Ammonia solutions are used to clean, bleach, and deodorize; to etch aluminum; to saponify (hydolyze) oils and fats; and in chemical manufacture. The ammonia sold for household use is a dilute water solution of ammonia in which ammonium hydroxide is the active cleansing agent. It should be used with caution since it can attack the skin and eyes. The vapors are especially irritating—prolonged exposure and inhalation cause serious injury and may be fatal. Water solutions of ammonia are also called ammonium hydrate, aqua ammonia, or ammonia water; the solution may contain up to 30% ammonium hydroxide by weight at room temperature and pressure.
The major use of ammonia and its compounds is as fertilizers. Ammonia is also used in large amounts in the Ostwald process (see Ostwald, Wilhelm) for the synthesis of nitric acid; in the Solvay process for the synthesis of sodium carbonate; in the synthesis of numerous organic compounds used as dyes, drugs, and in plastics; and in various metallurgical processes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.