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Common Acids Used in Industry & Laboratories

Common Acids Used in Industry & Laboratories
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  • 0:00 What Is an Acid?
  • 1:19 Common Acids and Their Uses
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, you will learn about five of the most common acids used in labs and in industry: sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, citric acid and acetic acid.

What Is an Acid?

A super villain is in his lair, when suddenly our hero makes his attack. Being villainous and otherwise unlikable, he responds by pouring a vat of acid on the hero. The acid burns and our hero cries out in pain. This story, or others like it, are what many people picture when they hear the word 'acid'. But acids aren't always dangerous. In fact, Americans guzzle acids every day of their lives. Coca-Cola and other carbonated drinks are pretty strong acids, but they don't burn our insides. So what exactly is an acid?

An acid is a chemical that has a sour taste when dissolved in water. Acidity (or the amount of acid in a given substance) is measured with a number called pH, and acids have a pH less than 7. Chemically, acids are chemicals that contain positive hydrogen ions.

Strong acids can indeed burn away skin and do all kinds of nasty things, and acids are very painful if they get in your eye. But not all acids are strong. Acids are also extremely useful to humans and are involved a lot in manufacturing to make everything from soaps and plastics to explosives and fertilizers. They're even found in a lot of foods.

Common Acids and Their Uses

Some of the most common acids used in industry and science labs are sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, citric acid, and acetic acid.

Sulfuric acid is an acid containing two hydrogen atoms, one sulfur atom, and four oxygen atoms bonded together. Sulfuric acid is a common waste product produced in the chemical industry when making other chemicals. It's used to refine metals, reduce corrosion of steel, refine oil, and create fertilizers.

Nitric acid is an acid made up of one hydrogen, one nitrogen, and three oxygen atoms bonded together. It's commonly used to make explosives like TNT (including explosives for fireworks), more fertilizers, and dyes.

Hydrochloric acid is the classic laboratory acid made up of one hydrogen atom and one chlorine atom, and used in school classrooms all over the world. It's also used to make PVC, gelatin, and other food ingredients, and used to extract metals. And it's the same acid that is found in your stomach!

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