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Hydrolysis of Salts: Equations

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Hydrolysis of Salts: Equations

Baking often requires the formation of carbon dioxide to make dough more puffy

Credit: Courtesy of Scott Bauer, US Department of Agriculture
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Honey_and_biscuits.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Baking better biscuits

Baking seems easy with all the pre-mixed items available (“just add water and stir”). But there is a good amount of chemistry involved in baking with ingredients that you measure out. One important ingredient is baking powder. The fluffiness in the final product of a non-yeast recipe is usually due to carbon dioxide formed from baking powder. One popular brand uses a mix of sodium bicarbonate and sodium aluminum sulfate to produce the CO 2 . The reaction is seen below:

3 \text{NaHCO}_3+\text{NaAl(SO}_4)_2 \rightarrow \text{Al(OH)}_3+2\text{Na}_2\text{SO}_4+3\text{CO}_2

If all goes well, the biscuits rise, the pancakes are fluffy, and everybody is happy.

Hydrolysis of Salts: Equations

A salt is an ionic compound that is formed when an acid and a base neutralize each other. While it may seem that salt solutions would always be neutral, they can frequently be either acidic or basic.

Consider the salt formed when the weak acid hydrofluoric acid is neutralized by the strong base sodium hydroxide. The molecular and net ionic equations are shown below.

& \text{HF}(aq)+\text{NaOH}(aq) \rightarrow \text{NaF}(aq)+\text{H}_2\text{O}(l) \\& \text{HF}(aq)+\text{OH}^-(aq) \rightarrow \text{F}^-(aq)+\text{H}_2\text{O}(l)

Since sodium fluoride is soluble, the sodium ion is a spectator ion in the neutralization reaction. The fluoride ion is capable of reacting, to a small extent, with water, accepting a proton.

\text{F}^-(aq)+\text{H}_2\text{O}(l) \rightleftarrows \text{HF}(aq)+\text{OH}^-(aq)

The fluoride ion is acting as a weak Brønsted-Lowry base. The hydroxide ion that is produced as a result of the above reaction makes the solution slightly basic. Salt hydrolysis is a reaction in which one of the ions from a salt reacts with water, forming either an acidic or basic solution.

Salts That Form Basic Solutions

When solid sodium fluoride is dissolved into water, it completely dissociates into sodium ions and fluoride ions. The sodium ions do not have any capability of hydrolyzing, but the fluoride ions hydrolyze to produce a small amount of hydrofluoric acid and hydroxide ion.

\text{F}^-(aq)+\text{H}_2\text{O}(l) \rightleftarrows \text{HF}(aq)+\text{OH}^-(aq)

Salts that are derived from the neutralization of a weak acid (HF) by a strong base (NaOH) will always produce salt solutions that are basic. 

Salts That Form Acidic Solutions

Ammonium chloride (NH 4 Cl) is a salt that is formed when the strong acid HCl is neutralized by the weak base NH 3 . Ammonium chloride is soluble in water. The chloride ion produced is incapable of hydrolyzing because it is the conjugate base of the strong acid HCl. In other words, the Cl ion cannot accept a proton from water to form HCl and OH , as the fluoride ion did in the previous section. However, the ammonium ion is capable of reacting slightly with water, donating a proton and so acting as an acid.

\text{NH}^+_4(aq)+\text{H}_2\text{O}(l) \rightleftarrows \text{H}_3\text{O}^+(aq)+\text{NH}_3(aq)

Salts That Form Neutral Solutions

A salt that is derived from the reaction of a strong acid with a strong base forms a solution that has a pH of 7. An example is sodium chloride, formed from the neutralization of HCl by NaOH. A solution of NaCl in water has no acidic or basic properties, since neither ion is capable of hydrolyzing. Other salts that form neutral solutions include potassium nitrate (KNO 3 ) and lithium bromide (LiBr). The T able below summarizes how to determine the acidity or basicity of a salt solution.

Salt formed from: Salt Solution
Strong acid + Strong base Neutral
Strong acid + Weak base Acidic
Weak acid + Strong base Basic

Salts formed from the reaction of a weak acid and a weak base are more difficult to analyze because of competing hydrolysis reactions between the cation and the anion. These salts will not be considered in this concept.


  • Salt hydrolysis is defined.
  • Salt hydrolysis reactions resulting in acidic, basic, or neutral solutions are described.


Do problems 1, 2, 3, and 5 at the link below:




  1. How does F produce a basic solution?
  2. How does the ammonium ion produce an acidic solution?
  3. Why does dissolved NaCl produce a neutral solution?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Courtesy of Scott Bauer, US Department of Agriculture; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Honey_and_biscuits.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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