Ammonium Hydroxide: Definition, Cleaning Uses, Safety, & More

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Definition:

What exactly is an ammonium hydroxide? It is a strong-smelling, colorless liquid that commonly goes by the name ammonia, which is often found diluted in several household cleaning products.

Other Names

As noted in the U.S. Library of Medicine's ChemIDPlusAdvanced database, some synonyms for ammonium hydroxide are:

  • Ammonia (2)
  • Ammonia solution, strong
  • Ammonia water
  • Spirit of hartshorn; and
  • Ammonia, aqueous solution

    : 001336-21-6

    Molecular Formula: (NH4)(OH)

    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.

    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, CAS number, or one of its synonyms (noted in the section above):

      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 monitored 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; also, the vapors are extremely irritating to the eyes. When skin contact occurs, it can cause burns and blisters. Ammonia is also toxic by ingestion 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 (DfE), it is very toxic to aquatic life.

      Notes

      Most household ammonia contains 5-10% ammonium hydroxide.

      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, such as 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.