by Ron Kurtus (15 December 2001)
Salts are neutral compounds that are often the result of adding an acid and a base together.
You can identify a salt by its characteristics and its chemical formula. A salt has a pH of 7.0. Salts provide minerals to the body.
Questions you may have include:
- What are the characteristics of salts?
- What type of a chemical formula does a salt have?
- What are various things that salts are used for?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Salts are chemical compounds that are usually formed from the combination of an acid and a base in water.
An example of combining an acid and a base to form a salt is combining a water solution of hydrochloric acid (HCl) with a water solution of sodium hydroxide base (NaOH). They react to form common table salt (NaCl) and water:
HCl + NaOH → NaCl + H2O
(The extra water for the solutions is not included in the above chemical equation, since it isn't part of the reaction and for the sake of simplicity.)
Another chemical reaction is combining the poisonous green chlorine gas (Cl2) with the explosive metallic sodium powder (Na) to form the beneficial white salt crystals. (This reaction would normally be done in a water solution).
Cl2 + 2Na → 2NaCl
When mixed with water, a salt may be reactive with other substances. For example, salty water can enhance the corrosion or rusting of steel. Also, some salts can cause burns or irritations on the skin, while others are actually poisonous.
Salts have a salty taste (no kidding!), but you should be careful in tasting or touching any chemical, especially one that may be harmful to your skin.
Removing water from salts usually results in crystalline material. A good example of such crystals is common table salt.
The pH scale is a measurement of the strength of an acid, salt or base. The pH of a salt falls between an acid and a base and is exactly 7.0.
Litmus paper is often used to give a rough estimate of the pH. When wet with a salt solution, litmus paper will neither turn red nor blue, but will remain white.
There is no easy way to determine that a material is a salt from its chemical formula, like you can with an acid or a base.
Bases can often be identified by the OH term in the end of their chemical formula, while acids usually have an H at the start of the formula. Salts normally do not have either the OH or the H terms. The salt potassium chloride (KCl) is an example.
Uses for salts
Salts are important for sustaining life because they provide minerals to the body.
Since NaCl and water can corrode materials, often CaCl is used to melt ice on the sidewalk in the winter. Calcium Chloride is much less corrosive.
Other facts on uses include:
- Too much salt in the soil can prevent plants from growing.
- There are many types of salts dissolved in ocean water.
- Since salts are more stable than either acids or bases, you will find more of them in nature.
Salts taste salty and are often the result of adding an acid and a base together. A salt has a pH of 7.0. Salts provide minerals to the body but can corrode metals.
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