What Is Concentrated Sulfuric Acid?

Jodee Redmond

Concentrated sulfuric acid is a chemical used for multiple purposes by manufacturers and processors. It is used to make fertilizer and a variety of other products. It is also used as a drying agent by manufacturers. Sulfuric acid can also be heated and used to dissolve other metals, including lead and copper.

A sulfuric acid burn should be irrigated profusely with water.
A sulfuric acid burn should be irrigated profusely with water.

Sulfuric acid was developed in the 16th century. Johann van Helmont has been credited with distilling green vitriol and burning sulfur. Concentrated sulfuric acid was first used in an industrial setting in the latter part of the 16th century. Over the years, different methods for manufacturing this chemical were developed and discontinued in favor of better and more economical techniques.

Acid-proof synthetic gloves should be worn when working with sulfuric acid.
Acid-proof synthetic gloves should be worn when working with sulfuric acid.

The contact method is currently used to manufacture concentrated sulfuric acid. It was developed in the 1800s by Peregrine Phillips, a British vinegar merchant. This method involves combining sulfur and oxygen and heating them. The material is then passed over platinum or another catalyst before being run through towers where it is washed. The resulting product is a clear, highly-concentrated product.

Concentrated sulfuric acid is used to make dyes, as well as other products like detergents, nitroglycerin and ether. This product is also used by oil refineries to remove impurities from gasoline and other products. Acid is used to clean metal before adding a zinc or tin plating to it.

People who are working with this chemical need to observe specific safety precautions to avoid injury. Concentrated sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive material. Safety goggles, rubber gloves and protective clothing must be worn to avoid having the chemical come into contact with the eyes or skin. The higher the concentration, the more hazardous the chemical is to work with.

The concentrated sulfuric acid can be diluted with water for industrial use. The exact concentration used will depend on the application the chemical is being used for. For safety reasons, the acid should be added to a container of water when attempting to dilute it.

The sulfuric acid and water solution should be stirred constantly to avoid having a large amount of the acid settling at the bottom of the container. Concentrated sulfuric acid is heavier than water and it will sink easily. The resulting mixture will be warm or hot, and combining these two materials may result in a temperature which may be hot enough to boil water, which may result in injuries from spattering sulfuric acid.

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