What Kind of Acid Is Used to Clean & Brighten Aluminum?

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Vinegar is great for cleaning aluminum pots and pans.
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Aluminum is a naturally soft metal first used commercially for the production of cookware. It is an ideal metal for pots and pans because it heats fast and evenly and is lightweight. Aluminum is easy to clean and brighten with a mild aluminum acid wash using ingredients often found in pantries or kitchen cupboards. Other acidic aqueous cleaning solutions are also effective, but they are much harsher and not as safe.

Tip

Acids used to clean and brighten aluminum include vinegar (acetic acid), lemon juice (citric acid) and cream of tartar (tartaric acid).

Uses For Aluminum

In addition to its use in cookware, aluminum is also used for food processing and storage because it is easily cleaned with steam, is resistant to fatty acids and is splinter-proof. The food industry uses food processing equipment such as vats and piping that are made of aluminum. Aluminum foil is used to prevent partially prepared or frozen foods from going rancid or spoiling.

Aluminum is widely used in medicine such as antacids and elsewhere in the pharmaceutical industry. Elsewhere in food processing, aluminum is used in everything from sugar, beer, flour, gelatin, meats, frozen foods and dairy products, to being an agent in baking powder. Alum helps preserve the color and firmness of fruits.

Making Mild Aluminum Acid Wash

Dark stains that form on aluminum are very easy to remove from cookware. Michigan State University recommends making an aluminum acid formula by mixing 1 tbsp. of vinegar in 1 qt. of water and adding the liquid to the discolored aluminum pan. After boiling for 10 to 15 minutes, remove the pan from the heat, and discard the hot liquid. Scour the pan with a steel wool pad, wash in soapy water, rinse and allow the pan to dry.

To remove lime scale with vinegar, add equal parts of vinegar and water to the pan and bring it to a boil. Lemon juice also cleans discoloration from aluminum.

Another aluminum cleaner, cream of tartar or potassium hydrogen tartrate, is useful for as an aluminum brightener. Soak the aluminum pot, pan or utensil in a quart of hot water mixed with 2 tbsp. cream of tartar.

Acidic Aqueous Cleaners

Acidic aqueous cleaning solutions may contain mineral acids such as nitric, sulfuric, phosphoric and hydrofluoric acid. Chromic or organic acids may include acetic and oxalic acids. These products may also contain chelating agents, detergents and small amounts of water-miscible solvents. Acidic aqueous solutions are sometimes used to clean or remove oxide, rust or scale from aluminum.

Chemical Safety Precautions

Very strong acids are extremely dangerous. Always wear protective safety glasses and gloves when using strong acids. Some acids such as sulfuric acid produce gas when heated and fumes from the gases can be harmful.

Sulfuric and hydrofluoric acids are used in toilet bowl cleaners. Oxalic acid is an effective rust remover. Hydrofluoric acid is colorless but pungently odorous and must be used in well-ventilated areas.

Always have baking soda on hand when using hydrofluoric acid because it neutralizes spills. Be especially cautious when adding acid to water. Even more importantly, never add water to a strong acid solution.

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Susan Klatz Beal

Susan Beal began her writing career in 2007. Her numerous articles specialize in plants and gardening as well as many other areas. Beal has professional training in music, but is a longtime gardener and plant collector. Her experience with gardening, coupled with extensive research, lends a voice of expertise to her articles.