What Is Sodium Hydroxide?
Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) is white and odorless solid. It is a common ingredient in cleaning supplies, and perhaps most notably appears in drain and oven cleaning chemicals. Sodium hydroxide causes skin to burn upon contact and will cause irrevocable damage if ingested. (See our safety sheet on Sodium Hydroxide.) However, sodium hydroxide is FDA approved and is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Used across a multitude of industries, some applications of sodium hydroxide include textiles, soap and cleaning products, paper, aluminum processing, petroleum, and bleach production.
The chemical is synthesized through electrolysis where chemical decomposition is achieved by passing an electric current through a solution of sodium chloride (commonly referred to as table salt) to yield sodium hydroxide and chlorine gas.
Sodium Hydroxide Fast Facts
Sodium Hydroxide Density: 2.13 g/cm3
Common Names for Sodium Hydroxide: Caustic soda, lye, soda lye, and sodium hydrate
Sodium Hydroxide Melting Point: 604.4°F
Sodium Hydroxide Boiling Point: 2,530°F
Molar Mass of Sodium Hydroxide: 39.997 g/mol
Common Uses of Sodium Hydroxide
1. Sodium Hydroxide for Cleaning
The beauty of sodium hydroxide for use in cleaning lies in its ability to transmute hard grease and fat buildup– attributed to clogging drains– into dissolvable soap. Sodium hydroxide excels in the cleaning industry due to its accessibility, affordability, ease of detection, and disposal. When used as a cleaning agent handlers must exhibit caution, as the chemical is known to burn human skin and cause severe internal damage if inhaled or ingested. Sodium hydroxide is particularly damaging if its fumes are allowed to permeate the eyes.
On a micro scale, sodium hydroxide is credited with eliminating proteins and nucleic acids while disabling most viruses it comes into contact with. The chemical also eradicates yeasts, fungi, and endotoxins. Because of its efficacy in removing microorganisms, sodium hydroxide is commonly leveraged in the medical industry as a critical sanitation component.
2. Sodium Hydroxide for Medicinal Use
Considering sodium hydroxide is utilized heavily as a cleaning agent and is harmful to humans, its immersive use as a medicinal component may surprise you! Sodium hydroxide is a component in common pain relievers, a piece of the puzzle in creating effective anticoagulants, and is used in cholesterol maintenance prescriptions. Some common prescriptions including sodium hydroxide as an inactive ingredient are Aspir-Low aspirin, Cyclobenzaprine hydrochloride extended-release, diclofenac sodium and misoprostol delayed-release, Divalproex sodium delayed-release, Didanosine, Edarbyclor, Nexium, and Sutent.
3. Sodium Hydroxide for Beauty
In small dilutions (5%), sodium hydroxide is commonly found in the following beauty products:
- Foot powders
- Hair dye
- Nail care products
- Shaving products
- Suntan oils
- Chemical hair straighteners
The inclusion of sodium hydroxide in many beauty products is attributed to its ability to stabilize pH levels. The inclusion of sodium hydroxide in hair products creates a less acidic environment for the scalp, skin, and hair. The leveling effect of sodium hydroxide helps regulate external influences which may have otherwise changed healthy pH levels. A common example is the mixture of residual oils on one’s hands introduced to the conditioning product upon application.