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Acid-base neutralization has many applications in everyday life. The following are some of these applications:

(1) Indigestion and pain relief; The dilute hydrochloric acid produced in your stomach is used for digestion and killing bacteria that might have been swallowed together with food or taken with water. However, excess acid causes indigestion, which can be painful. To ease the pain, we take an anti-acid treatment. Anti-acids are a broad group of compounds with no toxic effects on the body. They are used to neutralize the effects of acid indigestion.

Some of these anti-acids such as milk of magnesia [insoluble magnesium hydroxide, Mg(OH)2] help to neutralize and hence counteract the excess acid in the stomach. This treatment, therefore, prevents indigestion and pains. The neutralization reaction equation is:
Mg(OH)2(aq) + 2HCl(aq)→ MgCl2(aq) + 2H2O(l)
Other anti-acids such as “Alka-Seltzer” contain soluble materials, including sodium hydrogencarbonate.

These tablets also contain some citric acid (a solid acid). On adding water, the acid and some of the sodium hydrogencarbonate react, producing carbon dioxide gas. This helps to spread and dissolve the other less soluble material. When taken, more sodium hydrogencarbonate neutralizes the excess hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thus easing digestion.
Some anti-acid tablets also contain painkiller to relieve pain. “Soluble aspirin” tablets dissolve and work in a similar way to “Alker-Seltzer” tablets. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can be added to the tablets. Note that it is important to add water to start the action of the acid.

(2) Descaling kettles; The limescale (CaCO3) is formed inside boilers, kettles and water heaters when hard water is boiled. The limescale can be removed by treatment with an acid that is strong enough to react with CaCO3, but not strong enough to damage the metal. Vinegar can be used to discale kettles. Commercial “discalers” use other acid solutions such as methanoic acid

(3) Prevention of tooth decay; Food remnants sticking onto teeth (plaque), after eating especially sugary food is acted upon by bacteria in your mouth. The pH of a sugar solution is 7. However, bacteria in your mouth break down the sugar in plaque to form acids, for example lactic acid. These acids lower the pH. Tooth decay begins when the pH falls below 5.8. The acid attacks the tooth enamel.

To help prevent tooth decay many types of toothpaste contain basic substances to neutralize the acids produced by these bacteria in your mouth. The pH of these basic substances is alkaline (higher than 7). The pH of saliva is slightly alkaline (pH 7.4), so it can also help to counteract the acid, particularly after a meal. After eating a sweat, for example, it takes about 15 minutes for saliva to raise the pH above 5.8, and stop further decay.

(4) Soil treatment; Most plants grow best when pH of the soil is close to 7. They prefer the pH of between 6.5 and 7.0. If the soil pH is below 6.0, the soil is too acidic. Above the pH of 8.0, the soil is too alkaline. If the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, the plants grow poorly or not at all.
Chemicals can be added to the soil to adjust its pH. Most often, if the soil is too acidic, it is usually treated by liming. In this context, liming means addition of quicklime (calcium oxide), slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) or powdered chalk or limestone (calcium carbonate) to an acidic soil. These compounds (bases) have the effect of neutralizing the acidity of the soil.

If the soil is too alkaline, acids such as sulphuric acid, nitric acid or hydrochloric acid may be added to the soil to neutralize excessive alkalinity. However, these compounds are very expensive and hence uneconomical to apply on large-scale basis.

(5) Insect stings treatment; When a bee stings someone, it injects an acid liquid into the skin. The bee sting, which is acidic in nature, can be neutralized by rubbing on calamine solution, which contains zinc carbonate or baking soda, which is sodium hydrogencarbonate. These compounds are basic in nature and so have the effect of neutralizing the acid in the sting.

Wasp stings are alkaline in nature, and can be neutralized with vinegar, which contains ethanoic acid. Ant and nettle stings contain methanoic acid. These may be neutralized by rubbing an extract squeezed from crushed onion leaves (which contain basic compounds) on the affected skin. The acid in the sting can also be neutralized by applying weak alkalis such as ammonia solution, ash extract, baking powder, etc.

(6) Factory wastes treatment; Liquid wastes from factories often contain acid. If it reaches a river, lake or ocean, the acid will kill fish and other aquatic life. This can be prevented by adding slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) to the waste, to neutralize the acid before being dumped into water bodies.

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