Sodium sulfate is one of the most used chemical compounds in many fields since the 17th century when it is discovered. You must be glad Johann Glauber discovered it. The first reason is because by using this sal mirabilis as Glauber named it, we can make a powdered detergent. We can wipe out the dirty things or stains on our clothes to make our clothes cleaner.
You like it when your clothes are clean, don’t you? In the market or in the lab, there are many other names when we wanted to refer to it, such as the cooler name in my perspective, a ‘thenardite’. Just like its names, sodium sulfate also has many functions in many different fields. If we know its functions, then we can wisely choose whether to use it or not.
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What is Sodium Sulfate?
Sodium sulfate, which is also known as sulfate of soda, is an inorganic compound with the formula of Na2SO4. Just like what we’ve talked earlier, sodium sulfate has many other names. It is Glauber’s salt, thenardite, natrium sulfate, disodium sulfate, mirabilite, and so on. Its molar mass is 142.04 g/mol (anhydrous), or 322.20 g/mol (decahydrate).
If you see this compound directly, you will see it as a white solid crystalline. It is odorless, so you can’t distinguish it by its scent. It is a stable compound, which is nonreactive toward most oxidizing or reducing agents at normal temperatures. Its melting point is 884 C in its anhydrous form, while in it decahydrate form its melting point is 32.38 C. Thenardite is soluble in glycerol, hydrogen iodide, and water, but not soluble in ethanol.
We can excavate sodium sulfate from a lot of places across the world. United States, Mexico, South America country such as Argentina, Africa which is mainly in Egypt. In Asia, we can find sodium sulfate in several lakes. Such as several lakes on the steppes in the neighborhood of in the southern Yeniseisk, as described by Ludwig, such as Lakes Altai, Beisk, and Domoshakovo. The Kara Bugas Gulf, on the east side of the Caspian Sea, also has Glauber’s salt with a large amount.
Historically, the Dutch/German chemist and apothecary Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604–1670) found it, in 1625 in Austrian spring water. That’s why people call it Glauber’s salt to respect Johann Glauber contribution of finding it for the first time. Glauber named it sal mirabilis (miraculous salt), because of its medicinal properties. Generally, we use Sal mirabilis as a general purpose laxative. But then after the 1900s, more sophisticated alternatives and product of sodium sulfate are made.
Glauber’s sal miralibis began to be used as a material for industrial production of sodium carbonate, in the 18th century. They created it by reacting sodium sulfate with potassium carbonate. It happened because the demand of sodium carbonate increased, so, as what economist would tell you, the production or supply had to increase too. Indeed, it has many functions in our life. And what are they?
1. Sodium sulfate Uses in Chemical Industry
In the chemical industry, this sal mirabilis main functions are as raw material to create another chemical compound that we needed. Through some process and mechanism, sodium sulfate is commonly ‘baked’ into sodium sulfide, sodium silicate, and many others. To make sodium sulfide, sodium sulfate is going through some reduction process to break its chemical bonds and then formed to another compound. In the lab, chemist can use it as an inert drying compound for organic materials.
This magical compound removes water from compounds reliably at temperatures below 30-degree celsius. The process is simple, we add the anhydrous sodium sulfate slowly is to the solution until the crystal no longer clumps together.
To make sodium sulfide, Na2SO4 is being fed into a combustion chamber. In the chamber, it will be exposed to a reducing atmosphere. At the same time, we expose it to a temperature above the melting point of sodium sulfide. Thus, there will be a new liquid compound and then they will go to the bottom of the combustion chamber. This liquid contains a sodium sulfide. Companies then process it through another heating process to improve the purity of the sodium sulfide we collected. And voila, we can collect the sodium sulfide after the process is done.
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2. Sodium Sulfate Uses in Glass Production
In the glass industry, sodium sulfate is also being used as one of the main compounds. To prove its importance, European glass-makers consume approximately 110.000 tons per annum of sodium sulfate. While the U.S. industry uses about 30.000 tons in glass making. It is being used because sodium sulfate can prevent scum formation by the molten glass during refining, not only that, it can also flux the glass. Sodium sulfate also functions as a fining agent in a molten glass. It removes small air bubbles and imperfections during the blowing and casting processes.
The process of making glass using sodium sulfate is as follow. Several ingredients such as sand, soda, ash, salt cake, coke, and niter are weighed out within some proportions and then we mix it in a mixing machine. After that, we transfer them to the pots of furnaces heated by gas. As the gaseous products escape, several successive additions are mad. We heat the melt until the bubbles of gas went away and then we made it into any form we wanted.
Companies use sodium sulfate to make sheet, plate glass, and bottle. Its function is to provide the necessary alkali base and because it is cheaper than soda ash. The disadvantages of using sodium sulphate is that a reducing agent in the form of coke, or others with some exact amount. It also left some sulfur compounds to persist in the glass, carries some sodium chloride, sulphuric acid or insoluble particles. And the ground material tends to cake again on standing. However, glass industry still use it because it is cheap.
More Sodium Sulfate Uses in Daily Life
Meanwhile, there are many Sodium sulfate functions in daily life to compound some materials and fields:
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1. Detergent Industry
During the last 30 years, sodium sulfate is one of the main compounds in the detergent industry as a filler of the powdered detergents. However, after we discover that it is to be detrimental to the environment, the usage of sodium sulfate is slowly being reduced. Fast but sure, the consumer is switching to liquid detergents. But regardless of what happened, many detergent production companies still use it in the production of their powdered detergents product.
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2. Wood Pulp Manufacture
In the wood pulp industry, we have product manufacturing processes called Kraft process. Kraft process is a process to make paper products and building supplies. The product of Kraft process is a kraft paper, a strong and tough paper which commonly we use for wrapping paper and making paper bags. Since the 1940’s Kraft process has been the dominant method of wood pulping.
Sodium sulfate is one of the main actors in this process. Kraft process involves impregnating wood chips with sodium sulfate, after that, we will heat up the wood. This heating process will cause a reduction of the sodium sulfate into sodium sulfide. While another compound we need, and that is sodium hydroxide, is created by another mechanism. This reduction will affects the bond in the cellulose of the wood. They will break out, making it malleable. So we can squeezed it out.
3. Textile Industry
In the textile industry, sodium sulfate uses, they utilize a large amount of sodium sulfate annually for dyeing textiles. Countries such as Japan and the U.S. needed approximately 100.000 tons of sodium sulfate for their textile industry. In the textile industry, sodium sulfate is an ideal compound for dyeing textiles, because it does not corrode the stainless steel vessels as sodium chloride (which can also be used to dye textiles) does. Sodium sulfate allows the dyes to penetrate evenly because it reduces the negative chargers on the fibers.
4. Medical Treatments
As we’ve talked earlier, sodium sulfate is one of the compounds we use as a laxative. Since Johann Glauber discovery of it, we had been using sodium sulfate as a laxative. This chemical works by increasing the frequency of bowel movements by retaining water in the stool and then moving the contents of the bowel through it. Doctor, or professional in medical treatments use it as a chemical compound to clean out the bowel before an application of the certain procedure.
In another word, its function is to clean out your bowel from many things that can hamper medical treatments to your body, or hurt your bowel. Indeed, that’s one of the sodium sulfate functions in daily life.
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5. Heat Storage Composition
Because sodium sulfate is cheap in comparison to another material, thermal storage company-maker use our friendly sodium sulfate in their production process. Since the 1950’s, to make a solar heat storage component, people already use sodium sulfate. We use it to store heat in thermal tiles. The reason is because it has high heat storage capacity and its properties to be solid under 32-degree Celsius. An example of its application included putting anhydrous sodium sulfate into cells surrounded by solar-heated water.
We can found the usage of sodium sulfate in some computer-cooling mechanism and insulating applications. We can use it if to cool down our computer. In short we can use it to avoid overheating while you’re playing your favorite games. If you wanted to, you can try using sodium sulfate as your cooling compound. Of course, refers to a professional technician to help you build it to avoid breaking your computer or damaging your body.
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That’s what some of the function of sodium sulfate in many fields. We can conclude that sodium sulfate is very important compound for our daily life. Starting from detergent industry to medical treatments, this sal mirabilis is very useful. And lastly, Thank you for reading this article, hopefully, this knowledge will bring good to you.