Any compound having highly basic properties, strong acrid taste, and ability to neutralize acids. Aqueous solutions of alkalies are high in hydroxyl ions, have a pH above 7, and turn litmus paper from red to blue. Caustic alkalies include sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), the sixth-largest-volume chemical produced in the United States, and potassium hydroxide. They are extremely destructive to human tissue; external burns should be washed with large amounts of water. The milder alkalies are the carbonates of the alkali metals; these include the industrially important sodium carbonate (soda ash) and potassium carbonate (potash), as well as the carbonates of lithium, rubidium, and cesium, and the volatile ammonium hydroxide. Sodium bicarbonate is a still milder alkaline material.
About 50% of the caustic soda produced goes into making many chemical products, about 16% into pulp and paper, 6.5% each into aluminum, petroleum, and textiles (including rayon), with smaller percentages into soap and synthetic detergents, and cellophane. For soda ash, about 50% goes to react mainly with sand in making glass, 25% to making miscellaneous chemicals, 6.5% each to alkaline cleaners and pulp and paper, and a few percent to water treatment and other uses.