Most Common Acids Used in Wet Labs

Wet labs perform liquid sample research, testing chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, biological materials and more. During the course of testing, wet lab researchers often use corrosive materials and chemicals like acids. Because of this, wet labs must be designed with the use of corrosive materials in mind. Surfaces, tools, equipment, personnel safety gear, and anything corrosive liquids may come in contact with should be selected for durability to acid exposure. 

At OnePointe Solutions, we design, build, and install lab furniture for laboratory facilities around the U.S. During our initial design process, we work closely with our clients to discover their facility’s unique needs, like specific chemical and acid resistance or antimicrobial surfaces. We offer a range of surface materials, so no matter how specialized your wet lab’s needs may be, we have an option for you. 

What is an Acid? 

You have probably heard of pH, whether in your professional life or while perusing the bottled water at your local convenience store. The pH scale is used to categorize how acidic or basic a liquid solution is. Acids are sour tasting chemicals with a pH less than 7 and are extremely useful in the manufacturing of household products, food production, agriculture, and many other industries. 

Pure water has a pH of exactly 7 and is neither acidic or base. Common household examples of acidic solutions include coffee (pH 4), soda (pH 2), and battery acid (pH 0). Acids commonly found in wet labs and research facilities fall somewhere within this scale, are are not all equally strong. 

General Safe Handling of Corrosive Materials

First and foremost, all laboratory personnel should be provided with adequate training on how to work safely with acids and corrosive materials. While not all acids are equally strong, and some pose no threat to human health or wellness, others may cause extreme injury should they come in contact with skin, eyes, or mouths. Because of this, sufficient education around proper acid safety should be made a priority to minimize risk of injury during the research process. 

In addition to personnel education, proper protective equipment should always be worn to minimize the risk of exposure to harmful acids. Protective eyewear, gloves, long sleeves, and other prescribed protective clothing should be worn at all times, and processes that may result in airborne toxins should always be performed in a fume hood or biosafety cabinet

Acid Storage

During the process of designing your wet lab, you will need to be sure to account for plenty of acid storage. Acids should be stored away from bases in dedicated casework made from corrosive chemical resistant materials. Acids should also always be stored below eye level to prevent accidental injury due to spills or fallen containers. 

At OnePointe Solutions, we offer custom casework with a variety of material options so you can create a solution that is perfect for your wet lab’s needs. We offer base cabinets, islands, sink cabinets, and other floor-mounted casework for easily accessible acid storage. Choose from tons of optional accessories, configurations, and materials and we’ll build what you need to your specifications. 

Common Acids and their Uses

Though no two wet labs are quite the same, there are some common acids that can be found in most. At OnePointe Solutions, we test our furniture for resistance to some of these common acids, ensuring that our creations will be able to withstand regular corrosive material exposure. Some common acids used in wet labs include: 

Acetic Acid – C2H4O2

Acetic acid is a weak acid with a pH of approximately 2.4, most commonly found in regular household vinegar. A common reagent chemical found in many industrial wet labs, acetic acid is commonly used in the production of glues and adhesives, paints, and various polymers. Acetic acid can also be used in food production, rust removal products, and the medical industry as it contains certain antiseptic properties. Despite its classification as a weak acid, acetic acid can be highly corrosive and harmful should it come in contact with skin or eyes, or be ingested and should be handled with care. 

Boric Acid – H3BO3

Boric acid is a weak acid with a pH of approximately 5.1, most commonly found in the household cleaner ‘Borax’. A common chemical additive in industrial manufacturing and production, boric acid is a key ingredient in products like Silly Putty, welding/soldering flux, and many insecticides. Boric acid is also used in the medical industry for its antibacterial properties, usually mixed with or used in addition to other topical treatments. Boric acid is relatively low toxicity, though should not be ingested, and may only cause mild or moderate irritation to eyes or skin. 

Citric Acid – C6H8O7

Citric acid is a weak organic acid commonly found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges. Depending on its concentration, citric acid will have a varying pH level and can be used to balance pH levels in certain food products and dyes. Citric acid is most commonly used in the food industry as a preservative and flavoring additive and can be found in products like sodas, canned fruits, ice cream, and more. Citric acid is also commonly used in the production of household cleaners, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. In small or diluted doses, citric acid poses no risk to human health. Prolonged or excessive exposure may cause irritation. 

Hydrochloric Acid – HCl

Hydrochloric acid is a strongly acidic chemical with a pH level of approximately 1.1. Used in the production and processing of a huge number of products, hydrochloric acid is a key ingredient in the production of leather goods, batteries, gelatin, steel, and much more. Hydrochloric acid can pose serious risks to human health, both in liquid and gaseous states. If breathed in, hydrochloric acid can be corrosive to internal organs and airways, possibly causing irreversible damage. If spilled, exposure to skin, eyes, or other tissue can result in serious burns. 

Nitric Acid – HNO3

Nitric acid is a highly corrosive mineral acid with a pH level of approximately 3.1. Nitric acid is commonly used as a reagent in the process of nitration during organic synthesis, as a rocket propellant, and in the production of TNT and other explosives. An extremely corrosive material, nitric acid is can cause serious injury when improperly handled, able to quickly and permanently decompose flesh and tissue. Like other highly corrosive acids, nitric acid should be handled with extreme care. 

Sulfuric Acid – H2SO4

Sulfuric acid is a corrosive mineral acid with a pH level of approximately 3.1. Sulfuric acid is used around the world for industrial manufacturing and production, typically used as a key ingredient for fertilizers, detergents, insecticides, antifreeze, and pharmaceuticals. Like nitric acid, sulfuric acid can cause extreme burns upon contact with skin and living tissue, especially when in high concentrations. If ingested, sulfuric acid can cause permanent or fatal damage to internal organs, so personnel should take extreme caution during handling. 

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