As a matter of fact, acids are very important and there are plenty of reasons to think so. While acids in the human body help us break down food, synthesize proteins, repair tissues, and balance pH, acids can also be used in different industries and for various applications. Therefore, the importance and uses of acids depend on the type and properties of a given acid.
Some of the most important acids are Sulfuric Acid, Hydrochloric Acid, Nitric Acid, Carbonic Acid, Phosphoric Acid, Boric Acid, Acetic Acid, Acetylsalicylic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Oxalic Acid, Alpha-Hydroxy and Beta-Hydroxy Acids, Gastric Acid, and Amino Acids.
To better understand the importance of acids, let’s discuss 15 different acids and acid categories along with their intended uses and applications.
#1. Sulfuric Acid – H2SO4
The fact that sulfuric acid is the largest-volume industrial chemical in the world highlights its importance, strength, and versatility of applications.
The primary use of sulfuric acid is the production of phosphoric acid. This can be done by reacting sulfuric acid with naturally occurring phosphate rock, forming phosphoric acid and calcium sulfate. Therefore, sulfuric acid is also important for the production of phosphate fertilizers.
Sulfuric acid is also found in drain cleaners, detergents, powdered laundry soaps, and other household cleaning products. As sulfuric acid is highly acidic, it is also widely used for removing impurities from oils and cleaning metals.
#2. Hydrochloric Acid – HCl
Hydrochloric acid is a strong mineral acid with highly corrosive properties and numerous industrial uses. The main reason hydrochloric acid is so important to humans is that it’s found in stomach acid.
In terms of small-scale applications, hydrochloric acid is used for the production of household cleaning reagents and is also found in food additives. On a larger scale, hydrochloric acid is used for the production of inorganic and organic chlorides for industrial applications.
In addition, hydrochloric acid is used in different mining operations to treat, extract, separate, and purify ore. Hydrochloric is used in large quantities in the recovery of molybdenum, gold, tin, and tantalum.
#3. Nitric Acid – HNO3
Nitric acid is primarily used for the production of ammonium nitrate fertilizers. Due to their high solubility and biodegradability, nitrate fertilizers are super important in agriculture.
Nitric acid is also used for the production of explosives, such as trinitrotoluene (TNT). During this process, toluene is nitrated in three steps, producing MNT, DNT, and finally, TNT.
In addition, nitric acid can be used for drug testing. Specifically, nitric acid allows you to differentiate between heroin and morphine. Nitric acid can also be used as a spot test for alkaloid drugs, such as LSD.
In laboratory settings, nitric acid is an essential chemical for different experiments and operations. It can be used as a pH buffer, cleaning agent, or reagent for various reactions.
#4. Carbonic Acid – H2CO3
Although carbonic acid is a very weak and unstable acid, it’s still important in different industries. First things first, carbonic acid is what made it possible to create some of the most popular carbonated beverages and soft fizzy drinks.
Moreover, carbonic acid is also important for the production of drugs. For example, sodium bicarbonate is used for the symptomatic treatment of acid indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn, and other metabolic conditions. On the other hand, lithium carbonate is used for the treatment of manic episodes in patients with bipolar disorder.
Read more about the medical uses of drugs derived from carbonic acid in this article.
#5. Phosphoric Acid – H3PO4
Phosphoric acid has multiple important applications in different industries. However, phosphoric acid is used as a component of fertilizers 80% of the time.
Besides, due to its pleasing acidic taste, phosphoric acid is also commonly found in food additives, especially those used for the production of soft drinks.
Along with giving your food an acidic fruity flavor, phosphoric acid prevents the growth of mold and bacteria, increasing the shelf life of products. Besides, when used as a food additive, phosphoric acid regulates the acidity of different products.
In addition, phosphoric acid is found in various household and personal care goods, such as cleansing products, fragrances, dyes, makeup, and skin care products.
#6. Boric Acid – H3BO3
Boric acid and its sodium salts (e.g. sodium borate) are effective means of pest control, so they are widely used as pesticides. These chemicals can be used against insects, spiders, mites, molds, fungi, and weeds.
Besides, boric acid is also used in medicine for treating vaginal yeast infections, relieving itching and burning, and balancing acidity.
Moreover, boric acid is an excellent fireproofing agent for wood and can also be utilized as a preservative. Therefore, boric acid is used in the manufacture of pottery, porcelain, glass, carpets, leather, and even cosmetics.
#7. Acetic Acid – CH3COOH
According to the Virginia Department of Health, acetic acid is one of the highest-volume chemicals produced in the US. This should be pretty obvious since vinegar consists of 4 to 18% of acetic acid.
Acetic acid is primarily used for the production of other organic compounds, including but not limited to cellulose acetate, acetic esters, acetic anhydride, and chloroacetic acid.
Some of the commercial and industrial uses of acetic acid are the production of plastics, dyes, rubber, and insecticides. Besides, acetic acid is also used in the production of different medicines, such as vitamins, hormones, and antibiotics.
In addition, acetic acid can be found in food preservatives and food additives, typically known as E260.
#8. Citric Acid – C6H8O7
Citric acid is an organic acid that is widely used in the food industry as a flavoring agent and preservative. Beverages, like soft drinks, often contain citric acid to enhance flavor and give the drink an acidic taste.
Besides, candies that taste sour often include citric acid in the formulation or are coated with the white powdered form of citric acid, along with a few other acids, such as malic acid, fumaric acid, and tartaric acid.
Citric acid is also commonly found in household cleaners, soaps, and laundry detergents as a water softener.
If you’re into skin care, you may have noticed that certain exfoliants contain citric acid. These products help you remove dead skin cells and also act as antioxidants, brightening your skin and making it smoother.
#9. Acetylsalicylic Acid – C9H8O4
Acetylsalicylic acid, also known as aspirin, is an acid in the salicylates family that acts as an analgesic, antipyretic, anticoagulant, and anti-inflammatory drug. As a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, aspirin is typically used for treating pain, ranging from mild to moderate.
While aspirin has been commonly used as a preservative in canned foods, especially pickles, acidifying foods with aspirin is actually not safe. Along with being an analgesic, some people may have a bad reaction to aspirin, causing health-related complications.
#10. Ascorbic Acid – C6H8O6
Ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, is a vitamin that helps your body absorb iron, boosts your immune system, and makes it easier for your wounds to heal. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant that provides protection for your cells against free radicals, reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Another reason why Vitamin C is so important is that it’s widely used in the skin care industry as an active ingredient in serums and moisturizers. When applied to the skin, Vitamin C reduces redness and makes your skin smoother due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Read more about the benefits of Vitamin C for the skin in this medically reviewed article.
#11. Tartaric Acid – C4H6O6
Tartaric acid is yet another important acid, typically used in the food industry. Tartaric acid, along with sodium bicarbonate, is the main component of baking powder that is used as a leavening agent in baking.
In terms of industrial applications, tartaric acid is used for polishing metals, usually in gold and silver plating. It’s also used for making blue ink in the form of ferric tartrate.
Besides, tartaric acid can also be used for pharmaceutical applications. For example, tartaric acid salts can enhance the taste of oral medications.
#12. Oxalic Acid – C2H4O4
Oxalic acid is commonly used for cleaning purposes. It typically comes in a dry crystal form that you later mix with warm to hot water to create a cleaning solution.
Along with oxalic acid being widely used as a bleaching agent, it is also effective in removing stains, including rust or ink stains. The main reason for this is that oxalic acid can convert insoluble iron compounds into soluble forms of ions. Here’s what you need to know when cleaning with oxalic acid.
Besides, oxalic acid can be used as a conditioner for sewage sludge dewatering, reducing the volume of sludge. Although this one-step acidification strategy is a novel method, it has the potential to be used as a means of effective environmental waste treatment.
#13. AHAs and BHAs
Another reason why acids are so important is that they are widely used in the skincare and beauty industries. When it comes to skincare, there are two main types of acids found in different products: alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). This medically reviewed article provides a detailed guide to face acids and which ones to use.
The main difference between these two categories is that AHAs are water-soluble and work on the skin’s surface while BHAs are oil-soluble and penetrate deeper into the skin.
While AHAs and BHAs, in general, are super important, it’s all about choosing the right acids and active ingredients for the products incorporated into your skincare routine. Read more about common AHAs and BHAs for skin in this article on WebMD.
#14. Gastric Acid
When talking about the importance of acids, we shouldn’t forget to mention stomach acid, also known as gastric acid or gastric juice. This digestive fluid released into the stomach is pretty much essential for humans and other living organisms to function properly.
Gastric acid is composed of hydrochloric acid, lipase, pepsin, electrolytes, mucus, proteins, etc. The primary function of gastric acid is to inactivate microorganisms while facilitating protein digestion and improving the absorption of minerals, vitamins, and drugs.
Without gastric acid, we wouldn’t be able to digest food. Besides, gastric acid protects us from intestinal infections by killing ingested microorganisms and preventing bacterial growth in the stomach.
#15. Amino Acids – R-CH(NH2)-COOH
Last but not least, we have amino acids on the list. The function and uses of amino acids highlight the importance of acids even more. Amino acids are pretty much essential for our body to synthesize proteins and other nitrogen-containing compounds, including hormones, neurotransmitters, creatine, and more.
As a matter of fact, amino acids and proteins that are formed when amino acid molecules combine are the building blocks of life. This is because proteins help us perform a myriad of body functions, such as growth, tissue repair, fat storage, and more.