Dials on a washing machine

Sulfuric acid is one of the most widely used — and reused — chemical compounds in the world. It's used as a catalyst by many refineries to meet emissions and performance standards when producing gasoline, but its applications don't stop at the gas pump. Here are five other common products that also benefit from this compound:

1. Dish and Laundry Detergents

Most cleaning materials we use for home and body care contain surfactants, or compounds that break down adherences between liquids and solids. It’s a process that helps clean one’s clothes and kitchenware. Surfactants consist of petrochemicals, which attract grease; and sulfuric acid, which attracts water. These contents work together to dissolve bacteria and, ultimately, lift it from solid surfaces.

2. Car Batteries

Car batteries look different depending on what they’re powering, but their acid is usually sulfuric. Lead-acid batteries often contain a series of flat lead cells wrapped in a hard casing that sits in an electrolyte pool. That pool consists of water and sulfuric acid, which reacts with the lead plates to create electricity. When a battery needs to be recharged, it converts this lead-acid coating (called lead sulfate) back into lead and sulfuric acid to restart the power cycle.

3. Medicine

Canker sores or gingivitis are essentially bacterial accumulations that thrive in the warm environment of teeth and gums. To treat these problems, doctors need a strong solution to kill these bacteria and prevent these sores from recurring. This is why they often prescribe “sulfonated phenolics,” which contain controlled doses of sulfuric acid to cleanse the area.

4. Pond Water Clarifier

Backyard ponds are maintained differently than indoor aquariums. Pond water’s pH is often high, or more basic, because its carbon dioxide is sapped by plant life and into the outdoor air very quickly. Pond clarifying fluids help regulate this pH level to protect aquatic life and control algae growth, and many of them use sulfuric acid to restore a pond’s acidity to healthier levels. Wastewater plants sometimes use it for similar pH neutralization during the treatment process.

5. Fertilizer

Plants absorb numerous nutrients from fertilized soil, and one of the most critical is phosphorous. Roots need to receive this element in the form of phosphoric acid, which boils (literally) down to a reaction between phosphate rock and sulfuric acid. Phosphate fertilizers are available at most home improvement stores. Certain cities now recover biosolids from waste to create new fertilizer, fittingly putting this product back into a closed-loop system.

Sulfur is the world’s most used chemical, and for good reason. From the laundry room to the medicine cabinet, it can be reused by smart companies to produce everyday products and ultimately contribute to the circular economy. Read more about the sulfuric acid services Veolia offers here.

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