Hydrogen Ion Concentration and pH

Acidic and basic are two extremes that describe chemicals, just like hot and cold are two extremes that describe temperature. Mixing acids and bases can cancel out their extreme effects, much like mixing hot and cold water can even out the water temperature. A substance that is neither acidic nor basic is neutral.

The character of acidic, basic and neutral is defined by the concentration of hydrogen ions [H+](mol/L). A solution with a concentration of hydrogen ions higher than 10-7mol/L is acidic, and a solution with a lower concentration is alkaline (another way to say basic). Using the formula, pH=-log[H+], a pH of 7 is neutral, a pH less than 7 is acidic, and a pH greater than 7 is basic. As one can see from this formula, ten times a given concentration of hydrogen ions means one unit lower in terms of pH value (higher acidity), and vice versa.

Pure water is neutral, with a pH of 7.0. When chemicals are mixed with water, the mixture can become either acidic or basic. Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic substances, while laundry detergents and ammonia are basic.

Chemicals that are very basic or very acidic are called "reactive." These chemicals can cause severe burns. Automobile battery acid is an acidic chemical that is reactive. Automobile batteries contain a stronger form of some of the same acid that is in acid rain. Household drain cleaners often contain lye, a very alkaline chemical that is reactive.

Reference
Explanation on pH on the website of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USA
(http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/acidrain/ph.html)


[H+] stands for the concentration of hydrogen ions. 1 mol/L means a solution in which 1 mole of hydrogen ions is present in 1 liter. A value of 1 µmol/L indicates a solution in which 1 millionth of a mole of hydrogen ions is present in 1 liter