How to Neutralize a Muriatic Acid Spill

Written by Michael Dean
February 7, 2024

muriatic acid spill next to a pool

Even if you have an expert hand when it comes to pool chemicals, muriatic acid requires precise handling and care because of how dangerous and corrosive it can be. So, you should learn how to neutralize the muriatic acid in case an unfortunate spill ever occurs.

In this article, I will walk you through exactly how to neutralize a muriatic acid spill, what it can do if left unaddressed, safety tips for handling a spill, and when handling the acid in general. By the time you’ve read through this, you should know how to handle muriatic acid like a pro. Let’s dive in!

Main Takeaways

  • Spilled muriatic acid can damage the pool and its surroundings if you do not act immediately to try to neutralize it.
  • Inhaling the fumes of spilled muriatic acid can cause serious respiratory distress, while extended contact with it can cause severe chemical burns.
  • It can take anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes to safely neutralize muriatic acid.

How to Neutralize a Muriatic Acid Spill 

You should always handle muriatic acid with care. But no matter how careful you are, you may accidentally spill muriatic acid, either onto the ground, your clothes, or the decking. If you spill some, don’t panic! There are various useful methods for neutralizing a spill, depending on where the spill occurred, how big it is, and what neutralizers you immediately have on hand.

Baking Soda

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is the easiest solution to go for in case of a spill. It is a common and inexpensive household item, and you’ll likely have a box in your kitchen pantry that you can get to immediately. Baking soda is a highly alkaline substance that pool owners commonly use to adjust pH in swimming pools, so you should also have a box handy in your pool shed – ideally right next to where you store your muriatic acid.

To use baking soda to neutralize the acid, grab a scoop and slowly sprinkle it over the affected area. Start around the edges and sprinkle till you reach the center. Once you have effectively neutralized the muriatic acid spill, sweep it away in a plastic container and dispose of it properly, following local regulations on hazardous waste.

Calcium Carbonate

Garden lime or limestone is another valuable substance for neutralizing muriatic acid. More alkaline than baking soda, calcium carbonate is one of the best solutions when it comes to acid spills. Just like with baking soda, sprinkle the lime over the acid slowly, forming a thick layer, and it will neutralize the spill after it sits on the acid for a few minutes. Finally, use a brush or a broom to sweep up the neutralized muriatic acid and properly dispose of it.

Sodium Carbonate

Your final option for neutralizing a muriatic acid spill is sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash. Just like calcium carbonate, it is more alkaline than baking soda, so it’s super useful to have on hand. Like baking soda, you may already have some soda ash on hand for balancing pool water pH.

To use it, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and dissolve the soda ash in water. Then, slowly pour the solution over the muriatic acid spill and cover the entire area. As the soda ash reacts with the acid, it will eventually neutralize the acid in the next 15 minutes. As always, once the spill is effectively neutralized, clean it up and properly dispose of it, following local regulations for hazardous waste.

What About Water?

You should NEVER pour water onto a muriatic spill! As you should already know, you should put muriatic acid in the water and NEVER the other way around. Not only will water not neutralize the acid spill, but it will actually make the problem much worse. When you add water to the muriatic acid spill, it will create an incredibly hazardous reaction, causing heat and toxic fumes.

Will Spilled Muriatic Acid Damage the Pool and Surroundings?

Yes, absolutely. While the severity of the damage will depend on the size of the spill, the concentration of the acid, and the materials that are exposed to it, muriatic acid is a powerfully corrosive substance that can eat away at all sorts of material, including concrete, brick, and metal.

It can damage the pool’s interior surfaces, including the pool liner or the plaster finish, potentially leading to costly repairs. Furthermore, depending on where it’s spilled, the acid can also harm the surrounding areas, such as the deck and nearby structures, by etching or staining them. And when it comes to vegetation, flowers, and other plant life, they would not stand a chance. In short, spilled muriatic acid will seriously damage the swimming pool and its surroundings if you do not immediately try to neutralize it.

Safety Tips When Neutralizing and Cleaning Up Muriatic Acid

You need to be equipped with the right safety tips and precautions when handling muriatic acid, especially when it comes to spillage. Muriatic acid is a toxic substance that can be extremely harmful when handled incorrectly. So, when neutralizing and cleaning it up, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Stop whatever you’re doing and immediately put on an acid respirator mask and protective gear. Do NOT breathe in the vapor—inhaling the fumes of spilled muriatic acid can cause serious respiratory distress. Nevertheless, when handling muriatic acid, you should already be wearing proper safety gear in the first place!
  • Once your nose and mouth are covered, check all exposed parts of your skin carefully in case you were splashed during the spill, and rinse off any traces immediately if so.
  • Once you’ve established you’re safe, quickly put on more protective gear, such as rubber gloves and boots, if you haven’t already. Cover as much of your skin as possible, and only then should you begin neutralizing the acid.
  • Check your surroundings. Ensure there are no ignition sources in the area, and make sure the acid does not go down any drains.
  • Warn anyone you see approaching to keep away from the spillage area until it has been neutralized.
  • In case you’re indisposed and cannot clean up the spill yourself, immediately call for assistance

How Long Does It Take to Neutralize Muriatic Acid?

The answer to this question really depends on three things:

  1. How much was spilled
  2. How concentrated the spill is
  3. What you use to neutralize it

But as a general rule, a small muriatic acid spill can be neutralized within 15 to 30 minutes with proper neutralizing agents and techniques. However, larger or more concentrated spills may require more time and multiple applications of the neutralizing agent. Remember: You must remain patient throughout the whole process to ensure that the acid is fully neutralized to prevent potential harm or damage.

How to Clean Up Muriatic Acid After Neutralizing

Okay, you’ve successfully handled the situation and neutralized the spill, which means it’s no longer hazardous. All that’s left now is the clean-up! Here are the steps for cleaning up muriatic acid after neutralizing:

  1. As always, in case you aren’t already, wear some protective gear: gloves, goggles, and a face mask.
  2. Make sure the spill is neutralized by checking the pH using a test strip. Aim for close to 7.
  3. Carefully sweep up the neutralized acid. If the spill is still liquid, use a plastic scoop of some sort.
  4. Put the neutralized muriatic acid into a plastic container with a lid.
  5. After sweeping up the spilled acid, use a hose to rinse off the affected area with plenty of water.
  6. Properly dispose of the hazardous waste according to your local regulations.
  7. Following all of the above, you should wait for the area to dry before using it again.

What Happens If You Spill Muriatic Acid on Your Skin?

In worst-case scenarios, you might have accidentally spilled the acid directly onto your skin. This is extremely dangerous because it could lead to severe burns if you don’t act fast enough. The severity of the burn, of course, depends on how concentrated the acid is and how long it is on your skin.

If you’re lucky and act fast enough, you can expect a mild chemical burn—some redness and swelling on the skin. But in more serious cases, you can expect the skin to blister and burn and will require medical attention.

If you spill muriatic acid on your skin, remove any clothing or jewelry affected by the acid and then run the affected skin under water for at least 10 to 15 minutes. After thoroughly rinsing the area, seek medical attention ASAP. Do NOT use a neutralizer to neutralize the acid on your skin, as doing so may worsen the burn!

Safety Tips When Handling Muriatic Acid

I hope it’s clear by now that muriatic acid is not a substance to mess around with and can be pretty harmful if mishandled. In any case, keep the following pointers in mind when handling the acid:

  • Always, always wear protective gear when handling muriatic acid—your gear is your first line of defense in case of a hazard.
  • Keep the substance in a cool, dry place in a properly sealed container.
  • Never mix muriatic acid with other chemicals.
  • Dispose of muriatic acid properly when you’ve finished using it.
  • While handling the acid, work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Do not inhale the fumes of muriatic acid—wear a mask.
  • Do not smoke while handling muriatic acid.
  • Keep it out of the reach of children and pets.

You can check out my pool safety guide for more tips.

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Muriatic Acid: Be Prepared

My strongest suggestion is to have a plan so you can be prepared for unexpected accidents. You should always have a neutralizer nearby whenever you handle muriatic acid. This way, in case of a spill, you can immediately neutralize the threat without floundering or panicking. Being prepared will allow you to react quickly during an emergency.

Any questions? Shoot me a message! Head to all my advice on pool chemistry for more research on muriatic acid and other chemicals.

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