cleaner containing sodium bisulfate mixes with water.
The most important and most effective step for the safe handling of a product containing sulfuric acid is to follow the product's directions and safety warning meticulously. If the directions and/or safety warning advises the product's user to wear gloves, then the chances are good that exposure to the product causes severe skin burns. Some forms of sulfuric acid are so corrosive that they can break down containers in which they are stored. Therefore, avoid transferring a product containing sulfuric acid to a container different from the one in which the product was purchased.
When you cut an onion, the onion's cell walls break open and release propanethiol S-oxide. When that chemical mixes with the water in your eyeballs, it creates a form of sulfuric acid. If you had that experience, then you know just how much pain even a small amount of sulfuric acid can cause. If anyone in your home experiences health effects related to sulfuric acid exposure, contact a poison control center or a medical professional immediately.
- The Ohio State University Extension: Fact Sheet -- Hazardous Materials in the Home; Joe E. Heimlich
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Household Products Database: Sulfuric Acid
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Toxic Substances Portal -- Sulfur Trioxide and Sulfuric Acid; 1998
- Florida State College at Jacksonville: Sulfuric Acid
Eoghan McCloskey is a technical support representative and part-time musician who holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and political science from Texas State University. While at Texas State, McCloskey worked as a writing tutor at the Texas State Writing Center, proofreading and editing everything from freshman book reports to graduate theses.