Sodium Hydroxide is soft, waxy, and white. It is also corrosive. It can be formed by an electrolytic reaction involving brine (water and sodium chloride).
Sodium hydroxide (also known as lye or caustic soda) can be dangerous. Keeping in mind that the below is by no means complete, dangerous things are dangerous, and that you should trust no one, here's some tips on the proper handling of large amounts of liquid sodium hydroxide. I use the terms "sodium hydroxide," "caustic soda," and "caustic" interchangeably below.

Liquid Caustic Soda Fashion Statements

Safety Tips

  • You should have large amounts of water handy for first aid. This means safety showers and eyewash fountains, with continuous flow and low pressure. Make sure you can get to the showers and fountains easily, and that they actually work. You don't want to fry yourself and find that the shower is dead, or that it's inaccessible when you're in a hurry.
  • Have a buddy handy. This should be someone you trust to give you first aid in case the worst happens.
  • Don't allow sodium hydroxide to come in contact with your eyes or skin, of course.
  • Don't touch your eyes or face while you are wearing gloves contaminated with sodium hydroxide.

Diluting Liquid Caustic Soda

  • Always add caustic soda solution slowly to water, with constant agitation. Don't splash. Don't spatter.
  • Never pour water onto caustic soda. This can cause dangerous mists, boiling, or spattering, including an immediate violent eruption.
  • Never add caustic soda solution to hot or cold water. Keep the water lukewarm (about 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

First Aid

  • Whenever you get caustic soda anywhere on your body, remove it immediately. You have ten seconds or less to avoid serious injury.
  • Water is the only way to remove caustic soda. Rinse the affected area immediately and continuously with plenty of water for at least thirty minutes.
  • Have your buddy call a doctor as soon as practical. Do not stop rinsing until the doctor says to.
  • Have your buddy remove your contaminated clothing and shoes while the rinsing continues. If no sodium hydroxide has gotten into your eyes, remove your chemical goggles last to keep the caustic from washing into your eyes.
  • If your burns are severe and you start to go into shock, you should lie down and keep yourself reasonably warm until the doctor arrives. Don't put oils or lotions on the burned areas. Keep rinsing if at all possible.
  • If you have ingested sodium hydroxide, drink large quantities of water, or milk if available. Do not induce vomiting.
  • If you have inhaled sodium hydroxide and you feel bad, get to fresh air and call a doctor immediately.

Information on this page was abstracted from "Liquid Caustic Soda Safe Handling and First Aid," a poster put out by The Dow Chemical Company. Poster number 102-48-90HYC.

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