by Roger McFadden
ACIDS, BASES AND SALTS
Acids, bases and salts are among the most important
chemical compounds used by chemists. A variety of maintenance chemicals
contain these compounds. For instance, hydrochloric, phosphoric and citric
are acids used
to make mineral stain removers, toilet bowl cleaners, metal cleaners and
rust removers. Alkali maintenance chemicals like degreasers, oven cleaners
and drain openers contain bases such
as sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, sodium metasilicate, trisodium
phosphate and ammonium hydroxide. Special salts like
sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium EDTA and ammonium ethoxysulfate are formulated
into carpet shampoos, hand soaps and carwash detergents to provide more
Acids, bases and salts contain ions of the element
hydrogen. Ions are
atoms or molecules that have lost or gained electrons. If atoms lose one or
more electrons they become positively charged ions (cations). If they gain
one or more electrons, they become negatively charged ions (anions). It is
the presence of the hydrogen ions in solutions that allows us to measure the
pH of a solution. The quantity of hydrogen or hydroxyl ions in a solution
determines whether the solution is acid or alkaline.
SIMPLIFYING A FORMULA
In 1909, Danish biochemist, S.P.L Sorensen proposed
the use of a logarithmic scale to express the concentration of hydrogen ions
(H+) and hydroxide ions (OH -).
This scale has become known as the pH scale. Sorensen knew that water had a
nearly balanced concentration of positive (H+) and negative (OH-)
ions. The positively charged ions are calledhydrogen ions and
the negatively charged ions are called hydroxide
ions. Scientists measured the concentrations of hydrogen ions in pure
water, acidic water and alkaline water. The pure water contained a hydrogen
ion concentration of 1 x 10-7 moles.
The acidic water (hydrochloric acid) contained a hydrogen ion concentration
of 1 x 100 moles. The
alkaline water (sodium hydroxide) contained a hydrogen ion concentration of
1 x 1014 moles.
The hydrogen ion concentration was found to vary over
fourteen powers of 10. A change of one pH unit changes the hydrogen ion
concentration by a factor of ten. For example, a solution with a pH of 1 has
10 times more hydrogen ion concentration than a pH of 2; One hundred times
more hydrogen ion concentration than a pH of 3 and so forth. This means that
a solution with a pH of 1 has one million times more hydrogen ion
concentration than a pH of 7. To avoid dealing with these incredibly complex
exponential, scientists proposed a simplification. They converted the
exponents -7, 0 and -14 to 7, 0 and 14 respectively. Subsequently, the pH
scale was established ranging from 0 to 14 with the mid-point of 7
indicating neutrality. Therefore, the scale of ordinary pH values extends
from 0 to 14. The pH of a neutral solution is 7. Thus the range of acid pH
values extends from 0 to 7, and that of alkaline values from 7 to 14.
A GOOD WARNING SIGN
It is difficult to give an exact definition of pH. A
couple of simple descriptions offered are, "power of Hydrogen" and
"potential Hydrogen" ion concentration. Neither are perfect descriptions.
Both present a way of remembering the significance of "p" and "H".
Simply stated, pH tells us whether a solution is acid, alkaline or neutral.
It does not tell us how much acid or alkali is present. It is a good
"warning sign" (Proceed with Caution), but it does not establish whether the
compound is corrosive or dangerous.
pH is a critical measurement. Life depends upon it.
For instance, human blood is basic with a pH between 7.3 and 7.5. If the pH
of blood drops below 7.3, acidosis occurs. If the blood pH rises above 7.5,
alkalosis occurs. Death will occur if blood pH goes below 7.0 or above 7.8.
Our human existence depends upon a balanced and buffered blood pH.
The pH of a cleaning product does not signify cleaning
performance or strength. It simply indicates the concentration of hydrogen
or hydroxide ions. For instance, the performance of a cleaning product
cannot be determined simply by knowing the pH of the product. A common
misconception about cleaning products suggests that a higher pH means
SEVERAL METHODS FOR MEASURING pH
There are several methods used to measure pH. Two of
the simplest are litmus paper and liquid acid-base indicators. The most
widely used method is the pH meter. These meters are easy to use and very
accurate. When chemists want to measure the amount of alkali or acid in a
solution, they use a process called, titration. Titration measures the
amount of alkali and/or acid in a solution. pH measures the concentration of
hydrogen ions present in a solution. Both are important.
Most pH values are measured either by electrometric
determination (pH meter) or by colorimetric methods with the aid of
indicator solutions or indicator papers. The pH meter determines a precise
pH with the aid of a suitable electrode submerged in the unknown solution. A
direct and immediate reading is registered on the pH meter scale. The pH of
a solution may also be determined by adding a few drops of indicator
solution to the unknown solution. The resultant color of the mixture is then
compared with a reference scale. Special high class filter papers
impregnated with suitable indicator solutions can be submerged into the
unknown solution and the resultant color of the paper is compared with a
reference scale. The indicator papers are a simple method of determining a
broad assay of acidity or alkalinity. They are not as precise as the other
IMPORTANCE OF pH IN OUR LIVES
Professionals know the importance of understanding pH.
For example, floor care experts use neutral pH (7) floor cleaners for daily
maintenance and alkaline pH (12-13) for finish removal. Professional carpet
cleaners select carpet cleaning agents with pH's between 7 and 10 to avoid
potential carpet damage. Agricultural specialists control soil pH to enhance
plant growth. Pool care personnel keep swimming pools and hot tubs pH
balanced for safety and protection. Laundry experts keep the pH above 9.5
during the bleach cycle to protect fabrics from bleach attack. Industrial
plants control the release of sulfur dioxide to control harmful acid rain
from damaging our environment. These are a few of the thousands of ways pH
plays an important role in our lives.
NEVER IGNORE pH VALUES
It is important for every cleaning
professional to have a basic understanding of pH. Ignoring the pH of a
solution can be expensive. Floor coverings and surfaces can be damaged by an
inappropriate pH value. Be careful and select cleaning products with
compatible pH values to match your surface requirements.