Acids and bases are commonly used in science laboratory classrooms throughout the country, but these powerful substances have a multitude of uses in our everyday lives. Acids and bases are used at the industrial level, contributing to the manufacture of many of the products, but they are also used in the home. Certain acids, such as hydrochloric acid, is produced and used by your own digestive system.
Acetic acid is produced from oxidizing ethanol or destructively distilling wood, and is also known as acetate, Acetasol and vinegar acid. It is used in the manufacture of ink and dyes, of pesticides and food preservatives and of rubber and plastic. It is used as a pharmaceutical agent to treat ear infections, and it's also the main ingredient in vinegar. Acetic acid is released into the environment from industrial emissions as well as automotive emissions. However, when acetic acid is released into the air -- or evaporates after being released into water or soil -- sunlight breaks it down naturally.
Sulfuric acid is another acid that has many practical uses. It is perhaps best known as battery acid, though it is also used extensively in the production of fertilizers, particularly ammonium sulfate. Sulfuric acid also plays a role in the processing of iron and steel. It is used to remove oxidation from these metals prior to galvanization or electroplating. Sulfuric acid is used to make detergents and polymers, and it's also a dehydrating agent that chemists use to remove water from substances during manufacturing. Finally, sulfuric acid is used in the production of nitroglycerine, which is both an explosive and a treatment for certain kinds of heart disease.
Sodium hydroxide is a an extremely common base that is probably best known for its use in cleaning bathroom and kitchen drains. However, sodium hydroxide is used in many other types of cleaners as well. Lower concentrations of this base are used in lye soaps and even facial cleansers. Aside from cleaning uses, this base is also used in the manufacturing of plastics, textiles and paper. It has been used traditionally in hair-relaxing products, but it is becoming less favored because it can cause chemical burns. Finally, sodium hydroxide is used in food processing -- for example, for peeling fruits and vegetables, scalding poultry and thickening ice cream.
Ammonia and chemicals formed from ammonia have a remarkable number of real-world applications, many of which are as cleaners. It removes tarnish from metals, and grease, soap scum and stains from clothing. It will even strip stubborn wax from your floors. Ammonia is used in the manufacturing of fertilizers and latex products. Ammonia is also a bug and animal repellent that can be used to ward off moths or keep unwanted pests from your trash. You can even use it to absorb other odors. For example, if you place dishes of dilute ammonia in a freshly painted room, the ammonia will absorb the smell of the paint.
About the Author
Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."