The chemical compound potassium hydroxide, (KOH) sometimes known as caustic potash, potassa, potash lye and potassium hydrate, is a metallic base . It is a very alkaline compound used in agriculture to correct the pH of acidic soils. It can also be used as a fungicide or even an herbicide.
It is a major industrial chemical used as a base in a wide variety of chemical processes.
It is used as a catalyst in reactions like the production of biodiesel, the advantage of using KOH and not NaOH is that NaOH "clumps" and KOH doesn't.
Some uses of KOH include acrylate ester copolymer coating, defoaming agents used in the manufacture of paper, formulation aid for food, pH control agent, polyethylene resins, textile processing.
Other uses include in veterinary medicine in disbudding calves horns and to dissolve scales and hair; manufacture of cleansers; in wart removal and as a cuticle solvent. This type of compound is also used in washing powders, some denture cleaners, non-phosphate detergents, and drain or pipe cleaners.
It is also a traditional ingredient in the making of soap, and for this purpose was historically obtained in an impure form by steeping wood ash in water for a long period.
Historically to create potash, you first created potash lye in solution. Then you boiled off the remaining liquid.
To create potash lye, you take an open-bottomed barrel, and place it on a stone base with a groove cut into it, which will direct the resulting liquid into another container. Then you place a layer of straw at the bottom, covered by a layer of sticks. This filter layer will prevent the ashes from contaminating your solution. Then you fill the barrel with wood-ashes and pour water over it. The water will leach out the potash lye into your receptacle.
This product will be of variable quality. Historically it was measured by seeing how high an egg would float in the solution.
To create pearlash you bake the potash lye in a kiln until all the carbon impurities are baked off.
Food uses of lye include washing or chemical peeling of fruits and vegetables, chocolate and cocoa processing, caramel color production, poultry scalding, soft drink processing, and thickening ice cream. Olives are often soaked in lye to soften them, while pretzels and German lye rolls are glazed with a lye solution before baking to make them crisp.
Lye is used to make the Scandinavian delicacy known as Lutefisk (from "lutfisk", which directly translated to English means "lye fish"; basically cod jellied in lye). Hominy is dried maize kernels reconstituted by soaking in lye-water.
Last updated: 08-16-2005 04:17:33