Are acids more dangerous than bases?

Strong bases or alkaline are more dangerous than strong acids

Every day we use a large number of chemical substances such as lemon juice, black coffee, oven cleaners, dyes, drain cleaners, and many more. Some of these substances are edible while some are very harmful. Now the question that arises in our mind is that what makes these acids or bases harmful.

In order to answer the above question, we first need to understand what are acids and bases.

Acids are chemical substances that taste sour and change the blue litmus paper color to red. While bases are bitter in taste, soapy to touch and change the red litmus paper color to blue. Some of the common examples of acids are curd, lemon juice, orange juice, and vinegar. Baking soda, lime water, window cleaner, and soaps are common examples in which bases are found. In chemical terms, acids are chemical species that release hydrogen ions or accepts electrons in aqueous solution. While bases donate hydroxide ions (OH-) or accept hydrogen ions (H+).

Now we know what are acids and bases, now let’s find out what property makes these acids and bases dangerous.

Both acids and bases have corrosive properties and a corrosive substance is the one that can damage or destroy other substances. Corrosive nature of bases and acids can cause damage to eye, and skin tissues if came in contact. But we know that not all acids and bases are harmful. The corrosive property of any acid or base is the function of their acidity and basicity respectively.

More acidity of acid will accelerate the rate of corrosive. Similarly, the high basicity of bases will also increase the corrosive nature of a substance. Now we know the corrosive property of acids and bases makes them harmful and corrosive property is related to the acidity and basicity.

But how to measure which acid is more corrosive and which base is more corrosive?

The power of hydrogen (pH) will help us to identify which acid or base is more corrosive. pH is a scale that can be used to determine how acidic or basic a water-based solution is.

pH scale value ranges from 0-14. Acidic solutions have a low pH value while basic solutions have a higher pH value.

Some common strong acids such as Hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, sulphuric acid, and phosphoric acid are highly corrosive while weak acids like citric acid found in citrus fruits, acetic acid found in vinegar are less corrosive. Some weak acids can be consumed safely and they don’t irritate the skin.

Caution

* Do not taste or touch any acid or base unless you are sure they are not harmful or any expert asked to do so.
* Great care should be taken while handling laboratory acids and bases because these are corrosive in nature, irritating, and harmful to the skin

Name of AcidFound in
Acetic acidVinegar
Formic acidAnt’s sting
Citric acidCitrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, etc.
Lactic acidCurd
Oxalic acidSpinach
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)Amla, Citrus fruits
Tartaric acidTamarind, grapes, unripe mangoes, etc.
All the acids mentioned above occur in nature
Name of BaseFound in
Calcium hydroxideLime water
Ammonium hydroxideWindow cleaner
Sodium hydroxide/ Potassium hydroxideSoap
Magnesium hydroxideMilk of magnesia

Now we can easily compare which acids are more corrosive than other acids and similarly which bases are more corrosive than other bases. But how to decide whether strong acid is more dangerous than a strong base or vice versa.

Both strong acid and strong bases are dangerous but few properties of bases make them more vulnerable as compared to acids

Acid vs Bases

  • A strong acid or base can cause chemical burn but the chemical burn caused by acid pains more than burns caused by bases.
  • Bases are slippery in nature which makes them difficult to remove than acids
  • Treatment of burns caused by bases is more difficult than acids because chemical burns from bases are difficult to locate as they don’t cause pain as much as acid burns and also they are difficult to remove.
  • Base with high pH can readily penetrate the surface of the eye as compared to strong acids. In the case of acids, the damage is limited to the front part of the eye

So we can conclude that both acids and bases are harmful but the difficulty in the treatment of base burns makes them more dangerous. Chemical burns caused due to acids and bases can be painful and sometime it might damage the tissues permanently. Acid vapors can cause damage to the eyes, nasal passage, throat, and lungs. Ingestion of acids or bases can cause serious damage to the stomach and intestine. It is always better to take safety precautions while dealing with both acids and bases. Use protective equipment items such as protective gloves, protective aprons, safety goggles, or safety shoes when handling strong acids or bases.

References

Professor Atom

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Professor Atom is a science enthusiast and alumni of IIT Bombay. According to him, every question can be solved with curiosity and mind mapping. ( Curiosity = Asking Questions = Learning )

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