Sulfuric acid: Properties, Applications and Safety

Sulfuric acid, also known as oil of vitriol, is a clear, odorless, and viscous liquid that is composed of sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen. It has the chemical formula H2SO4. This acid is highly corrosive and can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with skin or other body tissue. Sulfuric acid is widely used in the chemical industry for various purposes, including in fertilizer production, mineral processing, oil refining, and chemical synthesis. It is also found in products such as drain cleaners, batteries, and cleaning agents. Sulfuric acid is produced through different methods, such as the contact process and wet sulfuric acid process. To make it, sulfur trioxide is dissolved in water.

Physical properties

Sulfuric acid is a colorless, odorless and viscous liquid that is soluble in water. It is a strong acid and has a molecular formula of H2SO4. It is hygroscopic, meaning it readily absorbs water vapor from the air. Sulfuric acid is highly corrosive and can cause severe chemical burns upon contact with skin and other tissue. It releases a significant amount of heat when added to water, making the reverse process of adding water to the acid dangerous. Sulfuric acid is an important industrial chemical used in fertilizer production, mineral processing, oil refining, and other applications. It is also a key ingredient in various cleaning agents, drain cleaners, and lead-acid batteries.

Chemical properties

Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is a strong and highly reactive inorganic acid that is widely used in various industrial processes. Some of its chemical properties are:

  • Acidic nature: Sulfuric acid has a high level of acidity due to its ability to donate hydrogen ions (H+) in a solution, making it a strong proton donor.
  • Oxidation: Sulfuric acid acts as an oxidizing agent, meaning it can oxidize other substances by removing electrons from them.
  • Dehydrating: Sulfuric acid has a powerful dehydrating property, meaning it removes water molecules from other substances, making it useful for removing moisture from materials.
  • Reacts with metals: Sulfuric acid reacts with many metals to form metal sulfates and hydrogen gas, which makes it useful for metal processing.
  • Reacts with bases: Sulfuric acid reacts with bases to form salts and water, a reaction that is known as neutralization.
  • Reactivity: Sulfuric acid is a highly reactive substance that should be handled with care, as it can cause chemical burns and is highly corrosive to many materials, including metals, rocks, and tissues.


Sulfuric acid is a highly versatile and important chemical in the industry. Its main applications include:

  • Fertilizer production: It is used to produce fertilizers like ammonium sulfate and superphosphates.
  • Mineral processing: It is used to extract metals from minerals, as well as to purify bauxite, the primary source of aluminum.
  • Oil refining: It is used in the refining of crude oil to remove impurities.
  • Waste water treatment: It is used to neutralize alkaline waste waters and as a flocculating agent in sewage treatment.
  • Chemical synthesis: It is used as a reactant in the manufacture of a wide variety of chemicals including dyes, detergents, and inorganic chemicals.
  • Domestic acidic drain cleaners: It is used as an active ingredient in drain cleaners.
  • Lead-acid batteries: It is used as an electrolyte in lead-acid batteries.
  • Dehydrating agent: It is used to dehydrate compounds.
  • Cleaning agents: It is used in various cleaning agents.


Sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive substance that can cause serious harm if not handled and stored properly. In its concentrated form, it can cause severe chemical burns and thermal burns upon contact with skin, eyes, or other body tissues. Inhalation of its fumes can also cause respiratory irritation and lung damage.

To handle sulfuric acid safely, it is important to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles, and protective clothing, and to use it only in well-ventilated areas. Additionally, it should be stored in a cool, dry place away from other chemicals and materials that could react with it.

It is also important to follow all relevant regulations and guidelines regarding the handling and disposal of sulfuric acid, to minimize the risk of harm to individuals and the environment.

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