How to Safely Work With Acids & Bases

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Acids are often defined as substances that donate hydrogen ions, while bases take hydrogen ions. In water, an acid increases the concentration of hydrogen ions while a base decreases the concentration. Since pH is the negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration, acids decrease pH and bases increase it. Strong acids and bases have a greater effect on pH than weak acids and bases, so they are potentially much more dangerous. Whether an acid or base is strong or weak, however, it's essential to take proper precautions when working with these chemicals.

Things You'll Need

  • Fume hood
  • Chemical splash goggles
  • Lab coat
  • Gloves
  • Buy and use dilute rather than concentrated acids and bases if at all possible. Concentrated solutions of strong acids or bases are much more dangerous than dilute solutions. The more dilute the acid or base, the easier it will be to store and use safely.

  • Store acids and bases in a wooden cabinet designed to hold corrosive materials. Always keep acids and bases stored separately; never store strong acids or bases together with other chemicals that could potentially react with them. Concentrated hydrochloric acid emits fumes and will corrode metal cabinets. Nitric acid should always be stored in a separate liquid-proof compartment of its own. Label all acids, bases and other chemicals in your cabinet so that you can distinguish them.

  • Wear chemical splash goggles, long-sleeved clothes (a lab coat is best) and gloves at all times. Never permit acid or base to come in contact with your skin, face or eyes. For experiments involving concentrated solutions of strong acids and bases, wear a face shield as well.

  • Perform all experiments under a fume hood to prevent noxious fumes from accumulating. Use borosilicate glassware like Pyrex or a similar brand. Make sure all your equipment is in good order and check all glassware and containers for cracks before beginning any experiments. Never mouth pipette chemicals and never work alone.

  • Limit the amount of acid or base transported around the lab. Always check bottles of acid or base for cracks or damage before you pick them up and carry them safely with both hands, taking care not to trip or walk quickly. Cap bottles of acid and base tightly before storage. Know the location of safety and first aid equipment in the lab and how to use it in case the need should arise.

  • Add acid to water to dilute it--never the other way around.

Tips & Warnings

  • If in spite of these precautions an accident should occur, seek professional medical attention immediately.

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References

  • Photo Credit acid image by charles taylor from Fotolia.com
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