Sodium hydroxide

What is sodium hydroxide?

Sodium hydroxide is a strong base, also called caustic soda or lye (potassium hydroxide, which is very similar, may also be called lye). Sodium hydroxide is especially useful for its ability to chemically alter fats in a process called saponification. It is used in industry as a chemical reagent, to make soap, and in cooking to cure some foods. Sodium hydroxide is usually sold in pure form as white pellets, or as a solution in water.

Where could I be exposed to sodium hydroxide?

Sodium hydroxide may be used in industry and research. Sodium hydroxide is found in some household cleaners, such as drain cleaners, and oven cleaners. It is also used in preparation of homemade soaps, and to clean wood (such as decks) before painting.

What are the health risks of sodium hydroxide?

Sodium hydroxide can cause serious burns. If it gets in the eyes it can cause blindness. While sodium hydroxide does not vaporize, if sodium hydroxide dust or powder is inhaled it can cause severe lung damage.

How can I protect myself from sodium hydroxide?

Store products containing sodium hydroxide out of reach of children. Always follow the product directions when working with solutions of sodium hydroxide. Wear latex or nitrile gloves, and check them for holes. Wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin, and remove clothes carefully if they get wet to avoid spreading the sodium hydroxide on your skin. If you get sodium hydroxide on your skin or in your eyes, wash well with water and seek medical help if irritation persists. If sodium hydroxide is swallowed, get emergency medical aid and do not induce vomiting.


Updated 2023