Concentrated acids are highly corrosive to all body tissues, especially the eyes and skin. Due to this powerful corrosivity, acids are highly toxic. However, if you handle them safely and with the right equipment, you need not fear them. Use acids with confidence by learning how to protect yourself, use the proper laboratory equipment, and know what to do in case of spills and other emergencies.
Method 1 of 4: Protect yourself
Step 1. Wear a lab coat or apron
Anytime you work with acids, it is important that you wear a lab coat or apron. Make sure the sleeves cover your wrists and are buttoned all the way up. You will also need to make sure you meet certain safety requirements with what you are wearing in general. For example, you should wear closed shoes, long pants, and have your hair tied back.
Step 2. Protect your eyes with safety glasses
It is also essential that you protect your eyes when working with acids. Wear a large pair of safety glasses that cover your eyes, both in front and on both sides. Safety glasses often come in various sizes and sometimes have an adjustable strap on the back. Make sure you choose a pair of glasses that fit well, or make adjustments to fit well.
Step 3. Wear acid resistant gloves
In order to handle acids correctly, you will also need a protective cover on your hands. Wear a pair of gloves made of a material that is resistant to acids, such as nitrile or butyl. You can buy these gloves at a medical supply store, cleaning store, or online.
Step 4. Locate the emergency showers, eyewash stations, and lab spill kit
Your lab should have emergency showers, emergency eye wash stations, and at least one spill kit from the lab. Familiarize yourself with the location of these stations and kits before starting to work with acids.
If your lab does not have these stations or kits, interrupt your work in that space as it is not safe for handling acids
Step 5. Find out what to do in case of a spill
If there is a chemical or acid spill, you should act quickly without panic. You will be better able to accomplish this task if you are well educated on what to do.
- If you spill acid, first sprinkle baking soda (effervescent bicarbonate) over the spill to neutralize the acid. Wipe it up afterwards with a paper towel and throw it away.
- If the acid gets on your skin, wash it off thoroughly with water. Don't put baking soda on your skin.
Method 2 of 4: Use the Right Lab Equipment
Step 1. Use containers that are compatible with acids
There are various materials that are used for laboratory containers (such as polyvinyl chloride, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and many others). Different acids will have divergent effects on these materials. For that reason, it is essential to determine which material will be the most suitable for storing and transferring the acid (or acids) that you will use.
- For example, chromic acid (10% to 50%) can be safely stored in low-density polyethylene.
- However, acetic acid (50%) should be stored in polypropylene.
- It is important to review a chemical compatibility chart to determine the best material for the containers.
Step 2. Check the containers for damage or leaks
In addition to choosing the correct material for your containers, it is very important to make sure that the containers are intact. Check them carefully for leaks, cracks, or other damage before using them.
If you determine that a container is unusable, be sure to dispose of it according to your laboratory guidelines. Often times, you will have specific containers to dispose of various materials
Step 3. Use a range hood
An excellent safety measure is to perform all acid operations under a range hood. Thus, it is best to work at least 6 inches (15 cm) inside the range hood to ensure the highest level of contaminant capture.
Step 4. Use the right size container for the job
In addition to choosing a container of the right material, it is safest to use one of the correct size. Using a very large or very small container can cause spills, leaks, or other hazards.
Step 5. Store the acids in a specific “corrosives closet”
For your own safety and that of your laboratory, a good idea is to store all acids in a specific “corrosives cabinet” or “acid cabinet”. In most cases, you shouldn't store acids with bases.
- Always label acids before storing.
- Consider using a color-coded cap system (for example, brown caps for acetic acid, white caps for phosphoric acid, blue caps for hydrochloric acid).
Method 3 of 4: Prepare the Acid Solutions
Step 1. Review the safety data sheet
Always review the safety data sheet before using any hazardous materials in the laboratory. This guide will provide you with the necessary warnings, the proper protocol, and important information about the acid (or other material) you are working with.
Step 2. Use a volumetric flask
Before you start preparing the solution, use a volumetric flask to measure the concentrated acid and distilled water. Make sure to use a borosilicate (or Pyrex) flask, as this material is acid-safe.
Step 3. Start with 2/3 of the water
To make an acidic solution, start by measuring 2/3 of the required amount of distilled water. Add the appropriate amount of acid and stir to combine.
Step 4. Add acid to the water
When preparing solutions, you should always add the acid to the water, never the other way around. You should never add water to a concentrated acid! Doing so can generate acid fumes, and as a result, you can very easily cause spills, accidents, or injuries.
Step 5. Add the remaining water
After the solution has cooled to room temperature, add water to dilute the solution to the proper volume. This will be the remaining 1/3 of the distilled water needed.
Method 4 of 4: Handle Emergencies
Step 1. Use the emergency showers or eyewash stations
In case you are exposed to acids, the first thing to do is head to the emergency showers (if your body was exposed) or the eye wash station (if the acid got into your eyes). Rinse the contacted area with water for at least 15 minutes.
Step 2. Take off all contaminated clothing in the shower
If your body and clothing have been exposed to the acid, remove all contaminated clothing while in the emergency shower. Then you can get rid of it.
Step 3. Put on calcium gluconate gel
If the spill contains hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride) and has come in contact with your skin, you should immediately apply a calcium gluconate gel. This will neutralize the hydrofluoric acid, as well as stop the burn and give you some relief.
Step 4. Assess the spill
You will have to quickly decide if it is a spill that can be handled by laboratory personnel, or a spill that requires immediate large-scale evacuation. This will vary slightly depending on the capabilities of your lab and staff. Make sure you understand what types of spills fall into each category. So when an emergency occurs, you can quickly decide what to do.
Step 5. Evacuate the area
In the event of an acid spill, the laboratory will need to be evacuated. In some severe cases, it may be necessary to evacuate the entire building. Once the more serious injuries are taken care of, make sure everyone leaves the area.
If you are on a college campus, you should also notify the campus police
Step 6. Seek medical attention
Depending on the severity of the injuries, it may be necessary to seek medical attention. If you've suffered burns, eye injuries, or inhaled acid fumes, it's a good idea to visit your local doctor or hospital.
- Hydrofluoric acid destroys tissues and draws calcium from bones. Therefore, if you work with hydrofluoric acid, always have calcium gluconate gel on hand.
- Keep acids away from organic materials. Explosions can occur if you mix them.