I think my first experience of acids was an episode of batman, where the penguin demonstrated the potency of the acid that he was about to dunk Batman in by inserting his umbrella in it. When he pulled it out, the part that had been inserted had completely dissolved.
And this is the view of acids that most people have – potent, nasty chemicals that dissolve everything in their path.
Well, although there are acids that can dissolve all sorts of things, there is no acid that will do to the penguin’s umbrella what happened on the show.
Essentially we can place acids into two categories – mineral acids and organic acids. Mineral acids attack metals mostly, whereas organic acids attack organic material.
Also, acids may be categorised according to their strength, with the vast majority of acids being weak acids, and our bodies are full of them – amino acids, fatty acids and so on.
There actually aren’t many strong acids, and only one of them (hydrochloric acid) is available to the general public in a concentrated form. Other strong acids are sulfuric, nitric, perchloric, and hydrofluoric. That’s pretty much it, although there are several mixtures that are used to provide extra potency. Aqua Regia is a mix of 1 part nitric to 4 parts hydrochloric. Piranha solution is a mix of hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid, and chromic acid is a mix of sulfuric acid and potassium or sodium dichromate.
Tomorrow we’ll look at hydrochloric acid and see what it can be used for around the home.