What is Caustic Soda
Caustic Soda, also known as lye or sodium hydroxide, is an alkaline chemical compound and by-product of chlorine. It is used in a variety of industries including cleaning, textiles, and food and beverage. Caustic soda is named for its caustic (or corrosive) properties and can cause severe chemical burns if not handled properly. If you want to import caustic soda, you should know the form of caustic soda that you need and how you will store it safely before, during, and after its use.
The caustic soda formula is Sodium Hydroxide—NaOH— formed with sodium and bonded hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Because of its alkaline properties, caustic soda is often used as a strong base for other chemical products. Its default texture is solid, but because the compound is water-soluble, it’s also available as caustic soda liquid.
Forms of Caustic Soda
Caustic soda is available in three primary forms—solid, liquid, and potash. Solid forms include caustic soda crystals, flakes, or powder. Caustic soda in liquid form is usually labeled “soda lye” or “liquid soda” and sometimes “aqueous caustic soda.”
What is caustic soda used for?
The uses of caustic soda are numerous and range from manufacturing food to energy. The following are just a few uses of caustic soda:
- pH level
- As a very high alkaline compound, caustic soda is used to control the pH of products or even other chemical compounds.
- Water purification
- Given its high alkaline properties, caustic soda is often used as a purification agent for water, both acting as a disinfectant and removing impurities, but also increasing its pH level. It is commonly used in municipal or commercial water treatment plants.
- Soaps and Detergents
- Lye or caustic soda is a popular ingredient in soaps and detergents and acts as the primary active ingredient to disinfect and sterilize.
- Drain Cleaner
- As an extremely powerful inorganic compound, lye is very effective in cleaning and clearing pipes and drains of debris and build up. It’s a common ingredient in many household drain-cleaning products and it’s effective by turning the buildup that clogs pipes into soap that washes away.
- Pulp and Paper
- Lye acts as a bleaching agent for pulp and paper products, separating ink from paper so that recycled products can be used again. It also transforms leftover wood into cellulose, the foundation of paper products.
- In the textile industry, lye is used to bleach and whiten fabrics, particularly denim.
- Sodium Hydroxide is a key ingredient in many drugs from aspirin to blood thinners, and cholesterol-reducing medications.
- Fuel Production
- Sodium Hydroxide acts as an essential tool in the production of fuel cells, which keep energy producers, such as wind turbines, running with clean and efficient energy.
- Food Production and Preservation
- Sodium Hydroxide is used for everything from giving food a crunchy texture to preserving canned food by preventing mold and bacteria from growing in containers.
Caustic soda has many more uses in the commercial and residential sector, including aluminum production and soap making. Many individuals continue to use lye as a key ingredient in homemade products, including soap and candles.
Illegal Use of Caustic Soda
It is harder now than in the past to find caustic soda for sale. Caustic soda (lye) was discovered as a key ingredient in home-based methamphetamine (meth) production, as it can easily control the pH and chemical reaction of the product. As a result, regulators sought greater restrictions in access to lye to discourage its inappropriate use. An unfortunate and intended consequence has been reduced access for home-based manufacturers that use lye.
Where to Buy Caustic Soda
According to New York-based market research firm, Profshare, the international caustic soda market is on the rise and expected, valued at over $30 billion (USD) in 2017 and on target to exceed $50 billion (USD) by 2026.
The Asia region dominates the caustic soda market with India and China among the top importers of the compound. The top exporters of caustic soda include the United States, Iran, China, Japan, South Korea and India.
Where to find caustic soda depends on the form you intend to purchase. According to research by the OEC, Asian countries—China, India, and Indonesia—dominate the import and export of solid caustic soda, while European countries—individually, Germany, Belgium, and France—are top exporters of soda lye or liquid soda, caustic soda in its aqueous form.
Import Regulations for Caustic Soda
Imported caustic soda is labeled with a Harmonized System (HS) code. The HS code is part of a complex coding system used to track and label products that are traded internationally. It provides a precise method for customs officers around the globe to determine the exact form of products being imported or exported. If you’re planning to buy caustic soda, ensure that the HS code refers to the correct form of caustic soda that you would like to import.
The HS code for lye is 2815. Each product should have an 8-digit HS code, with the last four digits specifying the form in which the caustic soda is being imported/exported. The code 281511XX specifies solid caustic soda, while 281512 specifies liquid (sometimes referred to as aqueous) caustic soda. According to Cybex, HS codes for caustic soda are as follows:
- 28151110 – caustic soda flakes
- 28151190 – caustic soda other form
- 28151200 – soda lye or liquid soda (aqueous caustic soda)
- 28152000 – caustic potash
- 28153000- sodium or potassium peroxides
Caustic soda is not an expensive product, but it is usually sold in bulk. The per unit price can work out to as little as few dollars per pound, but you should be prepared to buy several pounds of the product.
Safety Tips for Handling Caustic Soda
Handling caustic soda or lye is very dangerous and could result in severe chemical burns on the skin. Aside from common sense and precautions, such as labeling the product and keeping it away from kids and pets, caustic soda requires more extensive precautions because it can cause severe burns. The following are safety tips to consider when handling caustic soda:
- Wear gloves and use utensils when handling caustic soda – It’s important to both wear gloves and use utensils when handling caustic soda. Avoid handling lye with bare hands no matter how small the amount or how familiar you are with the process.
- Keep away from moisture – It’s imperative to keep caustic soda away from any moisture, as it can react with water. In addition to storing the solution in an airtight container, ensure it’s stored in a cool, dry environment free from humidity.
- Work in a well-ventilated area – Chemical reactions involving caustic soda can create unpleasant, poisonous fumes and high temperatures. It’s important to work in a well-ventilated area where you with access to fresh air.
Other Information for Caustic Soda
In 2013, an anti-dumping duty (tax) temporarily raised the costs of importing caustic soda around the world. This duty benefitted domestic exporters of caustic soda that also had a high import rate. In contrast, this duty hurt countries that rely heavily on caustic soda to make soap, detergent, textiles, and other pharmaceutical products.
Caustic soda prices have seen a rise in international market prices over the past few years, which has resulted in fewer imports overall. In at least one scenario, local authorities in Pakistan accused local exporters of caustic soda of benefitting from high international prices, while also refusing to provide relief to local importers of caustic soda. This issue was considered of high importance due to the election this year.
It’s become harder to obtain caustic soda due to increased prices and stricter regulations, which makes it even more important to consider your import source. In some cases, companies may mix or reduce the purity of caustic soda and sell it as a pure product, which can lead to the creation of additional contaminants. In your search for caustic soda where to buy it is of the utmost importance. Take steps to ensure that the product you are important is 100% caustic soda or lye and is not mixed with other ingredients.
WaystoCap Can Help
WaystoCap provides a secure investment platform for buyers and suppliers in African trade. WaystoCap can help you find reliable and trustworthy importers and exporters of caustic soda, as well as compare quotes and secure trades with protection from an independent third party. You can sign up as a caustic soda importer on the WaystoCap platform to explore the African B2B trading sector and expand into new regions.
- Sodium Hydroxide Tree – A visual representation of the industries and processes that utilize caustic soda
- Recommended Safety Guidelines for Working with Caustic Soda – A list of safety guidelines developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for transporting, labeling, and otherwise handling caustic soda