Sodium hypochlorite, a detailed overview

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Sodium hypochlorite: Summary

Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical compound with the formula NaOCl that has been used for centuries as a disinfectant and cleaning agent. It is a pale yellow liquid and possesses oxidizing properties. It is commonly known as bleach when dissolved in water and can be recognized easily by its chlorine-like smell. The use of sodium hypochlorite as a cleaning agent has increased its demand in laboratories, industries, factories, and even household use.

AppearancePale greenish-yellow color
Molar mass74.442 g/mol
Odorchlorine-like
Density1.11 g/cm3
Melting point18 °C
Boiling point101 °C
Solubility in water29.3 g/100mL (0 °C)

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Discovery of sodium hypochlorite

Sodium hypochlorite was discovered by a French Chemist Claude Louis Berthollet in the year 1785. Berthollet developed a liquid cleaning agent in his company, Javel, which had sodium hypochlorite in it and was able to bleach things at room temperature. During those days sodium hypochlorite was referred to as “Eau De Javelle.” Eau De Javelle was prepared by passing chlorine gas through a solution of sodium carbonate. Since the processing of “Eau De Javelle” was not effective by this method, Berthollet tried several alternatives to make it work for him. One such method was the withdrawal of chlorinated lime with sodium carbonate to produce small concentrations of chlorine. This was a big hit during those days and was commonly used in hospitals as an antiseptic under the brand “Eusol.”

Later, the preparation of sodium hypochlorite by the process of electrolysis became the most preferred method and used even today. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, E.S. Smith patented this method of sodium hypochlorite production involving hydrolysis of brine.

Preparation of sodium hypochlorite

Sodium hypochlorite can be prepared in the laboratory by two different methods as explained below.

Method-1

This method of sodium hypochlorite involves dissolving sodium chloride in softened water, which forms a concentrated brine solution. This solution is further electrolyzed, which forms sodium hypochlorite solution in water. Necessary precautions should be taken while preparing sodium hypochlorite using this method, as explosive hydrogen gas is formed during the reaction.

Method-2

This method involves passing of chlorine gas through sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). The reaction results in the production of sodium hypochlorite along with sodium chloride (salt) and water.

Cl2     +    2NaOH    →   NaOCl     + NaCl + H2O

Chlorine      Sodium                   sodium            sodium        water

gas               hydroxide              hypochlorite   chloride

Stability of sodium hypochlorite

Sodium hypochlorite is an unstable compound which starts decomposing immediately. It is possible to reduce the rate of decomposition and prepare a relatively stable solution. The stability and shelf life of the sodium hypochlorite solution depends on:

The concentration of the hypochlorite solution

Lower concentration decomposes slowly; hence, preparation of low concentration helps in a more stable hypochlorite solution.

pH of the solution

The sodium hypochlorite solution is most stable between the pH range of 12 to 13, below 11 it starts decomposing. The decomposition is due to a shift in the equilibrium favorable for the more reactive hypochlorous acid.

Temperature of the solution

Sodium hypochlorite solution decomposes faster at a higher temperature. Therefore, it is recommended to store them at a low temperature to improve its stability.

Quality of sodium hypochlorite

The presence of trace metals in the sodium hypochlorite solution affects its stability. A trace amount of metals like copper, cobalt, and nickel are found to catalytically decompose the solution, hence, affecting its stability. The pure solution of sodium hypochlorite is found to be more stable than an adulterated solution.

Sunlight

The UV light of the sun rays can catalyze the sodium hypochlorite solution. Hence, it is always recommended to store it away from light in an opaque container. 

Uses of sodium hypochlorite

  • Sodium hypochlorite solution for disinfection is its most popular use
  • It is majorly used as a cleaning and bleaching agent
  • It is used as an antiseptic to clean topical wounds
  • Used in large scale water disinfection
  • Used in the textile industry to bleach textiles
  • Used in industrial wastewater treatment
  • Used to disinfect swimming pools
  • In the metal industry, it is used to detoxify the cyanide baths
  • In industrial cooling towers, sodium hypochlorite is used to prevent the growth of algae
  • In industrial reactions which releases pungent-smelling gases like sulphur hydrogen gas and ammonia, sodium hypochlorite is used to reduce the odor

Is it safe to use sodium hypochlorite to disinfect swimming pools?

Sodium hypochlorite is widely used to disinfect the swimming pool water. The debate often arises if the regular application of sodium hypochlorite in the pools is safe for the skin or not. The reason for using bleach in pools is to remove the built-up of the microorganisms, which quickly appear on the sides of the pool if left untreated. A mild concentration of the solution used in the pools are generally safe to people, but too much chlorine in water is found to burn the tissues. It is also found that a large quantity of sodium hypochlorite can cause damage to eyes, skin, respiratory tracts, stomach, and the intestines.

If you have ever experienced redness in the eyes soon after you get into the swimming pool, it’s because of the higher quantity of chlorine in the water. It is also found that the formation of ureum is the most common issue in public pools where different people are using the pool. Ureum is a mixture of urine and sweat. When ureum combines with the hypochlorous acid present in the bleach, it forms a chemical compound known as chloramine. Chloramines cause major irritation to the mucous membrane, in case of these chloramines entering the mucous membrane, you can smell chlorine for a long time even after coming out of the pool. Hence, to avoid such health problems, it is recommended to only use the required amount of bleach for disinfection, and provide proper ventilation to the pool.

Sodium hypochlorite: Handling and Storage

Sodium hypochlorite is corrosive and causes burns to skin, eyes, and the mucous membrane. Ingestion causes intestinal burns and in extreme cases even death. Hence, it is important to handle them with utmost care. One should wear gloves, safety goggles, mask, and other Personal Protective Equipment while handling the chemical. In case of contact or irritation, seek for immediate medical help.

Since sodium hypochlorite is quite unstable and decomposes quickly, it is often stored in sturdy, opaque containers away from the sunlight maintained at a temperature below 60oF. The containers are manufactured from HDPE (high-density polyethene), XLPE (cross-linked polyethene), and FRP (fiber-reinforced plastic), while the pH inside the tank is maintained above 11.

Sodium hypochlorite market: Global

The sodium hypochlorite market is huge and continues to grow further due to the wide range of applications it offers. The market size valued at $207 million in 2019, which is expected to further grow at the rate of 4.9% CARG and estimated to reach $302.7 million by 2027. Furthermore, the market this year (2020) is about 384.82 kilotons, which will increase to 504.79 kilotons by the end of 2027. Asia Pacific tops the list of sodium hypochlorite market, and contributes to about 39.1% of the total global revenue. The countries majorly contributing to the market are China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand.

The growing demand is due to its increasing use as a disinfectant and bleaching agent. It is reported that the cleaning and disinfection application alone dominates the total sodium hypochlorite market contributing 59%. It also plays a major role in various industries such as pulp and paper, healthcare, detergent, and textiles to name a few. The other reason for its increasing use in household, commercial, and industrial application is due to it being announced safe by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Key players of the sodium hypochlorite market

  • ICL
  • Unilever
  • Vynova
  • Chlorotec
  • Hawkins Inc.
  • OxyChem
  • Olin Chlor Alkali
  • Tessenderlo Group

COVID-19 and sodium hypochlorite market

Sodium hypochlorite is one of the key chemicals used in the formulation of sanitizers. With the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of people at the global level has moved to personal hygiene, immensely increasing the sales of the sanitizer industry. With the increasing demand of the sanitizers in the last few months, the demand for sodium hypochlorite has also increased. The market has witnessed a steep growth like never before. Hence, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t have any adverse effect on the sodium hypochlorite market, unlike the other chemicals market. It has improved the market for better and created an awareness on the importance of personal hygiene among people.