“Is ammonia safe to use” may sound like a trick question, as you might have seen from our other Q&As on ammonia that it can be dangerous, yet has various uses for fertilizer and refrigeration. There are several pros and cons to using ammonia that make it hard to pin down the exact right answer. However, the big thing to consider when referring to ammonia is that in all its forms, concentrated or household use, it is only dangerous/irritating to those who are not properly protected, or if an accident occurs.
The first thing that we will look at is ammonia for everyday use, in cleaning supplies for example. If ammonia is properly diluted it’s mostly safe and effective at cleaning surfaces. This form of ammonia is known as ammonium hydroxide. However, even when the solution is only 5-10% ammonia, it can still be irritating to the mucous membranes, skin, and eyes if people are exposed for long periods of time when not wearing the proper PPE. If the proper PPE is used then yes, ammonia is safe.
There are some good precautions to take to stay safe when you are using diluted ammonia yourself for cleaning purposes:
- Open a window
- Even in low concentrations, the fumes that ammonia emits as it evaporates are still a bit strong. Avoid accidental splashing, and excessive inhalation.
- Use gloves and safety glasses
- This protects your skin and your eyes in case you get splashed or you are cleaning with your hands.
- Never EVER mix bleach products with ammonia
- This will create a chemical reaction in which chlorine gas is formed. This was actually used as a chemical warfare agent in WW1 because it was lethal.
When considering the environment, ammonia is found naturally in soil. The chemical is very much needed by plant life for the nitrogen fixation process. However, when household cleaner is dumped down the sink and makes its way to a water treatment facility, it’s not able to be broken down, which then causes a slew of problems with aquatic life. High concentrations of ammonia are toxic to marine life (plants and fish). This depletes the oxygen supply in the water which creates the perfect environment for algae to thrive on and eventually makes the body of water void of anything but algae. This process of degradation also tends to happen in areas where anhydrous ammonia is used as fertilizer, due to runoff. The excess ammonia makes it into bodies of water causing the same unwanted effect as household cleaners, just in a more massive quantity in some cases. As long as ammonia doesn’t get into bodies of water there will be less of an environmental impact from its use.
The bottom line is, yes, ammonia is safe to use for those who know how to handle it in a manner that protects them and the environment as the situation and concentration sees fit. However, if something goes wrong then there is a possibility of severe injury or even death.
- How does anhydrous ammonia work?
- What are the dangers of ammonia exposure?
- What is anhydrous ammonia used for?
- What are the limits for exposure to concentrated ammonia?
- Is ammonia basic?
- What is anhydrous ammonia?
- How do ammonia refrigeration systems work?