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Ammonium chloride is an inorganic compound with the formula NH4Cl and a white crystalline salt that is highly soluble in water. Solutions of ammoniumchloride are mildly acidic. Sal ammoniac is a name of the natural, mineralogical form of ammonium chloride. The mineral is commonly formed on burning coal dumps from condensation of coal-derived gases. It is also found around some types of volcanic vents. It is mainly used as fertilizer and a flavouring agent in some types of liquorice. It is the product from the reaction of hydrochloric acid and ammonia.
Demonstration of a synthesis of ammonium chloride. Concentrated ammonia and hydrochloric acid solutions are added to two gas-washing bottles, respectively. Using rubber pumps, air (acting as gas-carrier) is injected in the gas-washing tubes causing the streams of ammonia and hydrogen chloride in air to collide and react giving the solid product, ammonium chloride.
Ammonium chloride occurs naturally in volcanic regions, forming on volcanic rocks near fume-releasing vents (fumaroles). The crystals deposit directly from the gaseous state and tend to be short-lived, as they dissolve easily in water.
Ammonium chloride pyrolyses and reforms into ammonium chloride smoke after cooling.
Ammonium chloride reacts with a strong base, like sodium hydroxide, to release ammonia gas:
NH4Cl + NaOH -> NH3 + NaCl + H2O
Similarly, ammonium chloride also reacts with alkali metal carbonates at elevated temperatures, giving ammonia and alkali metal chloride:
2 NH4Cl + Na2CO3 -> 2 NaCl + CO2 + H2O + 2 NH3
A 5% by weight solution of ammonium chloride in water has a pH in the range 4.6 to 6.0.
Some of ammonium chloride's reactions with other chemicals are endothermic like its reaction with barium hydroxide and its dissolving in water.
Ammonium chloride crystal(s)
The dominant application of ammonium chloride is as a nitrogen source in fertilizers (corresponding to 90% of the world production of ammonium chloride) such as chloroammonium phosphate. The main crops fertilized this way are rice and wheat in Asia.
Ammonium chloride was used in pyrotechnics in the 18th century but was superseded by safer and less hygroscopic chemicals. Its purpose was to provide a chlorine donor to enhance the green and blue colours from copper ions in the flame.
Ammonium chloride is used as a flux in preparing metals to be tin coated, galvanized or soldered. It works as a flux by cleaning the surface of workpieces by reacting with the metal oxides at the surface to form a volatile metal chloride. For that purpose, it is sold in blocks at hardware stores for use in cleaning the tip of a soldering iron, and it can also be included in solder as flux.
Ammonium chloride is used as an expectorant in cough medicine. Its expectorant action is caused by irritative action on the bronchial mucosa, which causes the production of excess respiratory tract fluid, which presumably is easier to cough up. Ammonium salts are an irritant to the gastric mucosa and may induce nausea and vomiting.
Ammonium chloride is used as a systemic acidifying agent in treatment of severe metabolic alkalosis, in oral acid loading test to diagnose distal renal tubular acidosis, to maintain the urine at an acid pH in the treatment of some urinary-tract disorders.
Ammonium chloride, under the name sal ammoniac or salmiak is used as food additive under the E number E510, working as a yeast nutrient in breadmaking and as an acidifier. It is a feed supplement for cattle and an ingredient in nutritive media for yeasts and many microorganisms.
Ammonium chloride is used to spice up dark sweets called salmiak (popular in Scandanavia), in baking to give cookies a very crisp texture, and in the liquor Salmiakki Koskenkorva for flavouring. In Iran, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan and Arab countries it is called "Noshader" and is used to improve the crispness of snacks such as samosas and jalebi.
In paleontology, ammonium chloride vapor is deposited on fossils, where the substance forms a brilliant white, easily removed and fairly harmless and inert layer of tiny crystals. That covers up any coloration the fossil may have, and if lighted at an angle highly enhances contrast in photographic documentation of three-dimensional specimens. The same technique is applied in archaeology to eliminate reflection on glass and similar specimens for photography.
In organic synthesis saturated NH4Cl solution is typically used to quench reaction mixtures.
Giant squid and some other large squid species maintain neutral buoyancy in seawater through an ammonium chloride solution which is found throughout their bodies and is less dense than seawater. This differs from the method of flotation used by most fish, which involves a gas-filled swim bladder.
Around the turn of the 20th century, ammonium chloride was used in aqueous solution as the electrolyte in Leclanché cells that found a commercial use as the "local battery" in subscribers' telephone installations. Those cells later evolved into zinc-carbon batteries still using ammonium chloride as electrolyte.
Ammonium chloride is used in a ~5% aqueous solution to work on oil wells with clay swelling problems. Other uses include in hair shampoo, in the glue that bonds plywood, and in cleaning products. In hair shampoo, it is used as a thickening agent in ammonium-based surfactant systems such as ammonium lauryl sulfate. Ammonium chloride is used in the textile and leather industry, in dyeing, tanning, textile printing and cotton clustering. In woodworking, a solution of ammonium chloride and water, when applied to unfinished wood, will burn when subjected to a heat gun resulting in a branding iron mark without use of a branding iron. The solution can be painted onto the wood or applied with a common rubber stamp.
The earliest mention of ammonium chloride was in 554 A.D. in China. At that time, ammonium chloride came from two sources: (1) the vents of underground coal fires in Central Asia, specifically, in the Tian Shan mountains (which extend from Xinjiang province of northwestern China through Kyrgyzstan) as well as in the Alay (or Alai) mountains of southwestern Kyrgyzstan, and (2) the fumaroles of the volcano Mount Taftan in southeastern Iran. (Indeed, the word for ammonium chloride in several Asian languages derives from the Iranian phrase anosh adur (immortal fire), a reference to the underground fires.) Ammonium chloride was then transported along the Silk Road eastwards to China and westwards to the Muslim lands and Europe.
Around 800 A.D. the Arabs of Egypt discovered ammonium chloride in the soot that resulted from burning camel dung, and this source became an alternative to those in Central Asia.
^Seidell, Atherton; Linke, William F. (1919). Solubilities of Inorganic and Organic Compounds (2nd ed.). D. Van Nostrand Company. Results here are multiplied by water's density at temperature of solution for unit conversion.
^That ammonium chloride was imported into China from Sogdiana in Central Asia is mentioned in the Wei shu (History of the Wei [peoples of what is now China]), which was compiled by Wei Shou (506-572 A.D.). (Sutton et al., 2008), p. 596. However, it may have been imported into China even before 150 A.D.: there is a brief mention of what might have been ammonium chloride in the Chinese Chou I Tshan Thung Chhi Chu [The Kinship of the Three and the Book of Changes, with Commentary] (142 A.D.) by Wei Boyang. Needham et al., p. 439.
^The locations of the sources of ammonium chloride in the burning coal deposits of Central Asia are shown on the following map:
Ammonium chloride was also found in burning coal deposits in Europe.
Jameson, Robert, Manual of Mineralogy ... (Edinburgh, Scotland: Archibald Constable & Co. and Hurst, Robinson & Co., 1821), p. 12. From p. 12: "Volcanic Sal Ammoniac. ... Geographic Situation.--It occurs in the vicinity of burning beds of coal, both in Scotland and England; and in many volcanic districts in different parts of the world."
Nicol, James, Manual of Mineralogy; ... (Edinburgh, Scotland: Adam and Charles Black and Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1849). p. 336: "It [i.e., ammonium chloride] is sometimes found near ignited coal seams, as at St Etienne in France, near Newcastle, and in Scotland."
Bischof, pp. 213-214: "Chloride of ammonium is also found at other places, as a sublimate arising from the combustion of coal strata; for instance, at St. Etienne, near Lyons, at Newcastle and at Glan in Rhenish Bavaria."
^The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (1179-1229) or "Jakut" mentioned that ammonium chloride was harvested from "Damindan" (Tamindan), a valley on the volcano Mount Taftan in southwestern Iran. See: von Lippmann, E.O., "Wan and wofür erscheint zuerst die Bezeichnung Ammoniak?" (When and why did the term "ammonia" first appear?) In: Lippmann, Edmund O., ed., Abhandlungen und Vorträge zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften (Essays and Lectures on the History of the Sciences), vol. 2, (Leipzig, Germany: Veit & Co., 1913), pp. 232-233:" ... berichtet er, daß der Höhle Demindân in Persien ein Dampf entströme und sich beim Erkalten als Nuschadir niederschlage, den man von da aus in alle Welt versende." ( ... he [i.e., Yaqut] reported that a vapor streams out of the caves at Damindan in Persia and upon cooling precipitates as nushadir [i.e., ammonium chloride], which is conveyed from there throughout the world.) In discussing ancient China's sources of ammonium chloride. Needham et al., p. 439: "The most westerly region of all [of the regions that produce ammonium chloride] lies further to the south, in Persian Baluchistan, where the Damind?n (now Tamindan) valley in the K?h-i-Taftan range, a relatively inactive volcanic massif, produces sal ammoniac [i.e., ammonium chloride] down to this day."
^Ammonium chloride was later harvested from other volcanoes: The Arabs harvested it from Mount Etna in Sicily during the 10th century.
The Arab geographer Al-Muqaddasi (c. 945/946 - 991) mentioned that ammonium chloride was obtained from Mt. Etna. See: Lippmann, Edmund Oskar von, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie ... (Origin and Spread of Alchemy ... ), vol. 1, (Berlin, Germany: Springer, 1919), p. 404. From p. 404:" ... er erwähnt, daß der dortige Salmiak nicht von gleicher Güte ist wie der Siciliens, dessen Lager jetzt aber schon erschöpft seien, ... " ( ... he mentions that the salmiak [i.e., ammonium chloride] there [i.e., in Fergana ] is not of equal value to that of Sicily's, whose deposits are now, however, exhausted, ... )
The Arab geographer ibn Hawqal (d. ca. 978) also mentioned that ammonium chloride was obtained from fumaroles on the slopes of Mt. Etna. Ruska, Julius (1928). "Die Salmiak in die Geschichte der Alchemie" [Ammonium chloride in the history of alchemy]. Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie. 41 (50): 1321-1324. doi:10.1002/ange.19280415006.
Breislak, Scipion, Essais mineralogiques sur la solfatare de Pouzzole (Naples, Italy: Janvier Giaccio, 1792), p. 140. From p. 140:"Deux endroits de la Solfatare, celui où est construite la fontaine de vapeurs, et un autre à peu de distance produisent le muriate d'ammoniaque." (Two places on Solfatare -- that where the fumerole has formed and another a little distance away -- produce muriate of ammonia [i.e., ammonium chloride].)
(Lémery, Nicolas) (1705) "Diverses observations chimiques. I." (Various chemical observations. I.), Histoire de l'Académie royale des sciences: année MDCCV, avec les memoires ... , p. 66. From p. 66:"Monsieur Lémery a eu entre les mains un Sel tiré du Mont Vesuve, & que l'on appelle Sel Armoniac naturel." (Mr. Lémery got hold of a salt [which was] extracted from Mount Vesuvius, and which is called natural Armenian salt [i.e., ammonium chloride].)
Ammonium chloride was also found on the island of Réunion in the western Indian Ocean.
Marcellin, Jean Baptiste Geneviève, Baron Bory de Saint-Vincent, Dictionnaire classique d'histoire naturelle, vol. 1 (Paris, France: Rey et Gravier, 1822). p. 270:"On trouve ce Minéral dans presque tous les volcans. ... Elle se trouve également en Tartarie, dans le pays des Kalmuks; en Perse, au Thibet, dans l'île de Bourbon, en Bucharie, ... " (One finds this mineral [i.e., ammonium chloride] in nearly every volcano ... It is found also in Tartary [i.e., a region extending from Central Asia eastwards to the Pacific Ocean], in the country of the Kalmyks, in Persia, in Tibet, on Bourbon Island [i.e., Réunion], in Bucharia [i.e., a region of Central Asia extending from Turfan through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ] ... )
Bunsen, Robert (1847) "Ueber den innern Zusammenhang der pseudovulkanischen Erscheinungen Islands" (On the intrinsic relationship of pseudo-volcanic phenomena of Iceland), Annalen der Chemie and Pharmacie, 62 : 1-59, see pp. 8-9. From pp. 8-9:"Im Juli 1846, also nur wenige Monate nach dem Ausbruch des Vulkans, wo ich in diesen Gegenden verweilte, zeigte sich der untere Theil dieses Stromes mit dampfenden Fumarolen übersäet, in denen sich eine solche Menge reiner, zum Theil sehr schön krystallisirter Salmiak sublimirte, dass man dort, trotz der unaufhörlichen Regengüsse, dieses wertvolle Salz zu Hunderten von Pfunden hätte sammeln können." (In July 1846, thus only months after the eruption of the volcano [i.e., Mt. Hekla], where I stayed in this region, the lower part of this [lava] flow appeared studded with steaming fumaroles, in which such a quantity of pure and sometimes very beautifully crystallized ammonium chloride had sublimated that one could have collected there -- despite ceaseless downpours -- hundreds of pounds of this valuable salt.)
Del Campo, Ángel (1912) "Los sublimados blancos del volcán Chinyero (Canarias)" (The white sublimates of the volcano Chinyero in the Canary Islands), Anales de la Sociedad Española de Física y Química, 10 : 431-449.
Shipley, J.W. (1919). "Scientific results of the Katmai expeditions of the National Geographic Society: VII. Ammonia and nitrous nitrogen in the rain water of southwestern Alaska". Ohio Journal of Science. 19 (4): 230-234. hdl:1811/2027/V19N04_230.pdf.
^The term for "ammonium chloride" in Arabic is n?sh?dir or n?sh?dur, in Sanskit, navasadaru or navasara, in Chinese, nao sha, and similarly in Armenian and Syriac. Sutton et al., p. 596.
^In De Lapidibus (About Stones), which is attributed to "Pseudo-Aristotle" and which dates from ca. 750-870 A.D., is a brief statement that ammonium chloride was created at the public baths (from the soot of the fires that served to heat the bath waters). Ruska, Julius, Das Steinbuch des Aristoteles mit literargeschichtlichen Untersuchungen nach der arabischen Handschrift der Bibliothèque Nationale [The book of stones of Aristotle with literary-historical investigations into the Arabic manuscript of the Bibliothèque Nationale] (Heidelberg, Germany: Carl Winter, 1912), p. 191. From p. 191 (in Latin):"Et unus lapis est qui vocatur nasciadhor i. liscianada qui fit in balneis." (And there is one stone that is called nasciadhor [i.e., nûshâdur, ammonium chloride] or liscianada that is made [i.e., created] in the baths.) See also: Sutton et al., p. 595.
^The Persian geographer Al-Istakhri (d. 957 A.D.) stated that ammonium chloride was obtained from the soot of camel dung that was burned to heat the public baths in Alexandria. See: (Lippmann, 1919), p. 403. From p. 403: Istakhri " ... bestätigt das persische Vorkommen ... des Nûschâdirs, 'den die Ägypter aus dem Rauche ihrer Bäder haben' [aus dem Rauche des zum Heizen gebräuchlichen getrockneten Kamelmistes], ... " (Istakhri confirms the occurrence in Persia ... of ammonium chloride (nûshâdir), "which the Egyptians have [obtained] from the smoke of their baths" [i.e., from the smoke of the dried camel dung that's used for heating] ... ) See also: Sutton et al., p. 595.
The production of ammonium chloride from the soot of burned animal dung was reported early in the 18th century by a number of European observers:
Sicard, Claude (S.J.), Nouveaux Mémoires de la Compagnie de Jesus dans le Levant [New memoirs of the Jesuits in the Levant], vol. 2 (Paris, France: Nicolas le Clerc, 1717), pp. 96-98. From pp. 96-98:" ... nous arrivâmes sur le midy à Desmayer ... " ( ... we arrived at midday at Desmayer, a town [in the Nile delta] which is inhabited only by Muslims. It is in this place that the most esteemed sal armoniac [i.e., ammonium chloride] in all Egypt is made. This salt is made in ovens, whose top is vented lengthwise and in several places. One places in these vents twenty or thirty round glass bottles, about a foot and a half in diameter, with a neck of half a foot [across]. The bottles are sealed well: filled with soot and a little sea salt, and animal urine. Then one constructs a layer of loam and brick [on top of the oven], which covers everything except the tops of the bottles' necks, which [remain open] to the air. Then a fire is lit in the oven, and it is maintained continually for three days and three nights. The phlegm [i.e., liquid components] of the material contained in the bottles is driven off, and the acid salts and alkalies meet and cling to each other near the neck, [where they] form a white, round mass. The operation being completed, all of the bottles are broken, and these masses are removed, which are called "sal armoniac". It is to be noted that the soot of which I spoke, is produced by the smoke of pats, which is called gellée in Arabic. They [i.e., the pats] are formed from animal manure. Any other smoke is unlikely to condense into sal armoniac.)
(Lemere) (1716) "Observations sur la nature et la composition du sel ammoniac,"Histoire de l'Academie Royale des Sciences: année MDCCXX, avec les memoires ... , pp. 195-207. On p. 202, Lemere states that ammonium chloride can be made by combining ammonium carbonate and hydrochloric acid: "L'on prend de l'esprit ou du sel volatil d'urine; on jette dessus de l'esprit de sel marin, jusqu'à ce qu'il ne se fasse plus de fermentation; on fait évaporer au sable la liqueur, qui, étant séche, fournit un sel salé qui a les mêmes effets que le sel ammoniac." (One takes the spirit or volatile salt of urine [i.e., ammonium carbonate]; one tosses on it spirit of sea salt [i.e., hydrochloric acid], until it no longer makes fermentation [i.e., effervesces]; one evaporates, on a sand [bath], the solution, which, [upon] being dry, furnishes a salty solid which has the same effects as ammonium chloride.)
Duhamel du Monceau, Henri-Louis (1735) "Sur le sel ammoniac," Histoire de l'Academie Royale des Sciences: année MDCCXXXV, avec les memoires ... , pp. 106-116; 414-434; 483-504.
Beckmann, Johann, Beyträge zur Geschichte der Erfindungen [Contributions to the history of inventions] (Leipzig, Germany: Paul Gotthelf Kummer, 1805), vol. 5, 4. Salmiak, pp. 254-285. English translations: (1) Beckmann, Johann with William Johnston, trans., A History of Inventions and Discoveries, 2nd ed. (London, England: Walker, 1814), vol. 4, pp. 360-384. ; and (2) Beckmann, Johann with William Johnston, trans., A History of Inventions, Discoveries, and Origins, 4th ed. (London, England: Henry G. Bohn, 1846), vol. 2, pp. 396-407.
Multhauf, Robert P. (1965). "Sal Ammoniac: a case history in industrialization". Technology and Culture. 6 (9): 569-586. doi:10.2307/3101750. JSTOR3101750.
Needham, Joseph; Ho Ping-Yü; Lu Gwei-Djen; Sivin, Nathan (1980). Science and Civilization in China. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part IV: Spagyrical discovery and invention: apparatus, theories and gifts. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-0521086905.
Sutton, M. A; Erisman, J. W; Dentener, F; Möller, D (2008). "Ammonia in the environment: From ancient times to the present". Environmental Pollution. 156 (3): 583-604. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2008.03.013. PMID18499318.