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In chemistry, an alkali (from Arabic: al-qaly) is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkali earth metal element. Alkalis are best known for being bases (compounds with pH greater than 7) that dissolve in water. The adjective alkaline is commonly used in English as a synonym for basic, especially for soluble bases. This broad use of the term is likely because alkalis were the first bases known to obey the Arrhenius definition of a base and are still among the more common bases. Since Brønsted-Lowry acid-base theory, the term alkali in chemistry is normally restricted to those salts containing alkali and alkali earth metal elements.


[edit] Common properties of alkalis

Alkalis are all Arrhenius bases and share many properties with other chemicals in this group (Arrhenius bases form hydroxide ions when dissolved in water). Common properties of alkaline aqueous solutions include:

  • All alkalis have a pH greater than seven and hence can be detected with litmus paper (red litmus will turn blue on contact with an alkali).
  • Moderately concentrated solutions (over 10-3 M) have a pH of 10 or greater. This means that they will turn phenolphthalein from colorless to pink.
  • Concentrated solutions are caustic (causing chemical burns).
  • Alkaline solutions are slippery or soapy to the touch, due to the saponification of the fatty acids on the surface of the skin.
  • Alkalis are normally water soluble, although some like barium carbonate are only soluble when reacting with an acidic aqueous solution.

[edit] Confusion between base and alkali

The terms "base" and "alkali" are often used interchangeably, since most common bases are alkalis. It is common to speak of "measuring the alkalinity of soil" when what is actually meant is the measurement of the pH (base property). Similarly, bases which are not alkalis, such as ammonia, are sometimes erroneously referred to as alkaline.

Note that not all or even most salts formed by alkali metals are alkaline; this designation applies only to those salts which are basic.

While most electropositive metal oxides are basic, only the soluble alkali metal and alkali earth metal oxides can be correctly called alkalis.

This definition of an alkali as a basic salt of an alkali metal or alkali earth metal does appear to be the most common, based on dictionary definitions [1][2], however conflicting definitions of the term alkali do exist. These include:

  • Any base that is water soluble [3][4]. This is more accurately called an Arrhenius base.
  • The solution of a base in water [5].

[edit] Alkali salts

Most basic salts are alkali salts, of which common examples are:

[edit] Alkaline soil

Soil with a pH above 7.4 is normally referred to as alkaline. This soil property can occur naturally, due to the presence of alkali salts. Although some plants do prefer slightly basic soil (including vegetables like cabbage and fodder like buffalograss), most plants prefer a mildly acidic soil (pH between 6.0 and 6.8), and high pH levels can cause a problem.

[edit] Alkali lakes

In alkali lakes (a type of salt lake), evaporation concentrates the naturally occurring alkali salts, often forming a crust of mildly basic salt across a large area.

Examples of alkali lakes:

[edit] Etymology

The word "alkali" is derived from Arabic al qalīy = "the calcined ashes", referring to the original source of alkaline substance. Ashes were used in conjunction with animal fat to produce soap, a process known as et:Leelis es:Álcali fr:Alcali no:Alkali ug:ئىشقارلىق ru:Щёлочи simple:Alkali tr:Alkali zh:碱


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