Skip to Main Content

Find COVID-19 Information and Resources
Information from TN Dept of Health about the Ongoing Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH)

white powdery salt

What is sodium hydroxide?

Liquid sodium hydroxide is colorless and has no odor. It can react violently with strong acids and with water. Other common names for sodium hydroxide are caustic soda or lye. Sodium hydroxide is the main ingredient in household products such as liquid drain cleaners.

At room temperature, pure sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a white, odorless solid. Sodium hydroxide is an alkaline corrosive. It reacts with moisture from the air and may generate heat as it dissolves. This heat can cause a fire if it is near flammable materials.

What are some uses of sodium hydroxide?

  • It is major ingredient in drain and oven cleaners.
  • It is used in chemical manufacturing, oil refining, hydraulic fracturing, water treatment and metal processing.
  • It is used in the manufacture of fabric, plastic wrap, paper and soap.

How might you be exposed to sodium hydroxide?

  • Using drain and oven cleaners that contain sodium hydroxide.
  • Working in an industry where it is produced, used or transported.
  • Making soap at home.

How can you protect your family from exposure?

  • Follow all precautions and instructions on the product labels.
  • Keep cleaning products out of the reach of children.
  • Keep cleaning products in their original packaging.

What are potential harmful effects of sodium hydroxide exposure?

Sodium hydroxide is a potentially dangerous substance. It can hurt you if it touches your skin, if you drink it or if you breathe it.  Eating or drinking sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns and immediate vomiting, nausea, diarrhea or chest and stomach pain, as well as swallowing difficulties. Damage to the mouth, throat and stomach is immediate. Breathing it can cause severe irritation of the upper respiratory tract with coughing, burns and difficulty breathing.

The harmful effects of sodium hydroxide depend on several factors including the concentration of sodium hydroxide, length of time exposed, and whether you touched it, drank it or inhaled it.

Contact with very high concentrations of sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns to the eyes, skin, digestive system or lungs, resulting in permanent damage or death. Prolonged or repeated skin contact may cause dermatitis.  Repeated inhalation of sodium hydroxide vapor can lead to permanent lung damage.

First Aid

In case of emergency, call 911.

Eye contact

  • Flush eyes with water for 30 minutes.
  • Lift upper and lower lids.
  • Remove contact lenses.

Skin Contact

  • Remove contaminated clothing.
  • Flush with water for 15 minutes.


  • Remove the person from exposure, if it is safe for you to do it.
  • If a person is unresponsive and not breathing normally, then begin CPR.


  • Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.
  • If the person is fully conscious and is not in respiratory distress, give them a cup of water to drink to dilute the sodium hydroxide.

Contact the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for more information about exposure to sodium hydroxide.

Sodium hydroxide incidents in Tennessee

According to the National Toxic Substance Incidents Program (NTSIP), sodium hydroxide was one of the ten most commonly spilled or released chemicals in Tennessee during 2010-2011.  About 50 percent of these spills and releases occurred in warehouses or during transport. About 75 percent of them were due to human error.

Additional resources

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Tennessee Poison Center 1-800-222-1222

Tennessee Department of Health - Healthy Homes

New Jersey Department of Health
Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets in English and Spanish

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 
Safety and Health Topic: Sodium Hydroxide: