From batteries to fertilizers, soaps and hairspray, there are more uses of the chemical potassium hydroxide than most people are aware. As a strong base it help neutralize acid, but it can also be used as a food thickener or stabilizer. It has medicinal properties for both humans and pets, and is the reagent in many industrial processes.
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Potassium Hydroxide as a Cleaner
Potassium hydroxide is an extremely versatile cleaning agent. For example, potassium hydroxide is found in varied items such as liquid soaps, lotions, shampoos, hairsprays, and denture cleaners, but is also found in more industrial compounds such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners, driveway and concrete cleaners, in non-phosphate detergents, and in drain and pipe cleaners.
While it is more common to use sodium hydroxide for soap, potassium hydroxide soaps are actually more soluble in water and are better for the environment. Potassium hydroxide soaps are also referred to as 'soft soaps'. Though not quite as popular as sodium soaps, potassium soaps are produced in various liquid concentrations and are often used in combination with sodium soaps, for example, in shaving products and also in the textile industry.
Potassium Hydroxide as a pH Regulator
Potassium hydroxide is a strong alkali, or base, and many of its uses are a result of this property. As a base, potassium hydroxide acts as a pH regulator in industrial manufacturing and processing. In the agricultural industry, potassium hydroxide is used to regulate the pH of acidic soils.
Potassium Hydroxide in Medicine
Potassium hydroxide also has medicinal uses. In veterinary medicine, potassium hydroxide is used to disbud calves horns and dissolve scales and hair. In humans, potassium hydroxide can be used to diagnose fungal infections. It can also be used to dissolve warts and cuticles.
Potassium Hydroxide in Common Household Products
Alkaline batteries contain potassium hydroxide. The alkaline solution of potassium hydroxide provides the high ionic conductivity of the battery, and contributes to the reason that alkaline batteries outperform cheaper zinc-carbon batteries.
Potassium Hydroxide in Food
Potassium hydroxide is often found as an additive in commercially processed foods, and as a rinse or chemical peel for fruits and vegetables. It is added to processed foods as a stabilizer to prolong shelf-life, and as a thickener. It's involved in chocolate and cocoa processing, soft drink processing, and in the thickening of ice cream. Potassium hydroxide is used to soften olives and to glaze pretzels before baking to make them crisp.
Miscellaneous Uses of Potassium Hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide acts as a defoaming agent in the manufacturing process of paper. It is also used as a lawn food, industrial fertilizer, fungicide and herbicide. Heated potassium hydroxide is commonly used for bulk etching of silicon wafers, which is important in the manufacture of certain micro-electronic devices.