How to Dissolve Paper

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Dissolving paper is more difficult than one might think. While certain bio-degradable paper can be easily dissolved in water, most commercially used paper is significantly more durable; its near-neutral pH requires strong acids to dissolve it completely. Hydrochloric acid, also known and marketed commercially as muriatic acid, is sufficiently strong to dissolve paper. Strict safety precautions must be followed to avoid accidents caused by its acidity, toxicity and volatility, and the acid must be neutralized before disposed it.

    Choose a well-ventilated location to work in to avoid inhalation of dangerous fumes. Place a plastic or glass container on flat, level ground. Have an immediately accessible source of water nearby (a hose or a large bucket of water) and put a box of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) within easy reach.

    Put on safety goggles and acid-resistant gloves before proceeding.

    Fill the container no more than two-thirds with water. Add 1 part muriatic acid to 10 parts of water. Use caution when adding muriatic acid to water, as this causes an exothermic reaction that may result in splashing.

    Place the paper into the diluted acid and allow it to fully dissolve.

    Neutralize the muriatic acid by slowly and carefully pouring 1lb. of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) into the diluted acid; this will cause the acid to sizzle as it is neutralized. Test for complete neutralization by adding a small amount of additional baking soda. Apply more baking soda if the mixture continues to sizzle.

    Take the neutralized mixture to a hazardous waste facility for disposal.

    Tips

    • While outdoor concrete surfaces can provide a flat and level surface to work on, splashed muriatic acid can damage it, especially before it has been fully diluted. Working on compact dirt can avoid this, but any dirt that comes in contact with splashed acid must be neutralized with sodium bicarbonate and brought to a hazardous waste facility with the neutralized acid.

    Warnings

    • To minimize the chances of dangerous splashing, acid should always be added to water; never add water to acid.

      Immediately remove any clothing that comes in contact with muriatic acid. Eyes or skin that have come in contact with muriatic acid should be thoroughly flushed with water, followed by prompt medical treatment.

      Inhaling the fumes from muriatic acid can be extremely hazardous, and prolonged exposure may lead to pulmonary edema, which is life-threatening. Stop working immediately if you experience severe airway irritation or chest pain while using muriatic acid.

References

About the Author

Jason Williams has been involved in journalism since 2000 as both a writer and an editor. Graduating from the International Baccalaureate program in 2004, he has written on a wide array of topics, specializing in topics of natural sciences and technology.

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