What's common to petrol, fertilizers, cars and soaps? They, like a lot of other things, require sulfuric acid to be made. That's why sulfuric acid is called the king of chemicals.
The uses of sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is involved, in some way or the other, in the manufacture of practically everything. Indeed, the production of sulfuric acid is sometimes used as a measure of how industrially advanced a country is. India produces about 48 lakh tonnes of this acid a year.
60% of all sulfuric acid produced is mixed with crushed phosphate rock to make phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid has two uses - to make phosphate fertilizers, and to make sodium triphosphate, which is a detergent.
Lots of sulfuric acid is used to clean up rust from steel rolls. These cleaned up rolls are used to make cars, trucks, as well as household appliances. Sulfuric acid is used in petroleum refining to make high-octane petrol, which burns efficiently. It is put in the lead-acid batteries of your car battery. It is used to make aluminium sulfate, which is needed for making paper. It is used to make ammonium sulfate, a common fertilizer. It is used to make... well, it is used to make practically everything!
On earth, sulfuric acid does not exist in a natural form. But on the planet Venus, there's plenty of it. There are lakes of the acid, which evaporate to form clouds, which then rain sulfuric acid upon the Venerean surface. The USSR's Venera-3 spacecraft landed on Venus on March 1, 1966 and was digested in minutes!
Handling sulfuric acid
Never handle sulfuric acid yourself. If you spill a drop on your hand, it will react with the tissue, burning it instantly. It also causes dehydration. Fumes of sulfuric acid can cause blindness, and damage the lungs if inhaled. In case you accidentally spill acid on yourself, wash it under a tap for fifteen minutes at least, so that even the tiniest drop is washed away.
Even dilute sulfuric acid is dangerous. When handling sulfuric acid, always wear thick gloves and a lab coat or apron. Never handle it on an open bench, but use it in a fume hood. Never pour it from the bottle, but always use a thick glass pipette with a rubber bulb. The best is to let your teacher handle it, while you stand aside and watch.
Sulfuric acid is often stored in concentrated form. When diluting it, never pour water into the acid. That will make the whole thing explode. Instead keep crushed ice (made from pure water) in a large beaker, and pour the acid onto it, drop by drop. The ice absorbs the heat of the reaction, so it won't explode. When the ice melts, you get dilute sulfuric acid.