As a leading UK supplier and distributor of bulk chemicals, including hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid, we’re perfectly placed to explore the varying ways these acids differ, as well as the ways they are applied across a range of industries.
Hydrochloric acid (HCl), also sometimes known as muriatic acid, is an aqueous solution created when hydrogen chloride gas dissolves in water. It consists of a hydrogen and chlorine atom.
Colourless and with a distinctive pungent smell, many people do not know that hydrochloric acid is a component of gastric acids that live within the digestive systems of most animals, including humans.
Around the industrial revolution, it was discovered that the process of converting salt to soda ash released hydrogen chloride as a by-product. By the early 20th century, it became possible to produce soda ash from salt without HCl as a by-product. However, by then, HCl had become an important industrial chemical.
Modern methods of creating HCl are integrated with the production of other chemicals, where hydrogen chloride is a by-product. This is then dissolved in water.
The acid is produced in solutions of various strengths up to 38%, classified as concentrated grade. The majority of industrial grade HCl is 30–35% to minimise product loss through evaporation.
As well as being used as a reagent in laboratory settings, it is a key fixture in the chemical industry with wide-ranging commercial applications.
HCl is extremely corrosive and is classified as a strong acid. It should not be stored in metal containers, but plastic containers such as those made from PVC. If misused, HCl can cause chemical burns to skin or eyes and can result in loss of sight, as well as severe internal damage if ingested.
For more information on uses, handling and safety, see our hydrochloric acid product page and download an MSDS.
Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) is a mineral acid composed of elements of sulphur, oxygen and hydrogen. An odourless, colourless solution, its highly corrosive power comes from its powerful dehydrating effect. Because it has a strong affinity for water vapour, sulphuric acid does not exist naturally.
The primary method of production for high volume industrial use is the ‘contact process’. This involves burning sulphur to form sulphur dioxide, which is then purified and oxidised in presence of a catalyst (usually vanadium oxide), forming sulphur trioxide. The addition of sulphuric acid forms oleum (also known as ‘fuming sulphuric acid’). This oleum is diluted with water to form concentrated sulphuric acid.
Another less common production method, the ‘wet method’, sees sulphur recovered from gases to generate sulphuric acid through a system of heating and cooling the gases.
The most popular grades of sulphuric acid are 98% (concentrated) and 77%, with other strengths also able to be diluted. Around 260 million metric tons are produced globally each year.
Sulphuric acid is a key commodity chemical with applications across a variety of industries, most prominently agriculture.
When it contacts bodily tissue, sulphuric acid can cause severe chemical burns, even in a diluted state. Adding the water to the acid can release extreme heat that boils the solution and causes droplets to spray.
Like hydrochloric acid, extreme caution should be taken when handling sulphuric acid. It should be stored away from sunlight and heat in a cool, dry place that does not exceed 37.8°C (100°F).
For more information on safety and uses, see our sulphuric acid product page and download an MSDS.
Both hydrochloric and sulphuric are strong, corrosive mineral acids. As major commodity chemicals, millions of tonnes of each are produced globally each year. Both have wide-ranging roles — including certain common uses in industrial cleaning, agriculture and textiles — but their central industrial applications differ greatly.
The most popular applications for hydrochloric acid are the production of PVC, steel pickling and pool pH maintenance. Sulphuric acid is mainly used for the manufacture of phosphate fertilisers — accounting for over half of all sulphuric acid produced globally — followed by metal processing.
At Airedale Chemical, we are leading suppliers and distributors of quality bulk chemicals, of course including hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid in a range of sizes to suit your needs. We’ve been meeting the varied chemical requirements of industry since 1973. Our fleet of vehicles provides us with leading distribution capabilities, meaning we can fulfill your order quickly, reliably and efficiently — wherever you are in the UK.