Chloric Acid and Its Salts

Chloric acid, HClO3·7H2O, is a colorless substance that occurs only in solution. It is a strong acid and a strong oxidizing agent that decomposes if heated above 40°C. Under certain conditions it forms oxygen, water, and the explosive gas chlorine dioxide, ClO2; under other conditions it forms perchloric acid and hydrochloric acid.

Formation of Chlorates

A chlorate may be formed (together with the corresponding chloride) by heating the hypochlorite; e.g., 3Ca(ClO)2→Ca(ClO3)2+2CaCl2. This reaction takes place when chlorine gas is passed into a hot aqueous solution of a metal hydroxide; the hypochlorite is formed and decomposes almost immediately. Commercially, a chlorate is derived when a hot aqueous metal chloride solution is decomposed by electrolysis, forming chlorine gas at the anode and metal hydroxide at the cathode (with evolution of hydrogen); the chlorine reacts with the hydroxide to form the hypochlorite, which decomposes to form the chlorate.

Commercial Uses of Chlorates

The most industrially important chlorate is potassium chlorate, or chlorate of potash, KClO3; sodium chlorate, or chlorate of soda, NaClO3, is also used. Potassium chlorate is a colorless crystalline substance that melts at 356°C and decomposes violently at about 400°C. It is a powerful oxidizing agent and is used in making explosives and matches; a mixture of potassium chlorate with phosphorus, sulfur, or any of numerous organic compounds (e.g., charcoal or sugar) explodes upon friction or percussion. When a chlorate is heated, oxygen is evolved, often explosively, and the chloride is formed; e.g., 2KClO3→2KCl+3O2. The reaction proceeds controllably at lower temperatures if a catalyst, e.g., manganese dioxide, is used; this provides a convenient source of oxygen. If the chlorate is heated carefully at a lower temperature so that no oxygen is given off, the perchlorate and chloride are formed; e.g., 4KClO3→3KClO4+KCl.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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