Everything to Know About Safely Using Sodium Carbonate

Does your company handle hazardous chemicals? Are you aware of the OSHA penalties for non-compliance effective January 15, 2020?

A “Serious or Other-Than-Serious Posting Requirement” carries a penalty of $13,494 per violation. A “Failure to Abate” penalty costs $13,494 for each day past the abatement date. “Willful or Repeated” failure to comply bears a penalty of $134,937 for each violation.

If this is new information to you, it’s important to continue reading. This article will focus on handling sodium carbonate. You will learn about Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and how to meet safety compliance standards.

What is Sodium Carbonate?

Sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) is often called washing soda or soda ash. It’s a sodium salt crystal of carbonic acid that’s a fairly strong, non-volatile base.

The sodium carbonate crystalline heptahydrate easily effloresces. This means that it loses moisture when exposed to air changing it to a fine powder.

Sodium Carbonate Form

The pure form of sodium carbonate presents as a white, odorless powder. In the powder form, it easily absorbs moisture from the air. It then creates a moderately basic solution in water.

The soda ash form is available in “light” or “granular” grades. The light grade dissolves easily. For mechanical conveying plant use, the granular form is often preferred.

Sodium Carbonate Uses

Sodium carbonate has many uses in manufacturing, photography, water processing, and the brick industry. It’s alkaline properties contribute to the creation of glass, pulp, paper, and soap.

Water Treatment

Sodium carbonate competes with magnesium and calcium ions in hard water. This stops them from bonding with laundry detergents. The result is softer water and a smaller amount of laundry detergent needed for cleaning.

This chemical also helps regulate low alkalinity water. As a weak alkali, it offers both hydroxide and bicarbonate which impact alkalinity. Adding sodium carbonate can correct high pH solutions.


A photographic process called reticulation uses sodium carbonate. This involves placing the film negative in a hot sodium carbonate bath. The metallic silver clumps and separates the base film from the emulsion.

Processing the film in this way results in a cracked, abstracted image. Reticulation creates a pattern of interlacing lines similar to a net.

Brick Industry

The brick industry uses sodium carbonate as a wetting agent. It decreases the amount of water needed for clay extrusion. Extrusion describes the process of shaping the clay.

Sodium Carbonate Hazards

Sodium carbonate can result in severe health and safety hazards when mishandled. Accidental inhalation of the chemical can cause respiratory tract problems. This can include coughing, shortness, and fluid in the lungs called pulmonary edema.

Exposure of the eye to the chemical may result in permanent injury to the cornea. It can also cause burns in and around the eyes.

The Importance of SDSs

OSHA and the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) provides templates and guidelines for SDSs. Safety data sheets provide a written hazard communication document for all qualifying materials. Businesses that manufacture, distribute, or import chemicals must provide SDSs.

Hazardous material plans should give employees who use chemicals rapid access to SDSs. All workers must receive training on the purpose of SDSs and how to find key information in an emergency.

SDSs contain 12 OSHA mandatory sections and 4 GHS regulated sections. The Sections are as follows:

  • Section 1: Identification of the substance or mixture and the manufacturer
  • Section 2: Identification of hazards
  • Section 3: Information about the composition and ingredients
  • Section 4: First aid instructions
  • Section 5: Firefighting instructions
  • Section 6: Actions to take in the event of an accidental release
  • Section 7: Safe handling and storage
  • Section 8: Personal protection requirements and exposure control measures
  • Section 9: Chemical and physical properties
  • Section 10: Stability and reactivity
  • Section 11: Toxicological information
  • Section 12: Ecological information
  • Section 13: Disposal considerations
  • Section 14: Safe transportation
  • Section 15: Regulatory information
  • Section 16: Other information

OSHA considers the GHS sections, 12 to 15 as non-mandatory. Both organizations require employers to keep updated and accurate SDSs.

Sample Sodium Carbonate SDS Hazard Section

The following shows a sample Hazard Identification section for sodium carbonate. It includes chemical hazards and appropriate warnings. 

  • The chemical hazard classification: irritant
  • The signal word indicating the relative hazard severity level: “!Warning”
  • Hazard Statement: eye and respiratory tract irritation
  • Hazard pictogram: red diamond with a black exclamation mark inside
  • Description of additional hazards: none known

The precautionary statements for sodium carbonate include:

  • Take product container to the healthcare facility if medical treatment is needed
  • Keep out of the reach of children
  • Read the label before using
  • Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking when using the product
  • Wear eye, face, and clothing protection as well as gloves
  • Thoroughly wash skin after handling
  • Eye exposure: remove contacts if able, continuously flush with water
  • Seek medical care if eye or respiratory irritation persists

Hazardous statements are now included in addition to signal words. “Danger” means that failure to avoid the hazardous situation will cause serious injury or death.

“Warning” means that exposure to the hazardous condition could cause serious injury or death. “Caution” means hazardous exposure may cause minor or moderate injury.

A “Notice” is placed in a green box with white lettering. It discusses practices related to the chemical that don’t cause physical injury. This can include information about security, housekeeping, hygiene, equipment, and more.

Common Reasons for Non-Compliance Citations

OSHA’s top 10 most frequent violations directly or indirectly referenced SDS deficiencies. This highlights the significance of SDS compliance. These violations involved the following:

  • Written communication programs that don’t describe employer’s labeling, SDSs, and training plans
  • Inadequate employee training regarding chemical-specific information included on labels and SDSs
  • Maintenance of SDSs
  • Development of SDSs
  • Incomplete worker hazard communication training, such as how to find and use SDSs

Some chemicals do not have an OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL). SDSs are beneficial for employers in facilities that work with PELs. The SDS gives information on the potential hazards associated with the chemical.

By understanding the possible chemical exposure risks, employers can make informed safety decisions.

Optimize Your Management of Hazardous Materials

After reading about sodium carbonate and safety data sheets you now know about your regulatory responsibilities. As a business owner, maintaining hazardous material compliance is a big job. This is where KHA Online-SDS™ can become a valuable partner.

We offer industry-leading SDS management solutions. Our accurate SDS online library meets OSHA and GHS guidelines. This vast database of SDSs is updated on a regular basis.

Schedule a demo today to find out how we can help you manage your hazardous material compliance.