Potassium hydroxide

Last updated
Potassium hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide.jpg
IUPAC name
Potassium hydroxide
Other names
Caustic potash, Lye, Potash lye, Potassia, Potassium hydrate, KOH
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.013.802
EC Number
  • 215-181-3
E number E525 (acidity regulators, ...)
PubChem CID
RTECS number
  • TT2100000
UN number 1813
Molar mass 56.11 g mol−1
Appearancewhite solid, deliquescent
Odor odorless
Density 2.044 g/cm3 (20 °C) [1]
2.12 g/cm3 (25 °C) [2]
Melting point 360 [3]  °C (680 °F; 633 K)
Boiling point 1,327 °C (2,421 °F; 1,600 K)
85 g/100 mL (-23.2 °C)
97 g/100 mL (0 °C)
121 g/100 mL (25 °C)
138.3 g/100 mL (50 °C)
162.9 g/100 mL (100 °C) [1] [4]
Solubility soluble in alcohol, glycerol
insoluble in ether, liquid ammonia
Solubility in methanol 55 g/100 g (28 °C) [2]
Solubility in isopropanol ~14 g / 100 g (28 °C)
Basicity (pKb)0.7 [5] (KOH(aq) = K+ + OH)
22.0·10−6 cm3/mol
1.409 (20 °C)
65.87 J/mol·K [2]
79.32 J/mol·K [2] [6]
-425.8 kJ/mol [2] [6]
-380.2 kJ/mol [2]
Safety data sheet ICSC 0357
GHS pictograms GHS-pictogram-acid.svg GHS-pictogram-exclam.svg [7]
GHS Signal word Danger
H302, H314 [7]
P280, P305+351+338, P310 [7]
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
Flammability code 0: Will not burn. E.g. waterHealth code 3: Short exposure could cause serious temporary or residual injury. E.g. chlorine gasReactivity code 0: Normally stable, even under fire exposure conditions, and is not reactive with water. E.g. liquid nitrogenSpecial hazard ALK: Alkaline.Potassium hydroxide
Flash point Non-flammable
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
273 mg/kg (oral, rat) [8]
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
none [9]
REL (Recommended)
C 2 mg/m3 [9]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
N.D. [9]
Related compounds
Other anions
Potassium hydrosulfide
Potassium amide
Other cations
Lithium hydroxide
Sodium hydroxide
Rubidium hydroxide
Caesium hydroxide
Related compounds
Potassium oxide
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references

Potassium hydroxide is an inorganic compound with the formula K OH, and is commonly called caustic potash.


Along with sodium hydroxide (NaOH), this colorless solid is a prototypical strong base. It has many industrial and niche applications, most of which exploit its caustic nature and its reactivity toward acids. An estimated 700,000 to 800,000 tonnes were produced in 2005. KOH is noteworthy as the precursor to most soft and liquid soaps, as well as numerous potassium-containing chemicals. It is a white solid that is dangerously corrosive. Most commercial samples are ca. 90% pure, the remainder being water and carbonates. [10]

Properties and structure

Potassium hydroxide is usually sold as translucent pellets, which become tacky in air because KOH is hygroscopic. Consequently, KOH typically contains varying amounts of water (as well as carbonates - see below). Its dissolution in water is strongly exothermic. Concentrated aqueous solutions are sometimes called potassium lyes. Even at high temperatures, solid KOH does not dehydrate readily. [11]


At higher temperatures, solid KOH crystallizes in the NaCl crystal structure. The OH group is either rapidly or randomly disordered so that the OH group is effectively a spherical anion of radius 1.53 Å (between Cl
and F
in size). At room temperature, the OH groups are ordered and the environment about the K+
centers is distorted, with K+
distances ranging from 2.69 to 3.15 Å, depending on the orientation of the OH group. KOH forms a series of crystalline hydrates, namely the monohydrate KOH   H2O, the dihydrate KOH  2 H2O and the tetrahydrate KOH  4 H2O. [12]

Thermal stability

Like NaOH, KOH exhibits high thermal stability. The gaseous species is dimeric. Because of its high stability and relatively low melting point, it is often melt-cast as pellets or rods, forms that have low surface area and convenient handling properties.


Basicity, solubility and desiccating properties

About 121 g of KOH dissolve in 100 mL water at room temperature, which contrasts with 100 g/100 mL for NaOH. Thus on a molar basis, KOH is slightly more soluble than NaOH. Lower molecular-weight alcohols such as methanol, ethanol, and propanols are also excellent solvents. They participate in an acid-base equilibrium. In the case of methanol the potassium methoxide (methylate) forms: [13]


Because of its high affinity for water, KOH serves as a desiccant in the laboratory. It is often used to dry basic solvents, especially amines and pyridines.

As a nucleophile in organic chemistry

KOH, like NaOH, serves as a source of OH, a highly nucleophilic anion that attacks polar bonds in both inorganic and organic materials. Aqueous KOH saponifies esters:


When R is a long chain, the product is called a potassium soap. This reaction is manifested by the "greasy" feel that KOH gives when touched — fats on the skin are rapidly converted to soap and glycerol.

Molten KOH is used to displace halides and other leaving groups. The reaction is especially useful for aromatic reagents to give the corresponding phenols. [14]

Reactions with inorganic compounds

Complementary to its reactivity toward acids, KOH attacks oxides. Thus, SiO2 is attacked by KOH to give soluble potassium silicates. KOH reacts with carbon dioxide to give bicarbonate:



Historically, KOH was made by adding potassium carbonate to a strong solution of calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) The salt metathesis reaction results in precipitation of solid calcium carbonate, leaving potassium hydroxide in solution:

Ca(OH)2 + K2CO3 → CaCO3 + 2 KOH

Filtering off the precipitated calcium carbonate and boiling down the solution gives potassium hydroxide ("calcinated or caustic potash"). This method of producing potassium hydroxide remained dominant until the late 19th century, when it was largely replaced by the current method of electrolysis of potassium chloride solutions. [10] The method is analogous to the manufacture of sodium hydroxide (see chloralkali process):

2 KCl + 2 H2O → 2 KOH + Cl2 + H2

Hydrogen gas forms as a byproduct on the cathode; concurrently, an anodic oxidation of the chloride ion takes place, forming chlorine gas as a byproduct. Separation of the anodic and cathodic spaces in the electrolysis cell is essential for this process. [15]


KOH and NaOH can be used interchangeably for a number of applications, although in industry, NaOH is preferred because of its lower cost.

Precursor to other potassium compounds

Many potassium salts are prepared by neutralization reactions involving KOH. The potassium salts of carbonate, cyanide, permanganate, phosphate, and various silicates are prepared by treating either the oxides or the acids with KOH. [10] The high solubility of potassium phosphate is desirable in fertilizers.

Manufacture of soft soaps

The saponification of fats with KOH is used to prepare the corresponding "potassium soaps", which are softer than the more common sodium hydroxide-derived soaps. Because of their softness and greater solubility, potassium soaps require less water to liquefy, and can thus contain more cleaning agent than liquefied sodium soaps. [16]

As an electrolyte

Potassium carbonate, formed from the hydroxide solution leaking from an alkaline battery LeakedBattery 2701a.jpg
Potassium carbonate, formed from the hydroxide solution leaking from an alkaline battery

Aqueous potassium hydroxide is employed as the electrolyte in alkaline batteries based on nickel-cadmium, nickel-hydrogen, and manganese dioxide-zinc. Potassium hydroxide is preferred over sodium hydroxide because its solutions are more conductive. [17] The nickel–metal hydride batteries in the Toyota Prius use a mixture of potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide. [18] Nickel–iron batteries also use potassium hydroxide electrolyte.

Food industry

In food products, potassium hydroxide acts as a food thickener, pH control agent and food stabilizer. The FDA considers it (as a direct human food ingredient) as generally safe when combined with "good" manufacturing practice conditions of use. [19] It is known in the E number system as E525.

Niche applications

Like sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide attracts numerous specialized applications, virtually all of which rely on its properties as a strong chemical base with its consequent ability to degrade many materials. For example, in a process commonly referred to as "chemical cremation" or "resomation", potassium hydroxide hastens the decomposition of soft tissues, both animal and human, to leave behind only the bones and other hard tissues. [20] Entomologists wishing to study the fine structure of insect anatomy may use a 10% aqueous solution of KOH to apply this process. [21]

In chemical synthesis, the choice between the use of KOH and the use of NaOH is guided by the solubility or keeping quality of the resulting salt.

The corrosive properties of potassium hydroxide make it a useful ingredient in agents and preparations that clean and disinfect surfaces and materials that can themselves resist corrosion by KOH. [15]

KOH is also used for semiconductor chip fabrication. See also: anisotropic wet etching.

Potassium hydroxide is often the main active ingredient in chemical "cuticle removers" used in manicure treatments.

Because aggressive bases like KOH damage the cuticle of the hair shaft, potassium hydroxide is used to chemically assist the removal of hair from animal hides. The hides are soaked for several hours in a solution of KOH and water to prepare them for the unhairing stage of the tanning process. This same effect is also used to weaken human hair in preparation for shaving. Preshave products and some shave creams contain potassium hydroxide to force open the hair cuticle and to act as a hygroscopic agent to attract and force water into the hair shaft, causing further damage to the hair. In this weakened state, the hair is more easily cut by a razor blade.

Potassium hydroxide is used to identify some species of fungi. A 3–5% aqueous solution of KOH is applied to the flesh of a mushroom and the researcher notes whether or not the color of the flesh changes. Certain species of gilled mushrooms, boletes, polypores, and lichens [22] are identifiable based on this color-change reaction. [23]


Potassium hydroxide and its solutions are severe irritants to skin and other tissue. [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

In chemistry, an alkali is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal chemical element. An alkali also can be defined as a base that dissolves in water. A solution of a soluble base has a pH greater than 7.0. The adjective alkaline is commonly, and alkalescent less often, used in English as a synonym for basic, especially for bases soluble in water. This broad use of the term is likely to have come about because alkalis were the first bases known to obey the Arrhenius definition of a base, and they are still among the most common bases.

Hydroxide family of the hydroxide salts

Hydroxide is a diatomic anion with chemical formula OH. It consists of an oxygen and hydrogen atom held together by a covalent bond, and carries a negative electric charge. It is an important but usually minor constituent of water. It functions as a base, a ligand, a nucleophile, and a catalyst. The hydroxide ion forms salts, some of which dissociate in aqueous solution, liberating solvated hydroxide ions. Sodium hydroxide is a multi-million-ton per annum commodity chemical. A hydroxide attached to a strongly electropositive center may itself ionize, liberating a hydrogen cation (H+), making the parent compound an acid.

Sodium hydroxide Chemical compound with formula NaOH

Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda, is an inorganic compound with the formula NaOH. It is a white solid ionic compound consisting of sodium cations Na+
and hydroxide anions OH

Base (chemistry) substance that can react with an acid, accepting hydrogen ions (protons) or more generally, donating a pair of valence electrons

In chemistry, bases are substances that, in aqueous solution, release hydroxide (OH) ions, are slippery to the touch, can taste bitter if an alkali, change the color of indicators (e.g., turn red litmus paper blue), react with acids to form salts, promote certain chemical reactions (base catalysis), accept protons from any proton donor or contain completely or partially displaceable OH ions. Examples of bases are the hydroxides of the alkali metals and the alkaline earth metals (NaOH, Ca(OH)2, etc.—see alkali hydroxide and alkaline earth hydroxide).

Sodium carbonate chemical compound

Sodium carbonate, Na2CO3, (also known as washing soda, soda ash and soda crystals) is the inorganic compound with the formula Na2CO3 and its various hydrates. All forms are white, water-soluble salts. All forms have a strongly alkaline taste and give moderately alkaline solutions in water. Historically it was extracted from the ashes of plants growing in sodium-rich soils. Because the ashes of these sodium-rich plants were noticeably different from ashes of wood (once used to produce potash), sodium carbonate became known as "soda ash". It is produced in large quantities from sodium chloride and limestone by the Solvay process.

Potassium carbonate chemical compound

Potassium carbonate is the inorganic compound with the formula K2CO3. It is a white salt, which is soluble in water. It is deliquescent, often appearing as a damp or wet solid. Potassium carbonate is mainly used in the production of soap and glass.

Basic copper carbonate chemical compound

Basic copper carbonate is a chemical compound, more properly called copper(II) carbonate hydroxide. It is an ionic compound consisting of the ions copper(II) Cu2+
, carbonate CO2−
, and hydroxide OH

Calcium hydroxide chemical compound

Calcium hydroxide (traditionally called slaked lime) is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula Ca(OH)2. It is a colorless crystal or white powder and is produced when quicklime (calcium oxide) is mixed, or slaked with water. It has many names including hydrated lime, caustic lime, builders' lime, slack lime, cal, or pickling lime. Calcium hydroxide is used in many applications, including food preparation, where it has been identified as E number E526. Limewater is the common name for a saturated solution of calcium hydroxide.

Potassium cyanide inorganic compound

Potassium cyanide is a compound with the formula KCN. This colorless crystalline salt, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and buffing.

Barium chloride chemical compound

Barium chloride is the inorganic compound with the formula BaCl2. It is one of the most common water-soluble salts of barium. Like most other barium salts, it is white, toxic, and imparts a yellow-green coloration to a flame. It is also hygroscopic, converting first to the dihydrate BaCl2(H2O)2. It has limited use in the laboratory and industry.

Sodium aluminate chemical compound

Sodium aluminate is an inorganic chemical that is used as an effective source of aluminium hydroxide for many industrial and technical applications. Pure sodium aluminate (anhydrous) is a white crystalline solid having a formula variously given as NaAlO2, NaAl(OH)4 (hydrated), Na2O·Al2O3, or Na2Al2O4. Commercial sodium aluminate is available as a solution or a solid.
Other related compounds, sometimes called sodium aluminate, prepared by reaction of Na2O and Al2O3 are Na5AlO4 which contains discrete AlO45− anions, Na7Al3O8 and Na17Al5O16 which contain complex polymeric anions, and NaAl11O17, once mistakenly believed to be β-alumina, a phase of aluminium oxide.

A strong electrolyte is a solution/solute that completely, or almost completely, ionizes or dissociates in a solution. These ions are good conductors of electric current in the solution.

A salt metathesis reaction, sometimes called a double replacement reaction, double displacement reaction, is a chemical process involving the exchange of bonds between two non-reacting chemical species which results in the creation of products with similar or identical bonding affiliations. This reaction is represented by the general scheme:

Copper(II) hydroxide chemical compound

Copper(II) hydroxide is the hydroxide of copper with the chemical formula of Cu(OH)2. It is a pale greenish blue or bluish green solid. Some forms of copper(II) hydroxide are sold as "stabilized" copper hydroxide, although they likely consist of a mixture of copper(II) carbonate and hydroxide. Copper hydroxide is a weak base.

Sodium tungstate chemical compound

Sodium tungstate is the inorganic compound with the formula Na2WO4. This white, water-soluble solid is the sodium salt of tungstic acid. It is useful as a source of tungsten for chemical synthesis. It is an intermediate in the conversion of tungsten ores to the metal.

Sodium hydrosulfide chemical compound

Sodium hydrosulfide is the chemical compound with the formula NaHS. This compound is the product of the half-neutralization of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) with sodium hydroxide. NaHS is a useful reagent for the synthesis of organic and inorganic sulfur compounds, sometimes as a solid reagent, more often as an aqueous solution. Solid NaHS is colorless, and typically smells like H2S owing to hydrolysis by atmospheric moisture. In contrast with sodium sulfide (Na2S), which is insoluble in organic solvents, NaHS, being a 1:1 electrolyte, is more soluble. Alternatively, in place of NaHS, H2S can be treated with an organic amine to generate an ammonium salt. Solutions of HS are sensitive to oxygen, converting mainly to polysulfides, indicated by the appearance of yellow.

Sodium formate Chemical compound

Sodium formate, HCOONa, is the sodium salt of formic acid, HCOOH. It usually appears as a white deliquescent powder.

Zinc hydroxide Zn(OH)2 is an inorganic chemical compound. It also occurs naturally as 3 rare minerals: wülfingite (orthorhombic), ashoverite and sweetite (both tetragonal).

The purpose of a mineralizer is to facilitate the transport of insoluble “nutrient” to a seed crystal by means of a reversible chemical reaction. Over time, the seed crystal accumulates the material that was once in the nutrient and grows. Mineralizers are additives that aid the solubilization of the nutrient solid. When used in small quantities, mineralizers function as catalysts. Typically, a more stable solid is crystallized from a solution that consists of a less stable solid and a solvent. The process is done by dissolution-precipitation or crystallization process.

The periodatonickelates are a series of anions and salts of nickel complexed to the periodate anion. The diperiodatonickelates with nickel in the +4 oxidation state are powerful oxidising agents that are capable of oxidising bromate to perbromate.


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