Chemistry » Chemical Reactions and Stoichiometry » Classifying Chemical Reactions

Acid-Base Reactions Continued


base is a substance that will dissolve in water to yield hydroxide ions, OH. The most common bases are ionic compounds composed of alkali or alkaline earth metal cations (groups 1 and 2) combined with the hydroxide ion—for example, NaOH and Ca(OH)2. When these compounds dissolve in water, hydroxide ions are released directly into the solution.

For example, KOH and Ba(OH)2 dissolve in water and dissociate completely to produce cations (K+ and Ba2+, respectively) and hydroxide ions, OH. These bases, along with other hydroxides that completely dissociate in water, are considered strong bases.

Consider as an example the dissolution of lye (sodium hydroxide) in water:

\(\mathrm{NaOH}(s) \longrightarrow \mathrm{Na^+}(aq) + \mathrm{OH^−}(aq)\)

This equation confirms that sodium hydroxide is a base. When dissolved in water, NaOH dissociates to yield Na+ and OH ions. This is also true for any other ionic compound containing hydroxide ions. Since the dissociation process is essentially complete when ionic compounds dissolve in water under typical conditions, NaOH and other ionic hydroxides are all classified as strong bases.

Unlike ionic hydroxides, some compounds produce hydroxide ions when dissolved by chemically reacting with water molecules. In all cases, these compounds react only partially and so are classified as weak bases. These types of compounds are also abundant in nature and important commodities in various technologies.

For example, global production of the weak base ammonia is typically well over 100 metric tons annually, being widely used as an agricultural fertilizer, a raw material for chemical synthesis of other compounds, and an active ingredient in household cleaners (see image below). When dissolved in water, ammonia reacts partially to yield hydroxide ions, as shown here:

\(\mathrm{NH_3}(aq) + \mathrm{H_2O}(l) \rightleftharpoons \mathrm{NH_4^+}(aq) + \mathrm{OH^−}(aq)\)

This is, by definition, an acid-base reaction, in this case involving the transfer of H+ ions from water molecules to ammonia molecules. Under typical conditions, only about 1% of the dissolved ammonia is present as \(\mathrm{NH_4^+}\) ions.


Ammonia is a weak base used in a variety of applications. (a) Pure ammonia is commonly applied as an agricultural fertilizer. (b) Dilute solutions of ammonia are effective household cleansers. Image credit:- a: modification of work by National Resources Conservation Service; b: modification of work by pat00139

Neutralization Reaction

The chemical reactions described in which acids and bases dissolved in water produce hydronium and hydroxide ions, respectively, are, by definition, acid-base reactions. In these reactions, water serves as both a solvent and a reactant. A neutralization reaction is a specific type of acid-base reaction in which the reactants are an acid and a base, the products are often a salt and water, and neither reactant is the water itself:

\(\text{acid} + \text{base} \longrightarrow \text{salt} + \text{water}\)

To illustrate a neutralization reaction, consider what happens when a typical antacid such as milk of magnesia (an aqueous suspension of solid Mg(OH)2) is ingested to ease symptoms associated with excess stomach acid (HCl):

\(\mathrm{Mg(OH)_2}(s) + \mathrm{2HCl}(aq) \longrightarrow \mathrm{MgCl_2}(aq) + \mathrm{2H_2O}(l)\)

Note that in addition to water, this reaction produces a salt, magnesium chloride.

Writing Equations for Acid-Base Reactions

Write balanced chemical equations for the acid-base reactions described here:

(a) the weak acid hydrogen hypochlorite reacts with water
(b) a solution of barium hydroxide is neutralized with a solution of nitric acid


(a) The two reactants are provided, HOCl and H2O. Since the substance is reported to be an acid, its reaction with water will involve the transfer of H+ from HOCl to H2O to generate hydronium ions, H3O+ and hypochlorite ions, OCl.

\(\mathrm{HOCl}(aq) + \mathrm{H_2O}(l) \rightleftharpoons \mathrm{OCl^−}(aq) + \mathrm{H_3O^+}(aq)\)

A double-arrow is appropriate in this equation because it indicates the HOCl is a weak acid that has not reacted completely.

(b) The two reactants are provided, Ba(OH)2 and HNO3. Since this is a neutralization reaction, the two products will be water and a salt composed of the cation of the ionic hydroxide \((\mathrm{Ba^{2+}})\) and the anion generated when the acid transfers its hydrogen ion \((\mathrm{NO_3^−}).\)

\(\mathrm{Ba(OH)_2}(aq) + \mathrm{2HNO_3}(aq) \longrightarrow \mathrm{Ba(NO_3)_2}(aq) + \mathrm{2H_2O}(l)\)

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