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So I tried to replace a dead triple-A alkaline battery in a waterproof compartment; it had leaked fluid + gas which had built up a bit of pressure: When opened, the material (about a dozen tiny droplets, total volume less than a pea) spattered on my hands, clothes and desk :-[

I am assuming that it was pretty concentrated KOH given that it felt slippery / turned the skin greyish before washing it off with plenty of water (no visible chemical burn or aftereffects several days later, though).

  • Is it good enough to wash the contaminated clothes in a regular washing machine? I did do an additional rinse cycle afterwards.

  • Will any droplets that I haven't been able to find become neutralized over time, or do I have to tear my study apart and wipe/hose everything down?

    • Some documents state that KOH absorbs atmospheric water while others state that it reacts with atmospheric CO2 to form a stable carbonate - Surely it can't do both at the same time?

Sorry for the somewhat off-topic question, but it feels like all the MDS are quite unhelpful about how to remediate a spill beyond just 'wash skin with water, remove clothes'..

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You just encountered a situation where you did something without sufficient protective gear; in this example, if you had known the battery contains corrosive material, you would have used protective gloves (for your hands) and a pair of safety glasses (for your eyes).

Your estimate that the Leclanché and alkaline battery contains lye is correct. The sensation of the skin turning slippery is expectable, since $\ce{KOH}$ started to degrade the protective coating of your skin (fat) into soap. Rinsing promptly with plenty of water was a good action.

The lye equally attacked your cloths (one reason chemists wear lab coats), and as your skin, it is beneficial to rinse them right after the skin with plenty of water, too; and then to wash in a washing machine. On contrast, bringing them as they are into the washing machine only will spread unnecessarily the contamination to other clothes. Expect that the areas touched by the lye eventually will become brittle, especially if i) they "dried" for some time prior to rising or washing and ii) upon action of heat (e.g. ironing).

Regarding your study, I recommend to go the extra mile, and and clean all the possible surfaces; albeit hosing sounds a bit overkill (esp. inside an appartment). You want to eliminate the pollution quickly, as it may attack wood and wood stain; and imagine you accidentally glide a book over such a forgotten droplet, it will be attacked just as your skin was attacked, too. (Even more, as in contrast to human skin, the dead book does not have the ability to re-cover itself by the thin film of protective glycerides.) In addition, droplets of lye do not dry away like water, $\ce{KOH}$ is hygroscopic and will constantly remain somewhat wet (and corrosive).

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the hygroscopic property of KOH: What is then the white power/crystal that (normally) forms on leaky alkaline batteries? Other sources claim that it is the reaction product of KOH and CO2 - Is this incorrect in your opinion? $\endgroup$ – linklater Jul 5 '17 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @linklater KOH is hygroscopic and reacts with carbon dioxide to form the carbonate, which is not as hygroscopic, and looks dry. And don't worry, plant fibers (cellulose et al.) are fairly resistant to alkalines. $\endgroup$ – Karl Jul 5 '17 at 19:24

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