Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid is naturally produced by cells in our bodies to help digest food in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid is also synthetically produced for a variety of industrial and commercial applications. For these applications, hydrochloric acid is formed by dissolving hydrogen chloride gas in water.

Uses & Benefits

Hydrochloric acid is a strong, corrosive acid that can be used to make steel for bridges and cars. It is used in the chemical industry in the large-scale production of vinyl chloride for PVC plastic, and it is one of the chemicals that produces polyurethane foam and calcium chloride.

Other common end uses for hydrochloric acid include food manufacturing (see, e.g.).

Steel production

Hydrochloric acid is used in pickling operations to remove rust and other impurities from carbon, alloy and stainless steels, to prepare the steel for final applications in car bodies, bridges and household appliances for example. It is also used in aluminum etching and metal cleaning applications.

Household cleaners

Hydrochloric acid is used as an ingredient in household cleaners such as toilet bowl cleaners, bathroom tile cleaners and other porcelain cleaners, due to its corrosive properties that help clean tough stains.

Pool sanitation

Hydrochloric acid is used as a swimming pool treatment chemical, to help maintain an optimal pH level in the water.

Food production

The food industry uses hydrochloric acid in the processing of a variety of food products, such as corn syrups used in soft drinks, cookies, crackers, ketchup and cereals and other food products. Hydrochloric acid is also used as an acidifier in sauces, vegetable juices and canned goods, to help enhance flavor and reduce spoilage.

Calcium chloride production

When hydrochloric acid is mixed or reacted with limestone, it produces calcium chloride, a type of salt used to de-ice roads. Calcium chloride also has uses in food production as a stabilizer and firming agent, for example in baked goods, as well as uses as an antimicrobial.

Safety Information

Hydrochloric acid in its concentrated, liquid form is very corrosive and can cause damage, such as chemical burns, upon contact, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, hydrochloric acid can cause eye damage, even blindness, if splashed in the eyes. Ingestion of concentrated hydrochloric acid can cause severe injury to the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach.

Some foods and beverages contain small amounts of hydrochloric acid, but these small amounts of hydrochloric acid are “neutralized and buffered during ingestion and digestion, or after absorption,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When using pool cleaners with the ingredient hydrochloric acid (also known as muriatic acid), it is important to read and follow the entire product label for safe handling. The CDC has developed two posters with recommendations for pool chemical safety handling as well as storage of pool chemicals for pool owners and operators.

Storage

Metal containers are not suitable storage containers for hydrochloric acid due to its corrosive nature. Plastic containers, such as those made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), can be used to store hydrochloric acid.