Names & formulas of common lab acids & bases

Updated April 17, 2017

Acids and bases are frequently used throughout chemistry lab, from General Chemistry to Organic Chemistry and beyond. An acid is any substance with a pH between 1 and 6.9, and a base is any substance with a pH between 7.1 and 14. Substances with a pH of 7 are considered neutral. The lower then pH, the stronger the acid, and the higher the pH, the stronger the base. The real difference between acids and bases, however, is that when in solution, acids give up hydronium (H+) ions, and bases give up hydroxide (OH-) ions. There are a few acids and bases you should become familiar with, as you will see them over and over again in your lab.

Acetic Acid

Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its "vinegar-y" taste. The formula is HC2H3O2.

Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is a multipurpose acid used in the textile, fertiliser and rubber industries. Most chemistry labs work with hydrochloric acid frequently.

Sulphuric Acid

Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) is highly corrosive and reacts violently with water, which is why it is important to keep all glassware clean and dry in the lab. No other chemical in the world is produced in as large a volume as sulphuric acid, with fertiliser manufacture being the largest single use for it globally.

Nitric Acid

Nitric acid (HNO3) is used in a variety of industries, from fertilisers to rocket propellant. When it comes into contact with air, it decomposes and produces coloured fumes, with the colour depending upon the concentration and stability of the original sample.


Ammonia (NH3) is most famous as a cleaning fluid, but is actually found in minute amounts throughout the air and soil. It is a common base with a characteristic odour that should never be directly inhaled to avoid sinus damage. In fact, even cleaning with ammonia in a room without ventilation can lead to headaches and nausea.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is very commonly used in most chemistry labs. It is a completely manufactured chemical and is the main ingredient in bleach.

Potassium Hydroxide

Potassium hydroxide (KOH) is so highly caustic, it is used to make paint removers and detergents. Industrially, it is known as "potash", and gives off a high amount of heat when mixed with water.

Calcium Oxide

Calcium oxide (CaO), known industrially as lime, is a white crystalline solid made from heating calcium carbonate to burn off excess carbon dioxide. Most calcium oxide manufactured is made from burnt seashells, coral, limestone or chalk.

Calcium Hydroxide

Calcium hydroxide [Ca(OH2)] is made by adding water to calcium oxide until all of the oxygen atoms bond to hydrogen atoms. The resulting chemical is used mostly in waste treatment facilities, but is also a key component in clay, where it acts as a binder between the kaolin and other clay ingredients.

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