, an alkali
القلي, القالي ) is a basic
, ionic salt
of an alkali metal
or alkaline earth metal element
. Alkalis are best known for being bases
(compounds with pH
greater than 7) that dissolve in water
. The adjective alkaline
is commonly used in English
as a synonym
for base, especially for soluble
bases. This broad use of the term is likely to have come about because alkalis were the first bases known to obey the Arrhenius
definition of a base and are still among the more common bases. Since Brønsted-Lowry acid-base theory
, the term alkali in chemistry is normally restricted to those salts containing alkali and alkaline earth metal elements.
Alkalis are all Arrhenius
bases, which form hydroxide ions (OH-
) when dissolved in water. Common properties of alkaline aqueous solutions
- Moderately-concentrated solutions (over 10-3 M) have a pH of 10 or greater. This means that they will turn phenolphthalein from colorless to pink.
- Concentrated solutions are caustic (causing chemical burns).
- Alkaline solutions are slippery or soapy to the touch, due to the saponification of the fatty acids on the surface of the skin.
- Alkalis are normally water soluble, although some like barium carbonate are only soluble when reacting with an acidic aqueous solution.
Confusion between alkali and base
The terms "base" and "alkali" are often used interchangeably, since most common bases are alkalis. It is common to speak of "measuring the alkalinity of soil" when what is actually meant is the measurement of the pH (base property). In a similar manner, bases that are not alkalis, such as ammonia, are sometimes erroneously referred to as alkaline.
Note that not all or even most salts formed by alkali metals are alkaline; this designation applies only to those salts that are basic.
While most electropositive metal oxides are basic, only the soluble alkali metal and alkaline earth metal oxides can be correctly called alkalis.
This definition of an alkali as a basic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal does appear to be the most common, based on dictionary definitions , however conflicting definitions of the term alkali do exist. These include:
- Any base that is water-soluble and This is more accurately called an Arrhenius base.
- The solution of a base in water
Most basic salts are alkali salts, of which common examples are:
- sodium hydroxide (often called "caustic soda")
- potassium hydroxide (commonly called "caustic potash")
- lye (generic term, for either of the previous two, or even for a mixture)
- calcium carbonate (sometimes called "free lime")
- magnesium hydroxide is an example of an atypical alkali: it is a weak base (cannot be detected by phenolphthalein) and it has low solubility in water
Soil with a pH value higher than 7.3 is normally referred to as alkaline. This soil property can occur naturally, due to the presence of alkali salts. Although some plants do prefer slightly basic soil (including vegetables like cabbage
and fodder like buffalograss
), most plants prefer a mildly acidic soil (pH between 6.0 and 6.8), and alkaline soils
can cause problems.
In alkali lakes (a type of salt lake
), evaporation concentrates the naturally-occurring alkali salts, often forming a crust of mildly-basic salt across a large area.
Examples of alkali lakes:
- Redberry Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada.
- Tramping Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada.
- Mono lake, California, United States
- Summer Lake, Summer Lake, Oregon
- Alkali Lake, British Columbia and the adjoining reserves of the Alkali Lake Indian Band are named for a local Alkali Lake, which got its name from a large patch of alkali on the hillside above the lake, which is not itself alkali, although there are many in the Cariboo district and adjoining regions of the British Columbia Interior.
The word "alkali" is derived from Arabic al qalīy
= the calcined ashes
, referring to the original source of alkaline substance. Ashes were used in conjunction with animal fat to produce soap
, a process known as saponification