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Q & A: Acids and Bases in drain cleaner

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Most recent answer: 10/30/2011
Q:
What is the acid in the drain cleaner? What is the acid in the rain? What are the products of: ch3cooh+h2o
- Nguyen (age 14)
A:

Some drain cleaners have strong acids as their active ingredients, while others have strong bases instead. Lye is a common strong base, with a chemical formula of NaOH (sodium hydroxide). Basic drain cleaners may also contain potassium hydroxide, KOH.

Acidic drain cleaners commonly contain sulfuric acid, H2SO4. It is a very bad idea to mix these kinds of drain cleaners. You could produce poisonous gases or make a violent reaction, spraying caustic, corrosive stuff everywhere.

The acid in the rain people are worried about is also largley sulfuric acid, but also has some nitric acid in it. It comes from the emission of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from industrial processes and even automobile emissions. The sulfur and nitrogen oxides in the air mix with water and oxygen and other chemicals to make the acids.

Even very pure rainwater without any pollution is slightly acidic, with some carbonic acid coming from the CO2 in the air.

Here's a explanation about acid rain from the EPA: https://www.epa.gov/acidrain/what-acid-rain.

Putting CH3COOH + H20 together at room temperature will do nothing. The compound on the left is acetic acid, or vinegar, which is commonly dissolved in water. One of the H's may dissociate, giving a concentration of H+ ions in solution, but that's about it.

The reverse reaction, however, CH3CH2OH + O2 -> CH3COOH + H2O is very important. This is the oxidation of ethanol to produce vinegar. Some bacteria perform this operation as part of their metabolic function.

Tom J.


(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: Combustion products of ethanol

Q:
What happens if I burn CH3CH2OH (combustion)? Is it CH3CH2OH + O2 -> CO2 + H2O or CH3CH2OH + O2 -> CH3COOH + H2O?
- Patricio Inostroza (age 17)
Santiago, RM, Chile
A:
It's almost always   CH3CH2OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 3 H2O + heat

LeeH

(published on 10/30/2011)

Follow-up on this answer.