Sodium hydroxide, chemically known as NaOH, is a strong base. A strong base is defined as a chemical compound that can remove a proton (H+) or in other words, deprotonate a molecule of a weak acid in an acid-base reaction. Strong bases completely dissociate in water.
Sodium hydroxide is also known as caustic soda or lye. It is a white solid soluble in water, methanol and ethanol. It also absorbs moisture and carbon dioxide in the air. When sodium hydroxide dissolves in water, it produces a large amount of heat, which is a reaction termed as an exothermic reaction. The resulting solution is odorless and colorless.
Sodium hydroxide also reacts with acids such as hydrochloric acid to form salts. For example, when sodium hydroxide reacts with hydrochloric acid, the reaction produces water and sodium chloride.
Sodium hydroxide has many industrial uses. It is used in the manufacturing of detergents, sodium salts, organic synthesis and pH regulation. It is also used to neutralize acids. For example, the petroleum industry uses sodium hydroxide during the drilling processes to neutralize any acid gas which may be found in the geological formation. Sodium hydroxide is also found in many household products such as oven cleaners and metal polishes.
While sodium hydroxide has its benefits, it is also very poisonous if poorly handled. Inhaling, touching or swallowing sodium hydroxide may lead to breathing difficulty, lung inflammation, swelling of the throat, burns in the esophagus and stomach, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, vision loss, skin burn and irritation, low blood pressure, a drastic change in pH and even shock.