Most chemistry students are aware of NaOH, but if you ask them what sodium hydroxide is, it might take some time for them to ascertain that it is NaOH. Sodium hydroxide, also commonly called caustic soda, has a chemical formula of NaOH. Since it is a strong alkaline which can easily dissolve with water, it is used as a cleaning agent for many household and industrial purposes. It can easily absorb gases like carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide; hence it can be used in the treatment of heavy metals, extraction of ores, in refining oil and in many other processes and uses. The physical form of sodium hydroxide can be in the form of pellets, wafers, solids or even liquid solutions.
In ancient days, sodium hydroxide was produced by treating sodium carbonate with lime. However, the modern process is quite different and certainly easier. It is now more typically prepared from electrolyzing brine with mercury cells. It can also be produced using other processes like the diaphragm cell process which uses a steel cathode. The reaction of NaOH and chlorine is prevented by using a porous diaphragm made of asbestos fibers. There is also a membrane cell process which is quite similar to the diaphragm cell process.
Before using this chemical, it is crucial to know what it is and its potential harmful effects. Since sodium hydroxide is highly corrosive, when exposed to your skin it can cause serious chemical burns, permanent injury or scarring and even blindness.
One should take preventive measures while using this chemical. Protective equipment like gloves, goggles and apron or other clothing are must have essentials when handling sodium hydroxide. When this chemical is dissolved in water, it causes a lot of heat emission which might result in heat burns or ignition of inflammable items in the surrounding area. Great care must be taken if working with sodium hydroxide around or near any heat.
There are many uses for sodium hydroxide. It is used in the manufacturing process of many items from soaps to biofuels to fuel cells and food products, but it can also be used as a cleaning agent in both household as well as industrial applications, since it removes the scales formed from acidic reactions easily by neutralizing the acids.