sodium hydroxide, chemical compound, NaOH, a white crystalline substance that readily absorbs carbon dioxide and moisture from the air. It is very soluble in water, alcohol, and glycerin. It is a caustic and a strong base (see acids and bases). Commonly known as caustic soda, lye, or sodium hydrate, it is available commercially in various solid forms, e.g., pellets, sticks, or chips, and in water solutions of various concentrations; both solid and liquid forms vary in purity. The major use of sodium hydroxide is as a chemical and in the manufacture of other chemicals; because it is inexpensive, it is widely used wherever a strong base is needed. It is also used in producing rayon and other textiles, in making paper, in etching aluminum, in making soaps and detergents, and in a wide variety of other uses. The principal method for its manufacture is electrolytic dissociation of sodium chloride; chlorine gas is a coproduct. Small amounts of sodium hydroxide are produced by the soda-lime process in which a concentrated solution of sodium carbonate (soda) is reacted with calcium hydroxide (slaked lime); calcium carbonate precipitates, leaving a sodium hydroxide solution.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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