Sodium hydroxide is used in drain and oven cleaners, chemical manufacturing, oil refining, hydraulic fracturing, water treatment and metal processing. It is also commonly used in the manufacture of fabric, plastic wrap, paper and soap, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Sodium hydroxide is likely the strongest alkali found in everyday use. It is extremely corrosive and should be handled carefully. Sodium hydroxide is a white solid at room temperature and has a waxy consistency.
Sodium hydroxide was in use a long time before it was actually discovered. Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians used sodium hydroxide in a weakened state when they mixed vegetable ashes with water to make lye. Humphrey Davy first gave name to this substance in 1807 when he discovered the element sodium.
Sodium is an excellent degreaser and can unblock drains because it dissolves fats when it interacts with them. Extreme care must be taken when using sodium hydroxide. It is very caustic and can burn the skin. Additional problems are experienced if it is ingested or inhaled. Ingestion results in vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and damage to the mouth, throat and stomach. Severe damage to the upper respiratory tract can occur if sodium hydroxide is inhaled.