The Hazards of Using Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) in Industrial Cleaning. Alternative Cleaners to Help You Get the Job Done Safely.

Are you still using hydrofluoric acid (HF) to clean aluminum tankers, wash bays, or in another industrial cleaning application?

If so, are you aware of the serious and potentially fatal health risks associated with hydrofluoric acid?

Or are you struggling to find an alternative to hydrofluoric acid? One that cleans without the serious health risks and dangers of HF.

You don’t have to keep using HF for industrial cleaning. There are better and safer alternatives available.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the serious hazards and potentially fatal consequences of using hydrofluoric acid (HF)—and identify safer alternatives for your industrial cleaning applications. Whether you’re cleaning aluminum, chrome, fleets or wash bay walls, there are safer options.

When you’re done reading, you’ll be prepared to replace hydrofluoric acid in your operation and embrace higher performing and safer alternatives.

What is HydroFluoric Acid (HF)?

Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) is a strong mineral acid available in concentrations as high as 85%. Even in diluted form, it is highly dangerous.

What Properties Does HydroFluoric Acid (HF) Possess?

In industrial cleaning, HF is often used as an aluminum brightener to clean aluminum and chrome surfaces on tanker trucks and fleets. It is also used to dissolve silica (sand, glass) from boilers and steam generators, and for general industrial cleaning applications. While it is an effective cleaner, the potential risks far outweigh any benefits of using HF.

How hazardous is HydroFluoric Acid HF?

Hydrofluoric acid is a highly reactive acid with many hazards. Not only is HF extremely corrosive, it is also a contact poison making it extremely dangerous to handle, use and apply. 

Unlike other acids that cause immediate superficial burns, HF rapidly penetrates deep into the skin damaging tissues, bones and the nervous system.

HF exposure may not be readily apparent. Pain from exposure can be delayed, creating a false sense of safety after exposure. Worse, delays in treatment may be fatal! It can cause poisoning through skin or eye contact, inhalation and/or ingestion.

Once absorbed into the body, HF reacts with calcium in the blood and may lead to multi-organ failure and cardiac arrest. Contact with an area as small as 160 cm2 (25 square inches) may be fatal without the proper and timely treatment. To put it in perspective, 160 cm2 is about the size of an average adult hand.

Unlike other acids which are rapidly neutralized, HF can continue to cause bodily injury days after initial exposure. Prompt medical attention is a must!

Treatment for HF exposure is different from other chemicals or acids. HF burns require immediate first-aid treatment and medical attention. For skin exposure, first-aid measures commonly include removal of contaminated clothing, flushing of exposed skin, and treatment with calcium gluconate gel, followed by prompt medical attention. You can learn more about HF and recommended treatment for exposure here.

Want to learn more about the hazards of HF? Check out these facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Are blends of Sulphuric Acid and Ammonium Bifluouride Safe?

Some suppliers claim their products do not contain hydrofluoric acid (HF), but a combination of a strong acid such as sulphuric acid combined with a fluoride salt such as ammonium bifluoride. This is misleading. The combination of these two chemicals results in the formation of hydrofluoric acid.

Do not be misled, these products are not alternatives. They contain hydrofluoric acid and carry all the risks associated with its handling and use.

Learn how to protect yourself from misleading claims with our guide on Reviewing Safety Data Sheets.

Is it easy to dispose of Hydrofluoric Acid?

Hydrofluoric acid waste management can be challenging and costly. Many waste management companies refuse to handle HF waste or charge high costs to dispose because of its highly hazardous nature.

How are HF and inorganic fluorides regulated in Canada?

Inorganic fluorides such as hydrofluoric acid (HF) are on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act’s (CEPA) toxics substances list. Its presence on the CEPA toxic substances list means HF may be slated for virtual elimination due to its highly toxic nature. HF is also present on the Canadian Environmental Emergency (E2) list.

What are alternatives to products containing hydrofluoric acid (HF)?

Depending on your application several alternatives exist. Unless you need an aluminum brightener, you can often use an alternative acid-based cleaner, or even a water-based cleaner or degreaser in your application.

If you do require an aluminum brightener, ENVY is a hydrofluoric acid free aluminum brightener. It has much better environment, health and safety considerations than traditional hydrofluoric and sulphuric acid based products.

Replace Hydrofluoric Acid in Your Operation Today

When you’re ready, contact us. We’d be happy to help you Create a Better Future and find the right hydrofluoric acid alternative cleaner for your application. A Better, Safer Future. One without hydrofluoric acid and the serious health risks associated with it!

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