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21.1: Properties of Acids

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  • A cup of coffee first thing in the morning can help start the day. However, keeping the coffee maker clean can be a problem. Lime deposits build up after a while and slow down the brewing process. The best cure for this is to put vinegar (dilute acetic acid) in the pot and run it through the brewing cycle. The vinegar dissolves the deposits and cleans the maker, which will speed up the brewing process back to its original rate. Just be sure to run water through the brewing process after the vinegar, or you will get some really horrible coffee!


    Acids are very common in some of the foods that we eat. Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons contain citric acid and ascorbic acid, which is better known as vitamin C. Carbonated sodas contain phosphoric acid. Vinegar contains acetic acid. Your own stomach utilizes hydrochloric acid to digest food.

    Acids are a distinct class of compounds because of the properties of their aqueous solutions. These properties are:

    1. Aqueous solutions of acids are electrolytes, meaning that they conduct electrical current. Some acids are strong electrolytes because they ionize completely in water, yielding a great many ions. Other acids are weak electrolytes that exist primarily in a non-ionized form when dissolved in water.
    2. Acids have a sour taste. Lemons, vinegar, and sour candies all contain acids.
    3. Acids change the color of certain acid-base indicates. Two common indicators are litmus and phenolphthalein. Blue litmus turns red in the presence of an acid, while phenolphthalein turns colorless.
    4. Acids react with active metals to yield hydrogen gas. Recall that an activity series is a list of metals in descending order of reactivity. Metals that are above hydrogen in the activity series will replace the hydrogen from an acid in a single-replacement reaction, as shown below:
      \[\ce{Zn} \left( s \right) + \ce{H_2SO_4} \left( aq \right) \rightarrow \ce{ZnSO_4} \left( aq \right) + \ce{H_2} \left( g \right)\]
    5. Acids react with bases to produce a salt compound and water. When equal moles of an acid and a base are combined, the acid is neutralized by the base. The products of this reaction are an ionic compound, which is labeled as a salt, and water.


    • Properties of acids are described.

    Contributors and Attributions

    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.

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