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A Little Basic Acid/Base Chemistry

The mention of the word "acid" immediately conjures up images of nasty burns, sizzling metal, dissolving buildings and "mad" scientists cavorting with bubbling, fuming beakers. In short, acids do not have a favorable reputation. But, among the general public, "bases" have virtually no reputation.

The term "base" derives from an age old observation that the residue from a wood fire has certain chemical properties. This mixture of minerals and ashes, or as it came to be known, the "base" of the fire, could destroy the acidity of vinegar or react with fats to produce soap. Today, we know that the "active ingredients" in the fire residue are hydroxides of  potassium and sodium.  hese chemicals, although they are no longer isolated from ashes, are widely used today as "bases." Sodium hydroxide, or lye, as it is commonly known is one of the most important industrial chemicals. In addition to its role in soap manufacture, it is used in aluminum processing, in the pulp and paper industry and in the manufacture of numerous other chemicals. 
Around the house sodium hydroxide can be used to open clogged drains ("Drano"). It is so caustic that it can actually break down the accumulated deposits of fat and hair. Obviously it can have a similar effect on human skin and must be used with great caution. Most oven cleaners are also based upon sodium hydroxide. These decompose baked on fat and convert it into soluble soap. Dilute solutions of lye are used as general cleaning agents around the kitchen.
Bases can of course be used to neutralize excess stomach acid. Calcium carbonate ("Tums"), magnesium hydroxide ("Milk of Magnesia") aluminum hydroxide ("Amphojel") and sodium bicarbonate ("baking soda") are common over-the-counter remedies for hyperacidity, or "heartburn" as it is generally known. On a larger scale, bases such as calcium hydroxide, or lime, have been used to neutralize the excess acidity in lakes introduced by acid rain. Now you know the “base”ics

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