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Sodium chloride, also known as salt, common salt, table salt, or halite, is an ionic compound with the formula NaCl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of the ocean and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms. As the major ingredient in edible salt, it is commonly used as a condiment and food preservative.

Production and use

Salt is currently mass-produced by evaporation of seawater or brine from other sources, such as brine wells and salt lake, and by mining rock salt, called halite. In 2002, world production was estimated at 210 million metric tonnes, the top five producers (in million tonnes) being the United States (40.3), China (32.9), Germany (17.7), India (14.5) and Canada (12.3).

As well as the familiar uses of salt in cooking, salt is used in many applications, from manufacturing pulp and paper, to setting dyes in textiles and fabric, to producing soaps, detergents, and other bath products. It is the major source of industrial chlorine and sodium hydroxide, and used in almost every industry.

Sodium chloride is sometimes used as a cheap and safe desiccant because it appears to have hygroscopic properties, making salting an effective method of food preservation historically; as it draws water out of bacteria through osmotic pressure preventing them from reproducing and causing food to spoil. Even though more effective desiccants are available, few are safe for humans to ingest.Image:Dead-Sea---Salt-Evaporation-Ponds.jpg| Israelimarker and Jordanianmarker salt evaporation ponds at the south end of the Dead Seamarker.Image:Piles of Salt Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Luca Galuzzi 2006 a.jpg|Mounds of salt, Salar de Uyunimarker, Boliviamarker.
Image:Salt mine 0096.jpg|Modern rock salt mine near Mount Morris, New Yorkmarker, United Statesmarker.Image:Aigues-Mortes2.jpg|Evaporation lagoons, Aigues-Mortesmarker, Francemarker.
Solubility of NaCl in various solvents

>(g NaCl / 100 g of solvent at 25 °C)
H2O 36
Liquid ammonia 3.02
Methanol 1.4
Sulfolane 0.005
Formic acid 5.2
Acetone 0.000042
Formamide 9.4
Acetonitrile 0.0003
Dimethylformamide 0.04

Burgess, J. Metal Ions in Solution

(Ellis Horwood, New York, 1978)

ISBN 0-85312-027-7

Synthetic uses

Sodium chloride is also the raw material used to produce chlorine which itself is required for sterilization and the production of many modern materials including PVC, pesticides and epoxy resins. Industrially, elemental chlorine is usually produced by the electrolysis of sodium chloride dissolved in water. Along with chlorine, this chloralkali process yields hydrogen gas and sodium hydroxide, according to the chemical equation

2NaCl + 2H2O → Cl2 + H2 + 2NaOH

Sodium metal is produced commercially through the electrolysis of liquid sodium chloride. This is now done in a Down's cell in which sodium chloride is mixed with calcium chloride to lower the melting point below 700 °C. As calcium is more electropositive than sodium, no calcium will be formed at the cathode. This method is less expensive than the previous method of electrolyzing sodium hydroxide.

Sodium chloride is used in other chemical processes for the large-scale production of compounds containing sodium or chlorine. In the Solvay process, sodium chloride is used for producing sodium carbonate and calcium chloride. In the Mannheim process and in the Hargreaves process, it is used for the production of sodium sulfate and hydrochloric acid.

Biological uses

Many micro organisms cannot live in an overly salty environment: water is drawn out of their cells by osmosis. For this reason salt is used to preserve some foods, such as smoked bacon or fish. It can also be used to detach leeches that have attached themselves to feed. It is also used to disinfect wounds.

Optical uses

Pure NaCl crystal is an optical compound with a wide transmission range from 200 nm to 20 um. It was often used in the infrared spectrum range and it is still used sometimes.

NaCl crystal is soft, hygroscopic and inexpensive. This limits its application to protected environment or for short term uses (prototyping). Exposed to free air NaCl optics will "rot".

Today tougher crystals like ZnSe are used instead of NaCl (for the IR spectral range).

Optical data

  • Transmitivity: 92% (from 400 nm to 13μm)
  • Refractive Index: 1.494 @ 10μm
  • Reflection Loss: 7.5% @ 10μm (2 surfaces)
  • dN/dT: -36.2 x 10-6/°C @ 0.7μm

Household uses

Since at least medieval times, people have used salt as a cleansing agent rubbed on household surfaces. It is also used in many brands of shampoo, and popularly to de-ice driveways and patches of ice.

Firefighting uses

A class D fire extinguisher for various metals
Sodium Chloride is the principal extinguishing agent in fire extinguishers (Met-L-X, Super D) used on combustible metal fires such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, and NaK alloys (Class D). Thermoplastic powder is added to the mixture, along with waterproofing (metal stearates) and anti-caking materials (tricalcium phosphate) to form the extinguishing agent. When it is applied to the fire, the salt acts like a heat sink, dissipating heat from the fire, and also forms an oxygen-excluding crust to smother the fire. The plastic additive melts and helps the crust maintain its integrity until the burning metal cools below its ignition temperature. This type of extinguisher was invented in the late 1940s in the cartridge-operated type shown here, although stored pressure versions are now popular. Common sizes are 30lb. portable and 350lb. wheeled.

Biological functions

In humans, a high-salt intake has long been known to generally raise blood pressure, especially in certain individuals. More recently, it was demonstrated to attenuate nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide (NO) contributes to vessel homeostasis by inhibiting vascular smooth muscle contraction and growth, platelet aggregation, and leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium.

Crystal structure

Sodium chloride forms crystals with face-centered cubic symmetry. In these, the larger chloride ions, shown to the right as green spheres, are arranged in a cubic close-packing, while the smaller sodium ions, shown to the right as silver spheres, fill all the cubic gaps between them. Each ion is surrounded by six ions of the other kind; the surrounding ions are located at the vertices of a perfect octahedron.

This same basic structure is found in many other minerals and is commonly known as the halite or rock-salt crystal structure. It can be represented as a face-centered cubic (fcc) lattice with a two atom basis. The first atom is located at each lattice point, and the second atom is located half way between lattice points along the fcc unit cell edge.

It is held together by an ionic bond which is produced by electrostatic forces arising from the difference in charge between the ions.

Road salt

See Also: Magnesium chloride

While salt was once a scarce commodity in history, industrialized production has now made salt plentiful. Approximately 51% of world output is now used by cold countries to de-ice roads in winter, both in grit bins and spread by winter service vehicles. Calcium chloride is preferred over sodium chloride, since CaCl2 releases energy upon forming a solution with water, heating any ice or snow it is in contact with. It also lowers the freezing point, depending on the concentration. NaCl does not release heat upon solution; however, it does lower the freezing point. It is also more readily available and does not have any special handling or storage requirements, unlike calcium chloride. The salinity (S) of water is measured as grams salt per kilogram (1000g) water, and the freezing temperatures are as follows.
S(g/kg) 0 10 20 24.7 30 35
T(freezing) (C) 0 -0.5 -1.08 -1.33 -1.63 -1.91


Most table salt sold for consumption today is not pure sodium chloride. In 1911 magnesium carbonate was first added to salt to make it flow more freely. In 1924 trace amounts of iodine in form of sodium iodide, potassium iodide or potassium iodate were first added, to reduce the incidence of simple goiter.

Salt for de-icing in the UK typically contains sodium hexacyanoferrate at less than 100ppm as an anti-caking agent. In recent years this additive has also been used in table salt.

Common chemicals

Chemicals used in de-icing salts are mostly found to be sodium chloride (NaCl) or calcium chloride (CaCl2). Both are similar and are effective in de-icing roads. When these chemicals are produced, they are mined/made, crushed to fine granules, then treated with an anti-caking agent. Addingsalt lowers the freezing point of the water, which allows the liquid to bestable at lower temperatures and allows the ice to melt. Alternative de-icing chemicals have also been used. Chemicals such as calcium magnesium acetate and potassium formate are being produced. These chemicals have few of the negative chemical effects on the environment commonly associated with NaCl and CaCl2.

See also


  1. Susan R. Feldman. Sodium chloride. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published online, 2005
  2. Relationship between Salt Intake, Nitric Oxide and Asymmetric Dimethylarginine and Its Relevance to Patients with End-Stage
  3. Dietary sodium and cardiovascular and renal disease risk factors: dark horse or phantom entry?

Further reading

  1. Kaufmann, Dale W., SODIUM CHLORIDE, The Production and Properties of Salt and Brine, ACS Monograph 145, American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C., 1960, 743 pages. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 79-50778.
  2. Kurlansky, Mark, SALT, A World History, Walker and Company, New York, 2002, 484 pages. ISBN 0-8027-1373-4

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