Limewater is the common name for a diluted solution of calcium hydroxide. Calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2, is sparsely soluble in water (1.5 g/L at 25 °C). Pure limewater is clear and colorless, with a slight earthy smell and an alkaline bitter taste of calcium hydroxide. The term lime refers to the alkaline mineral, and is unrelated to the acidic fruit.
Limewater is prepared by stirring calcium hydroxide in pure water and filtering off the excess undissolved Ca(OH)2. When excess calcium hydroxide is added to limewater, a suspension of calcium hydroxide particles results, giving it a milky aspect, in which case it has the common name of milk of lime. Milk of lime or a saturated solution of lime (limewater) has a pH of 12.4. It is basic in nature.
Carbon dioxide passed into limewater gives a milky solution. This is due to the insoluble suspension of calcium carbonate formed:
- Ca(OH)2(aq) + CO2(g) → CaCO3(s) + H2O(l)
If excess CO2 is added, the following reaction takes place:
- CaCO3(s) + H2O(l) + CO2(g) → Ca(HCO3)2(aq)
The milkiness disappears since calcium bicarbonate is water-soluble.
Waste gases from industries containing sulfur dioxide can be cleaned by bubbling through limewater, a process called sulfation, in which the toxic sulfur dioxide is trapped as a precipitate:
- Ca(OH)2(aq) + SO2(g) → CaSO3(s) + H2O(l)
Limewater is used in a process known as lime softening to reduce water hardness. It is also used as a neutralizing agent in municipal waste water treatment.
Personal care and adornment
Treating one's hair with limewater causes it to stiffen and bleach, with the added benefit of killing any lice or mites living there. According to Diodorus Siculus, he described the Celtic people as such; "Their aspect is terrifying... They are very tall in stature, with rippling muscles under clear white skin. Their hair is blond, but not naturally so: they bleach it, to this day, artificially, washing it in lime and combing it back from their foreheads. They look like wood-demons, their hair thick and shaggy like a horse's mane. Some of them are clean-shaven, but others - especially those of high rank, shave their cheeks but leave a moustache that covers the whole mouth...".
Limewater is used in the preparation of maize for corn tortillas and other culinary purposes using a process known as nixtamalization. This unlocks proteins in the cornmeal, making it more nutritious for the consumer. Eating maize-based foods without nixtamalization or supplementation with legumes or meat leads to a nutritional deficiency known as pellagra.
Limewater is widely used by marine aquarists as a primary supplement of calcium and alkalinity for reef aquariums. Corals of order Scleractinia build their endoskeletons from aragonite (a polymorph of calcium carbonate). When used for this purpose, limewater is usually referred to as Kalkwasser. It is also used in tanning and making parchment. The lime is used as a dehairing agent based on its alkaline properties.
- ´Solubility of Inorganic and Metalorganic Compounds - A Compilation of Solubility Data from the Periodical Literature´, A. Seidell, W. F. Linke, Van Nostrand (Publisher), 1953
- "Diodorus Siculus — Book V, Chapter 28". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
- "The Nature and Making of Parchment" by Ronald Reed