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I have heard that washing one's hands with vinegar is effective in neutralizing the strong bases in cement and is more effective than water.

I want to know how cement burns and what bases are involved in this reaction.

I have tried googling "cement burns" and found websites explaining the importance of washing one's hands with vinegar as a preventative measure. I have tried searching PubMed but I've found mostly case reports that do not address how chemical burns actually happen.

If anyone knows of some good papers or books that cover the topic of chemical burns in greater detail than what I've found; please let me know.

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migrated from Jul 22 '14 at 4:16

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

If you look for Portland Cement safety issues, it is stated that cement is highly alkaline so it can cause alkaline burn and presumably since vinegar is acetic acid, it neutralises the alkaline effects of cement as tested here and the burns you suffered are probably related to alkaline burn. You can look at this article section 6.5 for some details on alkaline burns, which was suggested by @Cornelius or perhaps the mentioned chapter in this book (Harchelroad FP, Rottinghaus DM. Chemical burns. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004: chap 200.).

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As a specialist in poison information (SPI), I would never recommend using anything other than water to decontaminate the skin or the eyes. An acid mixed with a strong alkali can cause an exothermic reaction (release of heat) which would then cause thermal burns. Neutralizing a corrosive substance (acid or alkali) that has been ingested is CONTRA-INDICATED under all circumstances, due to the potential for exothermic reactions and the release of gas. Although I could find no specific references for skin exposures, logic would indicate the same would be true in these cases as well.

Water is always the best, most easily available and cheapest means of decontamination. AND it will do no harm.

In case of exposure, always call your local Poison Control Centre for the most appropriate recommendations.

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+1 The use of much water is exactly what is recommended in the OSHA Guide for Concrete Manufacturing, the First Aid Guide of the DGUV (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherungen) and in standard books on experimental chemistry, such as Arbeitsmethoden in der Organischen Chemie. Don't waste time to search for the vinegar! Use water and use plenty of it! – Klaus Warzecha Dec 28 '14 at 9:58

Injury to your skin can occur while the skin is in contact with the cement--the more prolonged the contact, the greater the degree of skin damage. As soon as you wash off the cement (using either vinegar or water--they will be equally effective) you will stop additional damage, but the vinegar will not reverse the skin damage that has already occurred.

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