What is hydrochloric acid? (with photos)

Hydrochloric acid is colorless and odorless.

Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is a colorless, highly pungent solution of hydrogen chloride and water. Formerly referred to as muriatic acid or salt alcohol, this acid is a highly corrosive chemical compound with many applications in industry. It is also found in dilute amounts in the stomach of humans and animals as gastric acid.

This substance was first described by the 8th century Arab alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. In the 13th century, alchemists employed Jabir’s theory to locate the “philosopher’s stone” based on their conclusion that its discovery could turn base metals into gold. Jabir’s method of combining hydrochloric acid with nitric acid, which he called aqua regia, could indeed dissolve and separate gold and silver from metal alloys and ores. In fact, HCL is still used for precious metal recovery today.

Hydrochloric acid is used to make PVC pipes.

In the industrial sector, hydrochloric acid is produced by dissolving hydrogen chloride in water. This process started during the Industrial Revolution in Europe, where there was a great need to produce soda ash on a large scale cheaply. Using a combination of limestone, sulfuric acid and coal, the salt was converted to sodium carbonate, leaving behind hydrogen chloride as a by-product. At first, this by-product was released into the air, but under pressure from the British Alkali Act of 1863, manufacturers were forced to dissolve hydrogen chloride in water, which produced the acid.

Hydrogen chloride and water are used to make hydrochloric acid.

Today, this acid is used in large amounts to produce organic compounds such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) brand vinyl chloride and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate of polyurethane composition. It is also used to produce bisphenol A, activated charcoal and ascorbic acid. Other uses include manufacturing leather goods, pharmaceuticals and various household cleaning solutions.

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Hydrochloric acid is used to make many products, including ascorbic acid or vitamin C.

Important to the oil production industry, HCL is used in a process known as oil well acidification. This process involves injecting acid into oil well cavities to dissolve sections of rock, leaving an open column behind. Ultimately, the method serves to speed up oil production from the well.

Extreme care must be taken when handling hydrochloric acid. At high concentrations, it releases an acidic mist into the air, and both the aqueous solution and the vapor are corrosive to the skin and mucous membranes. It also forms chlorine, a toxic gas, when combined with bleach or potassium permanganate. To avoid injury or irritation when working with this acid, chemical retardant clothing, PVC gloves and protective eyewear should be worn.

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