What is Sodium Formate?

by Kate Onissiphorou

ReAgent Chemicals has recently registered under UK REACH to manufacture sodium formate, so you can now buy high quality sodium formate in the quantities you need by contacting us directly

As expert UK sodium formate suppliers, this article explains what sodium formate is, what it’s used for and how we manufacture sodium formate.

What is Sodium Formate?

Sodium formate is classified as the sodium salt of formic acid because of its chemical formula. However, it’s not mass-produced from formic acid; it’s actually the other way around. Nonetheless, it can be produced in several ways, such as the neutralisation of formic acid with sodium hydroxide.

What is Sodium Formate Used For?

Sodium formate is produced on a large scale because it has several industrial and commercial applications. The salt is used in the production of other chemicals, such as sodium hydrosulphate and formic acid. Sodium formate is also commercially important in tanning leather, large-scale printing, preserving food, and manufacturing detergents.

A large offset printing press
Sodium formate is used commercially in large-scale printing

Here’s an overview of its various uses:

  • Dyeing fabrics: The salt acts as a fixing agent for dyes, especially when dying polyesters and cotton blend fabrics.
  • Printing processes: It serves a similar role as a fixing agent in printing processes. With the help of this salt, inks used in printing adhere better to various media, including fabrics.
  • Cryoprotectant: Here, it’s used to protect biological samples during X-ray diffraction experiments on protein crystals. These experiments are done at very low temperatures, usually 100 K (-173.15°C).
  • Buffering agent: This salt acts as a buffer when combined with formic acid in a solution.
  • Food additive: It’s mainly used as an additive to animal feeds to help extend the shelf life of the products. Its food additive number is E237.
  • De-icing agent: Sodium formate is used on airport runways and on roads to prevent the formation of slippery ice, thereby ensuring safety. The salt has a high freezing point depression, which prevents water from forming ice below its freezing point, even below −15 °C.
  • Manufacturing other chemicals: This salt is an important precursor and ingredient in the industrial-scale production of various chemicals, including formic acid.A bottle of formic acid and two flasks

What is the Structure of Sodium Formate?

Sodium formate has the chemical formula HCOONa. It is a salt, which means it’s crystalline in terms of its molecular lattice configuration. As a solid, it exists as a colourless powder at room temperature.

A graphic showing the sodium formate structure

In terms of its individual molecular structure, it has ionic bonds between a sodium and formate group. The sodium side is positively charged while the formate side is negatively charged. It also has a monoclinic-holohedral symmetry.

Monoclinic means that it has three unequal axes. Two of these axes are inclined to one another while the third one is perpendicular. Holohedral means all the planes are necessary for the symmetry of the crystal system.

Properties of Sodium Formate

Acidic or basic?

Both the physical and chemical properties of sodium formate are determined by its composition and molecular structure. Although sodium formate is a salt that can be produced through neutralisation reactions, it’s basic in aqueous solutions.

In the laboratory, sodium formate can be derived from the neutralisation reaction between formic acid and sodium hydroxide.

It’s a basic salt because it contains a weak base, which is the formate group. Meanwhile the sodium forms a spectator ion when dissolved in water.

Physical properties

This solid colourless powder has a density of 1.92 g/cm3 at 20°C. It has a high melting point of 253°C. When it boils, it starts to chemically decompose. It’s soluble in water, glycerol, alcohol, and formic acid, but insoluble in ether.

What Happens When Sodium Formate is Heated? 

When sodium formate reaches its boiling point, it decomposes. This involves it splitting into sodium oxalate and hydrogen. By subjecting the sodium oxalate to higher temperatures, it can further be reduced to sodium carbonate as carbon dioxide is released.

Potential Hazards of Sodium Formate

Sodium formate is hazardous to biological tissues because of its basic properties. It can irritate the skin, which may cause itching and redness. It can also irritate the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and lungs when inhaled. It may cause nausea and vomiting when ingested.

Upon exposure to this chemical, you should apply the following first aids:

  • When inhaled: You should move the person to a place with good ventilation. Provide artificial respiration either by breathing into the mouth, using a resuscitator, or using an oxygen tank with breather if the victim is not breathing.
  • When ingested: You should induce vomiting but you should follow the correct procedure or be guided by a qualified medical emergency personnel via phone while waiting for the ambulance. Do not give any drinks or food to the victim if the victim is unconscious as this may cause choking.
  • When in contact with the skin: Thoroughly wash the affected area with water for at least 15 minutes. Remove the contaminated clothing.
  • When in contact with the eyes: Flush the eyes with water while lifting the eyelids. Do this for at least 15 minutes.

In any of these situations, it is best to seek medical attention before and after performing first aid.

How to Prepare Sodium Formate

In terms of the mass production of this salt, formic acid is not commonly used. Commercially, sodium formate is produced by forcing carbon monoxide to react with sodium hydroxide by applying a pressure of between 600 kPa and 800 kPa at 130°C. For comparison purposes, the normal average pressure of the atmosphere at sea level is around 101 kPa.

The balanced chemical equation for the commercial production of sodium formate can be written as follows:

CO + NaOH → HCO2Na

In a laboratory or small-scale setting, the salt can also be derived from the reaction between chloroform and sodium hydroxide solution in alcohol:

CHCl3 + 4NaOH → HCOONa + 3NaCl + 2H2O

Buy Sodium Formate from UK Sodium Formate Manufacturers

At ReAgent, we have recently registered as the UK’s sole sodium formate manufacturers under UK REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals). 

We manufacture and supply sodium formate using the formic acid and sodium hydroxide method described above, with pharmaceutical-grade chemicals. With high quality processes and large-scale sodium formate manufacturing capabilities, we can supply the chemical in the quantity you need.

Please contact us here or on 0800 9555 798 if you need to buy sodium formate from UK suppliers for your business.


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