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Sodium Hydroxide

Fact Sheet for Sodium Hydroxide

September 2011

PDF version 

This fact sheet answers questions about sodium hydroxide. For more information, call Oregon Hazardous Substance Incident Surveillance (HSIS) at 971-673-0977.

It is important to understand this information because sodium hydroxide is a potentially dangerous substance. The harmful effects of this substance depend on several factors: your age, the amount and length of time of exposure, the exposure (you breathed it in or it got on your skin) and whether or not other chemicals are present.1

What is Sodium Hydroxide?

At a normal room temperature sodium hydroxide is a white solid. When it is in the air, sodium hydroxide takes moisture from the air and makes heat. This heat may cause a fire if it is near flammable materials. Liquid sodium hydroxide has no color or odor. Other common names for sodium hydroxide are caustic soda and lye.

Where is Sodium Hydroxide found?

Sodium hydroxide is found in cleaning products, especially drain and oven cleaners. Sodium hydroxide is used to make fabric, plastic wrap and paper. It is used in soaps and detergents and in metal processing.

How might I be exposed?

  • Using drain and oven cleaners
  • Working in industry where substance is produced or used

What will Sodium Hydroxide do to me?

Contact with sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns on and in the body. Exposure to very low levels (dust or mists) can irritate the skin and eyes. Exposure to higher levels can cause severe burns in the eyes, skin, digestive system and lungs, leading to blindness or death.

Ingestion can cause immediate vomiting, chest and stomach pain as well as swallowing difficulties. Damage to the mouth, throat and stomach is immediate as well. Death can result from internal bleeding and infection.

Children may be more vulnerable to sodium hydroxide.1

How can I protect myself?

In the event of a spill or release follow instructions given by emergency responders and local authorities (i.e. shelter in place, evacuation, etc.). Follow precautions and instructions for handling substances containing sodium hydroxide (i.e. wear protective clothing such as gloves and an apron). Keep products out of reach of children. Keep products in original packaging.


In case of an emergency, contact your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or 911 emergency services for help.

First Aid

Note: effects of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact) to sodium hydroxide may be delayed.2

Inhalation: move to fresh air. Begin rescue breathing (using proper respiratory medical device) if breathing has stopped and CPR if heart has stopped. Get medical attention right away.

Skin contact: remove contaminated clothing. Rinse area for at least 30 minutes. Get medical attention right away.

Eye contact: remove excess chemical from face. Rinse the whites of eyes with water for at least 30 minutes, lifting upper and lower lids. If possible, remove contact lenses while rinsing. Get medical attention right away.

Ingestion: do not make person vomit.3 Call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or seek medical attention immediately.

Where can I find more information?

Hazardous Substances Incident Surveillance program

Other sources of information include:

  • Local health department
  • Oregon Poison Center: Phone 1-800-222-1222
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,ToxFAQs for Sodium Hydroxide (English and Spanish)
  • New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets for Sodium Hydroxide (English and Spanish)
  • California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Sodium Hydroxide fact sheet
  • U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Emergency Response Guide Book, (English and Spanish)

This document was supported by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) trust fund provided to the Oregon Health Authority under Cooperative Agreement #5U61/TS000130-02 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

1Medical Management Guidelines for sodium hydroxide, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry

2Emergency Response Guide Book, U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

3Oregon Poison Center, 2011