boric acid, any one of the three chemical compounds, orthoboric (or boracic) acid, metaboric acid, and tetraboric (or pyroboric) acid; the term often refers simply to orthoboric acid. The acids may be thought of as hydrates of boric oxide, B2O3. Orthoboric acid, H3BO3 or B2O3·3H2O, is colorless, weakly acidic, and forms triclinic crystals. It is fairly soluble in boiling water (about 27% by weight) but less so in cold water (about 6% by weight at room temperature). When orthoboric acid is heated above 170°C it dehydrates, forming metaboric acid, HBO2 or B2O3·H2O. Metaboric acid is a white, cubic crystalline solid and is only slightly soluble in water. It melts at about 236°C, and when heated above about 300°C further dehydrates, forming tetraboric acid, H4B4O7 or B2O3·H2O. Tetraboric acid is either a vitreous solid or a white powder and is water soluble. When tetraboric or metaboric acid is dissolved it reverts largely to orthoboric acid. The major uses of the boric acids are in forming other boron compounds and in borate salts, e.g., borax. A dilute water solution of boric acid is commonly used as a mild antiseptic and eyewash. Boric acid is also used in leather manufacture, electroplating, and cosmetics. Boric acid can be crystallized from an acidified borax solution. It occurs as the mineral sassolite in the Tuscan region of Italy, where it is also recovered from hot springs and vapors. In the United States boric acid is recovered from brines from Searles Lake in California.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.