What is an Alkaline Solution?

water ph testing test comparing color to indicated
PH scale next to a sample (Image: suriyasilsaksom/iStock/Getty Images)

An alkaline solution is a mixture of base solids dissolved in water. The potential of hydrogen, also known as the pH scale, measures the alkalinity or acidity level of a solution. The scale ranges from zero to 14. The midpoint 7 represents a neutral pH. A neutral solution is neither an acid nor alkaline. pH levels below 7 indicate an acidic solution, and numbers above 7 indicate an alkaline solution. The pH is a measurement of intensity, not capacity and any movement within the pH scale indicates a tenfold increase in the acid or alkaline measurement.

Types of Solutions

Some examples of alkaline solutions include sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide and calcium carbonate. Each of these solutions has different applications in different industries. Manufacturers commonly use alkaline solutions in products such as bio-diesel fuels, soaps, medications, detergents and cleaning products. Additionally, manufacturers use alkaline solutions in many food preparations and specialized applications. As cleaning agents alkaline solutions can dissolve fats, grease, oils and protein.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda, is an alkaline solution with a strong chemical base. Manufacturers use this solution in textiles, soaps, drinking water and paper. Sodium hydroxide is hygroscopic meaning it absorbs water from the air and, therefore, you must store this alkaline solution in an airtight container. You can also use sodium hydroxide to dissolve certain types of metals and compounds. In food preparations, you can use sodium hydroxide to chemically wash or peel foods, to process fruits, vegetables and cocoa and to scald poultry.

Potassium Hydroxide

Potassium hydroxide, also known as caustic potash, is an inorganic compound that also functions as an alkaline solution. Potassium hydroxide has several different applications including use in the manufacturing of diesel, soft soaps and as an electrolyte in alkaline batteries. Additionally, you can use potassium hydroxide as a cuticle remover in manicure treatments and for chemical cremations. The chemical cremation process dissolves all body tissues except bones. Many alkaline solutions including potassium hydroxide can cause severe chemical burns. You should always take extreme precaution while handling any alkaline solution.

Magnesium Hydroxide

Magnesium hydroxide is commonly called milk of magnesia because this alkaline solution looks like milk. Medical professionals commonly recommend magnesium hydroxide as a mild antacid or laxative. This alkaline solution, however, can deplete your body of essential mineral potassium when used as a laxative. Speak to a medical professional prior consuming using magnesium hydroxide. Manufacturers also commonly use magnesium hydroxide as an ingredient in antiperspirants.

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