What is Ammonium Hydroxide?

Woman polishing bathroom fixture.
Hero Images / Getty Images

Ammonium hydroxide is a strong-smelling, colorless liquid that commonly goes by the name ammonia, which is often found diluted in several household cleaning products. While ammonia is toxic to humans, it does make an excellent cleaning product. Just be careful never to mix it with bleach, together the two cleaning agents make an incredibly poisonous gas. When used correctly ammonia has many uses both in and outside the home.

Cleaning Uses

Ammonium hydroxide can be found in bathroom, floor, glass, carpet, metal, upholstery, and all-purpose cleaners as well as starches, disinfectants, and stain treaters. Most household ammonia contains 5-10% ammonium hydroxide.

Other Uses

In addition to ammonia being used as a food additive and in the manufacturing of some products, such as pharmaceuticals, it can be found in a variety of products spanning several industries:

  • Auto care: puncture seal products, tire inflators, fiberglass cleaners, metal cleaners and polishes
  • Cosmetics: mascara, lash colorants
  • Explosives
  • Fertilizers
  • Hair care: hair colorants, hair glazes, hair touch-up kits
  • Home maintenance products: crack and seam sealers, joint compounds, finish removers, and some specialty cleaners.
  • Personal care products: shaving cream, lotions, creams, acne treatments
  • Plastics
  • Refrigerants

Product Brands Containing It

To see if certain products contain ammonia, try searching these databases using the chemical name, Azane:

    Regulation

    When a chemical is used in pharmaceutical preparations, personal care products, or as a food additive, it is monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For cleaning and industrial uses, it is supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    Health & Safety

    Ammonium hydroxide is highly toxic whether it is inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. It is also a highly corrosive chemical and skin, eye, and respiratory irritant. Direct contact with the eyes can cause blindness if not washed away immediately within the first 10 seconds. The vapors are extremely irritating to the eyes. When skin contact occurs, it can cause burns and blisters. Ammonia is also toxic when ingested and extremely corrosive to tissue. Inhalation can cause a cough, bronchial spasms, and even lung damage. Extreme caution and care must be exercised when using it.

    Environmental Effects

    Ammonium hydroxide is considered a hazardous substance according to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1977 and 1978. As noted in the Environmental Working Group's ​design for the environment program, it is very toxic to aquatic life.

    Safe Cleaning Alternatives

    When it comes to green cleaning, great options exist when you want to swap out ammonia for a safer and more eco-friendly ingredient.

    Instead of ammonia, try vinegar. For example, as an alternative to ammonia-based window cleaners, try this DIY all-purpose vinegar cleaner or a green commercial product, like one of the top 10 eco-friendly glass cleaners. For bathroom cleaning, use vinegar or hydrogen peroxide instead of ammonia to effectively disinfect surfaces. To clean your carpets and floors, check out these safe earth friendly floor and carpet cleaning products, instead of reaching for the ammonia.&