What is Sodium?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sodium is an abundant metallic element that is an important mineral for all living organisms. It is also widely used industrially to make an assortment of consumer goods. The soft metal also appears in an abundance of compounds, such as sodium chloride, better known as salt. It also exists in high concentrations in seawater, and it is among the 10 most abundant minerals in the Earth's crust.

Sodium is the main component of table salt.
Sodium is the main component of table salt.

In a pure form, sodium is a soft, silvery gray, highly reactive metal. It is usually stored in a nonreactive substance, as it oxidizes rapidly when exposed to air, quickly forming a thick coating. The element is also highly explosive when exposed to moisture and water, to the delight of many chemistry students. Since it is so reactive, it is usually found naturally in compounds with other elements. Many of these compounds, such as salt, are extremely stable and perfectly safe to handle. Others, like sodium hydroxide, need to be handled carefully as they can be hazardous.

Salt pills, which are made of sodium chloride.
Salt pills, which are made of sodium chloride.

On the periodic table of elements, sodium is identified with the symbol Na. This is a reference to a Latin word natrium, used to refer to a specific type of salt. Its atomic number is 11, placing it among other lightweight chemical elements, and it was first isolated in 1807 by Sir Humphrey Davy, an extremely active chemist who managed to identify and isolate a wide range of chemical elements. Davy achieved this isolation by passing an electric current through a compound of sodium to separate the elements.

Although Sir Davy certainly isolated the element, its existence was well understood before 1807. Humans have a long history with sodium and an assortment of its compounds. Since the element is so vital to healthy life, it is not surprising that sources such as sodium chloride have long been highly prized by humans. A wide assortment of other compounds were used around the house and in industrial manufacture for centuries before the element was fully understood.

The element is extremely abundant on Earth and it is heavily harvested and processed for manufacturing. Soaps, metal alloys, metal refining, and engines all rely heavily on sodium, and the metal is also used in lighting, chemistry, and numerous other applications. The pure form requires careful handling, since it is extremely caustic in the presence of even small amounts of moisture. It should be handled with tongs and used under close supervision.

Sodium is identified with the symbol Na, and its atomic number is 11.
Sodium is identified with the symbol Na, and its atomic number is 11.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Sodium phosphate is a powerful colon cleanser. My mother tried to give me some when I was severely constipated, but I couldn't use it, since I have kidney disease.

With kidney disease, too much sodium can be dangerous. The label actually warned against using it.

My mother got it when she had to have a colonoscopy. The doctor told her to mix it with a full glass of water and drink the whole thing the night before her surgery. It fully cleaned everything out, and she actually felt dehydrated because of this. However, it was necessary for the procedure.


There's so much information about sodium nitrate out there claiming that it is bad for you, but I have read conflicting information that says that sodium nitrate is in foods like celery and spinach because they take it out of the ground through the roots. For awhile there, I had been avoiding eating hot dogs and bacon because they contained sodium nitrate, but since I've learned it is present in natural vegetables, I've gone back to eating them.

Sodium nitrate helps keep bacteria from living inside the meat. This doesn't sound like a bad thing to me. I would hate to eat a hot dog that was full of bacteria because it didn't have any nitrates!


There are so many things that can be made with sodium, depending on the unique combination with other ingredients. I have heard that sodium sulphate is used to make some items that differ greatly from each other. Detergents, paper, and glass all contain sodium sulphate, but that is one of the only things they have in common.


@disciples – I've heard of eating a low sodium diet, but I've never heard of cutting it out completely. Our bodies need some sodium in order to function properly.

You're doing well to avoid processed foods and restaurants. I would say that the more fresh vegetables and fruit you eat, the better, because you will have less room for other foods.

When I went on a low sodium diet, I started using celery salt instead of table salt. It's made from ground celery seeds and salt, but it definitely has less sodium than table salt. So, it can help you cut down further.


It is amazing how different things taste when you buy the low sodium alternative. Usually they taste worse and much different. It just makes you realize how much salt there is in most processed foods.


What are the best ways to cut sodium out of my diet? I do not feel like I eat a ton of salty foods, but my doctor tells me that I still need to cut back.

I have been trying to eat more fresh foods and stay away from processed foods and restaurant meals. But the doc tells me it still needs to come down more. What should I do?


One can't digest pure sodium. it would explode with contact from saliva, i.e., water.


what would happen if someone was to digest pure sodium?


What are the symptoms of low chloride?


If someone has hyponatremia, would taking some table salt in a glass of water help their condition?


I was wondering if someone had pure sodium, what would be a safe way to handle it around others for demonstrations?


Does purifying water using a reverse osmosis system remove the electrolytes from the water? Or does it remove the toxins and leave the beneficial electrolytes that are necessary for good health?


Salt contains about 60% of chloride and 40% of sodium.

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