Acids and bases


An acid is a substance which forms H+ ions as the only positive ion in aqueous solution.


Hydrochloric acid dissolved in water forms H+ and Cl ions
 HCl —> H+ + Cl


Sulphuric acid dissolved in water forms H+ and SO42- ions
 H2SO4 —>2H+ + SO42-


Nitric acid forms H+ and NO3 ions when dissolved in water
 HNO3 —> H+ + NO3


Ethanoic acid,also know as acetic acid, forms H+ and CH3COO ions in water

Acetone, also known as propanone, doesn’t form any ions in water, so it isn’t an acid.
CH3COCH3 just dissolves in water.
Methane, CH4, doesn’t form any ions in water, so this isn’t an acid either.
So just containing hydrogen doesn’t make something an Arrhenius acid.


Properties of Acids

  • tastes sour
  • acids change blue litmus to red
  • their aqueous (water) solutions conduct electricity (i.e. they are electrolytes)
  • react with bases to form salts and water as the only products
  • evolve hydrogen gas (H2) upon reaction with an active metal, such as alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, zinc, iron, aluminum, forming a salt as the only other product
  • Evolve carbon dioxide on reacting with metal carbonates.



An alkali is a substance which forms OH- ions as the only negative ion in aqueous solution. A base is an insoluble hydroxide.


Sodium hydroxide, when dissolved in water, forms Na+ and OH ions
 NaOH —> Na+ + OH


Calcium hydroxide dissolves in water to give Ca+ and OH ions
 Ca(OH)2 —> Ca2+ + 2 OH

Ethanol CH3CH2OH does not form OH ions when dissolved in water, so it isn’t a base.
Ethanol just dissolves. Strictly speaking, ethanol actually forms a tiny amount of H+ ions in water and is a very weak acid.


Properties of Bases

  • taste bitter
  • feel slippery or soapy (But don’t touch them! They react with your skin to form soap.)
  • bases turn red (acidified) litmus back to blue
  • their aqueous (water) solutions conduct electricity (i.e. they are electrolytes)
  • react with acids to form salts and water as the only products


pH  Scale

A measure of the degree of the acidity or the alkalinity of a solution as measured on a scale (pH scale) of 0 to 14. The midpoint of 7.0 on the pH scale represents neutrality, i.e., a “neutral” solution is neither acid nor alkaline. Numbers below 7.0 indicate acidity; numbers greater than 7.0 indicate alkalinity. It is important to understand that pH is a measure of intensity, and not capacity; i.e., pH indicates the intensity of alkalinity in the same way temperature tells how hot something is, but not how much heat the substance carries.

The pH scale is logarithmic which means that moving on (unit either way on the pH scale results in a 10 fold increase in the degree of alkalinity or acidity.

Classification, pH, Product


  • 0-1 Hydrochloric, Sulfuric, Nitric Acids
  • 1-2 Phosphoric, Sulfamic Acids
  • 2.0 Citrus Fruit
  • 6.0 Milk


  • 7.0-7.5 Water, Sugar, Table Salt


  • 8.0 Eggs
  • 11.0 Ammonia
  • 13-14 Caustic Soda, Degreasers

Products at the two extremes (less than pH 1 or greater than pH 13) are extremely oppressive and corrosive. Examples include sulfuric and hydrochloric acid on the acid end, and caustic soda on the alkaline end. Use solutions of phosphoric or sulfamic acid cleaners, typically in the pH range of slightly less than 2, may be described as “safe” acids comparison to the stronger acids. Of course, necessary safety precautions (eye and hand protection) as noted on the Material Safety Data Sheet should always be followed.

As an illustration of their non-aggressive behavior in comparison to stronger acids, products containing sulfamic or phosphoric acid were found to result in no chemical attacks on nylon carpets. On the other hand, a hydrochloric or powder acid-based product would basically dissolve the fibers.

Other than the two pH extremes, the pH scale becomes secondary to the inherent properties of the specific chemical in terms of corrosiveness. As an example, the pH of carbonated cola soda (which contains phosphoric acid) is in the 2.5 range. A concentrated (35%) hydrogen peroxide solution has a pH of approximately 3.5. Carbonated cola soda may be slightly irritating to the eyes, causing no permanent damage. However, a 35% hydrogen peroxide solution will cause chemical burns to the skin or mucous membranes. Thus, it is not the pH factor alone that causes corrosion of products to surfaces.




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