Oxalic acid is a weak acid that is used to clean auto components and help dissolve certain substances like rust. While it is a naturally occuring compound in plants, it can also be produced in laboratories and reacts readily with substances such as water, which is used as test solution for the acid. Although a weak acid, oxalic acid is much stronger than the natural acids in the human body and poses a danger to humans who encounter it in cleaning products. Water can also be used to safely wash off oxalic acid in these situations.
Oxalic acid is a weak acid with the chemical formula H2-C2-O4. In nature, it is found in plants such as rhubarb and is one of the compounds that gives rhubarb its unique tart taste.
Acids like oxalic acid are rated by the way they ionize when placed in a water solution. A ionization reaction occurs when the atoms of acidic solutions have fewer or more electrons than their inert state and try to exchange electrons with water. This electron exchange can also trade atoms and changes the chemical composition of both substances.
Because of the way it reacts with water, oxalic acid is rated as a weak acid. Strong acids change completely into ion atoms, creating new ionic molecules by pairing with water and leaving little of the original acid compounds behind. Oxalic acid, on the other hand, has few ionized particles and does not create such a reaction, using only a small percentage of its atoms for the ionization process. Also this reaction is weak, it can still eat away at rust and cause damage to biological matter, such as human skin.
Because oxalic acid is made out of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (H2-C2-O4), it can be split into water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules. Scientists can apply an electrolysis process that separates oxalic acid by exposing it to pure oxygen atoms. This oxygen bonds with part of the acid, splitting it apart into water and carbon dioxide.
Although oxalic acid is weak, it can still pose a danger. In commercial applications, oxalic acid is used to flush out cooling systems in vehicles, where it excels at eating away corrosion. Car mechanics and engineers who work with oxalic acid may be exposed when they use cleaning solutions to clean out machinery pipes. Because the acid has only a weak reaction to water, water can easily be used to wash away oxalic acid if people are accidentally exposed to it. If a person's skin is exposed to oxalic acid, the person should wipe it off and run water over the exposed area for 15 minutes. If oxalic acid enters the eyes, it should be washed away with warm water for the amount of time.