What Are Oxidising Agents?
Do you know what rusty metal, spoiled food, and a car engine have in common? They have all undergone a chemical process that involves oxidising agents. But what are oxidising agents, and what precautions do you need to take when storing them?
Put simply, an oxidising agent is a chemical compound that can oxidise other substances. We often think of oxidising as meaning burning, but on a chemical level, it means making the other material lose electrons in redox reactions (redox meaning reduction-oxidisation). An oxidising agent is also known as an electron acceptor because it gains electrons in the process.
Let’s dig deeper and take a look at the common types of oxidising agents, their applications, risks, and the proper method of storing them.
What are Common Types Of Oxidising Agents?
Here are the most common types of oxidising agents.
Oxygen and Air
We know that oxygen is necessary for something to burn, and oxygen and air are the most common oxidising agents around. They gain electrons when chemical reactions like burning or rusting occur. Air oxidises metal materials to form metal oxides.
Halogens are the Group 7 elements in the Periodic table (fluorine to iodine). All of these can act as oxidising agents, forming halide ions. The oxidising ability of each of these halogens decreases as we go down the group. In other words, fluorine is the most reactive, and iodine the least.
It’s worth noting that not all reactive chemical species are oxidising agents. Elements on the other side of the periodic table, such as the alkali metals, are highly reactive reducing agents. A reducing agent is an electron donor.
Acids such as nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and peroxydisulfuric acid are common examples of acids that act as oxidising agents. Nitric acid can destroy metal through oxidation.
This is the simplest compound containing a peroxide functional group. It causes other reactants to become oxidised through a redox reaction.
Other oxidising agents include nitrates such as potassium nitrate, commonly found in fertilisers.
Differences Between Oxidising Agents and Organic Peroxides
The difference between oxidising agents and organic peroxides is their stability. Oxidising agents are stable. They provide the oxygen needed for the combustion (burning) of other substances, but they do not combust themselves. This means that oxidants can only increase the intensity of a fire rather than starting a fire themselves.
Organic peroxides are more chemically unstable as they can cause intense fires or explosions at high temperatures. Organic peroxides are carbon-containing organic compounds. They contain two oxygen atoms that are covalently bonded (O-O bonds are present), which readily break when they decompose, yielding oxygen.
Applications Of Oxidising Agents
Oxidising agents have several simple as well as vital chemical and industrial uses. They even form a key part of biological processes like photosynthesis. Here are some of their common applications.
Oxidising agents such as chlorine are also used to purify water and get rid of any bacteria or pathogens present in the water. The oxidant reacts with water to form an ion or oxygen that is harmful to the pathogen and kills it. This is why oxidising agents are often added to swimming pools, irrigation water, and local water systems.
Industrial and Household bleach
Powders used in bleaching processes also contain oxidising agents. Bleaching is a process that is essential for many industries, including the textile industry, paper industry, and even household laundry. The bleach powder used in these processes contains oxidising agents as they release oxygen which reacts with the material and causes the colour change.
Oxidising agents provide the oxygen required for combustion reactions—for example, gasoline combustion to provide energy in today’s modern industries.
Oxidising agents are also used to store energy in batteries that can be utilised at a later stage.
The Risk Of Oxidising Agents
Even though oxidising agents are not combustible, they put flammable substances and ignition sources at risk. They can speed up the rate of fire and increase its intensity. Their presence can also cause a combustible substance to burn spontaneously if the temperature increases, even without an ignition source.
Moreover, they can react with other substances to form compounds that readily burn in the air or cause other thermal substances that do not normally burn rapidly in the atmosphere.
The risks associated with oxidising agents include third-degree burns to any person present in the room with an oxidant and a flammable substance. If the fire is not controlled there can be severe consequences, as it will continue to burn at increasing intensity until the oxidising agent runs out.
It is important to note that oxidising agents can also be toxic to the skin.
How To Store Oxidising Agents?
There are several risks associated with oxidising agents. This is why it is important to store and transport them properly and carefully and comply with the Australian Dangerous Goods Code. Some of the steps and essential factors to consider when storing oxidising agents are:
- The risk of oxidising agents can be reduced if they are diluted before storing.
- They should be stored in containers made of non-combustible material or the material that is recommended by the supplier. The container must be clean and not contaminated by other materials.
- Oxidising agents should be stored away from combustible materials and oxygen peroxides.
- Storage areas should be temperature controlled to prevent overheating.
You must ensure each oxidising agent storage cabinet does not hold more than the maximum recommended amount of chemical and that the cabinets are designed to prevent other materials from entering.
Oxidation is a common chemical reaction that occurs in several natural, domestic and industrial settings. There are many types of oxidising agents that serve important purposes in industry, healthcare, household settings, and more.
While they are very useful, they need to be handled carefully in order to avoid the risks associated with them. If not stored properly, they can become a safety hazard. Despite them posing a fire threat around flammable substances, their applications in industry and daily life cannot be denied.
Want to learn more about chemical storage and environmental responsibility? Visit the EcoSpill website here.