Potassium chloride is a naturally occurring compound made of potassium and chlorine and has the chemical formula KCl. This compound is widely used in agriculture, is a component of some medicines and has many domestic uses. KCl has many of the same properties as regular table salt (NaCl): both are crystalline, dissolve easily, and can be absorbed by humans and plants. The two compounds are also halogenated salts, which refer to the presence of the element chlorine and give them certain electrochemical properties. In chemical composition and uses, however, the two salts are quite different.
Potatoes are a natural source of potassium in the diet.
The most common place to find potassium chloride is in the ingredient list of plant fertilizers. This mineral is essential for organic growth and both humans and plants depend on it to survive. While humans normally get everything they need from food, plants, depending on the quality of the soil they are planted in, may not. Farmers often choose fertilizers enriched with potassium compounds to boost crop growth.
Farmers often choose fertilizers enriched with potassium compounds to boost crop growth.
Potassium in the form of chloride is often the best vehicle for providing this needed mineral. It’s cheap, for one, and it’s also easily absorbed by the soil and plant roots. Other potassium compounds tend to take longer to break down, which can delay their effects.
Potassium-rich soil generally produces richer, richer crops. Plants exposed to the mineral grow, shinier leaves and often produce more fruit. The science of adding this mineral is exact, though, and too much can be harmful to plants. Most commercial fertilizers have been analyzed and balanced by professionals to ensure they contain only accurate amounts of potassium and other minerals.
Consumption of foods that contain potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
While most people get all the potassium they need from the food they eat—fruits, vegetables, and meats are good sources—not everyone gets it. People suffering from a deficiency, which is known as hypokalemia, may need to supplement their intake in the form of pills. The chloride compound is generally a better choice than pure potassium or other compounds in medications because of how easily and quickly it can be absorbed. Medications and supplements that contain this mineral are sold under various trade names, but often feature potassium chloride with the other active ingredients.
Taking too many potassium pills can result in serious illness.
Hypokalemia is a serious condition. Not only is potassium essential for regular growth and functioning, it also plays a crucial role in keeping your heart beating. People with disabilities often have a weak or irregular heartbeat, which can be fatal. They may also be chronically dehydrated. Slowly reintroducing potassium chloride into the body helps increase electrolyte levels, which can prevent and treat dehydration caused by illness, excessive exercise, or intoxication.
Potassium chloride is often included in salt substitutes because of its similarity to salt. The two substances taste similar, but potassium chloride crystals are often a little bitter and may do less to enhance or enhance the flavor of foods in the same way that salt does. For this reason, it is often just one of several ingredients in substitute products.
Most people do not need to take supplements that contain this compound unless directed by a healthcare professional. People with hypokalemia almost always know they are sick, and the risk of potassium deficiency among healthy people is relatively small. While consuming a little more is rarely dangerous, people with certain medical conditions can be harmed by excessive amounts of this mineral.
People suffering from kidney disease, in particular, are generally advised to avoid potassium supplementation. When the kidneys are weak, they can’t process minerals as efficiently as they should, which can cause them to build up in the blood. The condition is known as hyperkalemia and is usually as severe as a deficiency.
Possibility of overdose
It is not usually possible to overdose on naturally occurring potassium, as it exists in only small concentrations in most foods. In pill form, however, overdose can be a serious concern. While not getting enough potassium can slow a person’s heartbeat, it too often stops it outright.
Potassium chloride is one of several drugs used in lethal injections — including executions and euthanasia. When injected it helps cause the heart to stop beating (cardiac arrest). Concentrated injections of the compound are almost always deadly. Taking too many potassium pills can also lead to death, but most of the time, a person will get very sick first, often experiencing irregular heart rhythms.
As a Water Softener
Many home improvement and pool supply stores sell loose potassium chloride salts for use in water softening systems. The idea of soft or hard water can sometimes be confusing, as it relates to mineral content rather than actual texture. Hard water is water that has a high mineral content. The precise makeup of hard water can vary, but calcium carbonate and magnesium are almost always present. Lime scale or calcium buildup in appliances is often caused by hard water.
When hard water is filtered through a trap containing potassium in chloride form, the chlorine ions bond to the minerals in the water and a chemical reaction happens. As a result, potassium ions enter the water, and corrosive elements like calcium chloride and magnesium remain trapped in the filter. Only very low concentrations of potassium are added to the filtered water.
When combined with other positive ions, particularly lithium, zinc, and ammonia, potassium chloride can be very helpful in calibrating molecule scales and other precise scientific equipment. It is especially useful in radiation monitoring equipment. When exposed to high temperatures, potassium produces beta radiation and serves as an optical crystal, or prism, that can help scientists assess transmission precision.
Common batteries may also contain potassium chloride. The compound serves as a bridge between copper sulfate and zinc sulfate, which enables the flow of electrons between the electrodes.
In some places, the chloride compound may also be used as an “environmentally friendly” way of melting ice. It is usually as effective as salt, but does not leave behind any residue. Excess potassium is usually absorbed by nearby plants once the ice melts.
Early fire extinguishers contain potassium chloride, as the compound can be effective at smothering flames. Advances in the fire fighting field have turned up a number of more efficient compounds for this purpose, however. Still, in major disasters such as wildfires, the chloride compound may still be used — but usually in later phases, as the blazes begin to subside.