Is Hydrofluoric Acid Safe?

Is Hydrofluoric Acid Safe?

Hardly a week goes by that someone does not make some kind of sweeping statement to me about Hydrofluoric Acid. The statements all have two things in common: 1.) They are very general; 2.) They are almost never based on personal fact; 3.) They can apply to Hydrofluoric Acid, but not to the HF solutions commonly on the market as Aluminum brightener.

With twenty plus years of experience with Hydrofluoric Acid ranging from blending to end user of HF-based products, I too am not without opinions on this controversial products. Here is what I often say to people who express fear and reservations about Hydrofluoric Acid:

— Would you ever drink Phosphoric Acid?
— Would you ever put Hydrochloric Acid in your nose?
— Would you ever put Boric Acid in your eye?
— Would you ever drive around with twenty pounds of high-explosives in your trunk with your kids in the car?

Of course, I get an emphatic “NO WAY!” to all these questions, and then I have a little fun:

— You drink Phosphoric Acid every time you drink a Coke; check the ingredients list. Coke has a Ph. of 2.8!
— Many common brands of nose drops use Hydrochloric Acid as the active ingredient!
— Many eye drops contain Boric Acid!
— Every tankful of gasoline has enough explosive power to kill you many times over, & gasoline is highly volatile!

So the question obviously is not whether something has a risk associated with its use. The question is whether or not that risk is manageable and whether the risk / reward relationship makes sense. If we had to avoid every dangerous thing, we would have to stay in bed all day and do away with knives, guns, cars, trucks, trains, planes, pointed objects, ladders and on and on.

Lets look at a product with 10% Hydrofluoric Acid. First of all, pure Hydrofluoric Acid does not technically exist. There commonly no solution that is stronger than 49%. So a 10% solution as a finished cleaning product becomes a 4.9% solution. Since no truck wash wash uses
these products straight, we have to consider the dilution factor. Lets use 30:1 as a reasonable average . We now have a solution going on the vehicle that is .147% Hydrofluoric Acid.

So . . . . . do we still want to react with a shriek of horror whenever someone mentions Hydrofluoric Acid? Do we want to deprive ourselves of one of what is probably the most chemically effective cleaning ingredient known just because someone has related a concocted or exaggerated horror story? Could it be that they have a motive that is in their best interest and not yours (like they don’t sell any HF products?) My suggestion: look at the facts & make up your OWN mind! Numbers don’t lie.

Jerry D. Kaifetz, Ph.D.
Omega Chemical

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