Salts Used in Daily Life

SALT

When we talk about salt, the first that may come to mind is the white granulated powder we use to add salty flavor to our food items. Well. that powder we call table salt belongs to an umbrella family of chemical compounds called “salts.” In chemistry, salts are defined as compounds containing an assembly of cations and anions with a net neutral charge. Although many salts exist naturally in our surroundings, the chemical method to prepare salts in labs is called a neutralization reaction, in which acids and bases react to form ionic compounds (salts) and water. Salts are usually solid at room temperature and melt only when exposed to high temperatures. Many salts exhibit significant solubility in water or other polar solvents. Unlike molecular compounds, salts dissociate in solution into anionic and cationic components. The chemical and physical properties of salts vary according to the constituent anions and cations. Let’s take a look at few salts that we use in our daily life.

1. Common Salt

Sodium chloride (NaCl), also known as common salt or table salt, is one of the most common salts that we encounter in our daily life. The most common sources of sodium chloride are seawater and rock sal minerals. Not only does it provides the taste to otherwise plain food, but NaCl is also one of the most essential macronutrients for our body. It is the main source of sodium and chloride ions in the human diet. While sodium greatly affects the extracellular fluid volume and allows the nerve cell and muscle to interact with each other, chlorine helps maintain the fluid’s osmotic pressure. Salt is also an excellent de-icing agent as it lowers the freezing point of water. During winters salt is used to get rid of the snow covering the roads.

2. Washing Soda

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Washing soda is the common name of an alkali salt called sodium carbonate containing ten molecules of water ({Na}_{2}{CO}_{3}.10{H}_{2}{O}). Sodium carbonate occurs naturally in the ashes of many plants. It is often found in the mineral deposits left behind from seasonal lakes. The commercial production of washing soda is carried out by Solvay’s process as follow:

{2NaCl} + {CaCo}_{3} →  {Na}_{2}{CO}_{3} + {CaCl}_{2}

It is primarily used as a cleansing agent for washing clothes. The sodium carbonate “softens” water helping other cleaning ingredients lift soil from the fabrics and suspend the soil in the wash water. The washing soda binds to the minerals and allows the water to be absorbed into fibers properly to clean clothes.

3. Baking Soda

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Baking soda is another most commonly found chemical in a household, specifically in the kitchen. It is one of the most vividly used leavening agents used in baking goods to improve their texture and appearance. In chemistry, it is known by the name sodium bicarbonate (IUPAC name: sodium hydrogen carbonate) and exists in nature as a crystalline structure, nahcolite, which is later ground to form a fine-powdered baking soda. It is an alkaline chemical compound with the formula {NaHCO}_{3}. Baking Soda possesses antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which is why it is ideal to use for oral hygiene. Baking Soda is also a neutralizing agent, and it can efficiently be used to treat acid reflux. Moreover, one must not confuse baking soda with baking powder. While both the compounds may look similar, baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar (a dry acid), and sometimes cornstarch.

4. Caustic Soda

Caustic soda, also known as Lye, is the common name of Sodium hydroxide, an inorganic salt with the chemical formula {Na}{OH}. The name caustic is given for the corrosive nature of sodium hydroxide. It is a highly caustic base and alkali that decomposes proteins at ambient temperatures and can cause severe chemical burns to exposed skin. Its main applications include water treatment, food, textiles, metal processing, mining, glass making, etc. On a micro-scale, sodium hydroxide is credited with eliminating proteins and nucleic acids while disabling most viruses it comes into contact with. The chemical also eradicates yeasts, fungi, and endotoxins. Because of its efficacy in removing microorganisms, sodium hydroxide is commonly leveraged in the medical industry as a critical sanitation component. In small dilutions (5%), sodium hydroxide is commonly found in several personal care products such as hairspray, hair dye, shampoo, suntan oils, chemical hair straighteners, etc.

5. Bleaching Powder

Bleaching powder is a name given to the compound calcium hypochlorite {Ca}({OCl})_{2}, which is used primarily as disinfectant and germicide, especially in the sterilization of drinking water. When bleaching powder is exposed to water, it releases chlorine that kills off the germs and disinfects the area. During the laundry cleaning, chlorine further reacts with water and release oxygen, which changes the soil into soluble particles that are removed by detergents in the washing process.

6. Plaster of Paris

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Plaster of Paris, also known as gypsum plaster, is the common name for chemical calcium sulfate hemihydrate, a chemically hydrated salt with the chemical formula {CaSO}_{4}•{1/2H}_{2}{O}. Plaster of Paris is manufactured by the action of heat on gypsum. Gypsum is another hydrated salt. The chemical formula of Gypsum is calcium sulfate dihydrate, {CaSO}_{4}•{2 H2O}. Upon heating, some of the water escapes in the process of evaporation, giving Plaster of Paris (POP). When mixed with water, it forms a semi-solid substance that hardens quickly, which can be used in a variety of architectural, decorative, and repairing functions. In the medical sector, plaster of pairs is used to make casts that repair the fractured bones by keeping them in one place. Moreover, it is also used in dentistry to make crowns for teeth replacement.

7. Epsom Salt

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Epsom Salt is one of the most common hydrated salt of the inorganic chemical compound magnesium sulfate, {MgSO}_{4}. It is a naturally occurring and bitter-tasting salt with the chemical formula {MgSO}_{4}•{7H}_{2}{O} and got its name from an English town, Epsom, where it was first discovered. Apart from being a natural source of magnesium and sulfur, Epsom salt is widely used as bathing salt to relieve body aches, exfoliate the skin, and relax tender muscles. It is also an FDA-approved laxative that can help with constipation. Although Epsom salt is not an all-purpose fertilizer, spraying low concentration Epsom salt solution in your garden can help you get rid of unwanted weeds and make your houseplants healthier and greener.

8. Borax

Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is a naturally occurring mineral salt with the chemical formula {Na}_{2}{B}_{4}{O}_{7}•{10H}_{2}{O} The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) name for borax is sodium tetraborate decahydrate. Borax occurs naturally in evaporite deposits produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes; though, it can also be produced synthetically from other boron compounds. Although borax has a wide range of uses across several industrial and domestic applications, it is most prominently known for its excellent cleaning action. When mixed with water, borax converts water into hydrogen peroxide, whose strong oxidizing properties make it a powerful disinfectant and cleaning solution. Borax is also used in the manufacturing of cosmetics to protect them from fungus and molds. Borax is also an effective chemical for fighting off stubborn fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.

9. Pottasium Nitrate

Potassium nitrate, also known as niter, is an ionic salt with the chemical formula {KNO}_{3}. It’s commonly used as a fertilizer for high-value crops that provides nitrogen and potassium, two of the most essential nutrients, to the plants. Due to its exceptional oxidizing nature, potassium nitrate is also used in rocket propellants, fireworks, and gunpowder. Although potassium nitrate is used in gunpowder, by itself, potassium nitrate is not combustible or flammable. Potassium nitrate is a common active ingredient in toothpaste, exerting an anti-sensitivity action. It provides increased protection against painful sensitivity of the teeth to cold, heat, acids, sweets, or contact. It is also used in the food industry to preserve meat against microbial agents.

10. Potash Alum

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Potassium aluminum sulfate, commonly known as potash alum, is a double salt with the chemical formula {K}{Al}({SO}_{4})_{2}·{12H}_{2}{O}. It is a translucent whitish-colored crystal that has been used for its beneficial qualities over centuries. In the medical sector, potash alum is mainly used as astringent (a chemical that shrinks or constricts body tissues) and antiseptic. Potassium alum also reduces swollen mucous membranes that result from inflammation of the nasal, gastrointestinal and urinary passages as well as in the presence of excessive secretions. It is also used as a fire retardant to make cloths, wood, and paper materials less flammable. Potash alum has also been an excellent dye fixative to form a permanent bond between dye and natural textile fibers like wool.

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