Ammonium Hydroxide: Formula & Uses

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  • 0:02 Ammonium Hydroxide
  • 1:29 Cleaning
  • 1:55 Manufacturing
  • 2:42 Food Industry
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Ammonium hydroxide may not be a familiar formula to you, but it's actually found in the food you eat and the products you regularly use. This lesson will outline the many uses of ammonium hydroxide to dilute some of its mystery.

Ammonium Hydroxide

If you follow the news, you might recall some stories about fast food restaurants using 'pink slime' as meat. Though this description is admittedly gross, it's also a little misleading. This so-called 'pink slime' is meat that has been treated with ammonium hydroxide. But don't panic; ammonium hydroxide is an extremely common chemical compound used in more ways than you'd probably expect.

Specifically, ammonium hydroxide is made up of ammonia and water to form a new solution. The formula for ammonia hydroxide is (NH4)OH, or you may see it written as H5 NO. It's a colorless liquid that shares a similar strong odor with ammonia. Ammonium hydroxide is alkaline, meaning it has a high pH, so it can be used to neutralize acids.

Ammonium hydroxide is found naturally in the air, water, and soil, and even inside humans and plants. Our own organs produce ammonia as do beneficial bacteria in our intestines. It even plays a role in protein synthesis. Though ammonium hydroxide is a natural compound, we also make it by diluting ammonia with water.

While you probably want to learn more about this 'pink slime' business, there are more uses for ammonium hydroxide than just adding it to fast food meats. Let's take a look at some of these uses.


Ammonia is a well-known disinfectant but you usually don't use it without diluting it first. As soon as water is added to ammonia, it becomes ammonium hydroxide, a substance commonly used for cleaning. The high alkalinity of ammonium hydroxide is effective at killing microbial agents like bacteria, so ammonium hydroxide is great for sanitation and has both household and industrial uses.


Ammonium hydroxide is used in quite a few manufacturing processes too, including fertilizer and plastic and rubber production. One of the key ingredients of fertilizers is nitrogen, which can be derived from ammonium hydroxide (it's the N in the (NH4)OH). It can also be used to stain wood that contains tannic acids and synthesize chemicals like sodium carbonate.

Ammonium hydroxide may also be used as a neutralizer during processes that involve acidic chemicals. Its high alkalinity, however, also makes it very corrosive to certain metals, including aluminum, making it useful in industries like circuit board manufacturing, as companies can use it to etch circuit boards by corroding the metal away in a specific pattern.

Food Industry

Now, what's this about adding ammonium hydroxide to foods? This is more common than you might think. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of ammonium hydroxide in food production back in 1974, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has also approved its use in a variety of food processing applications.

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