Lead(II) acetate

Lead(II) acetate

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Lead acetate (Pb(CH3COO)2), also known as lead acetate, lead diacetate, plumbous acetate, sugar of lead, lead sugar, salt of Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

, and Goulard's
Thomas Goulard
Thomas Goulard was a French surgeon famous for Goulard's extract, a solution of lead acetate and lead oxide which was formerly used as an astringent. Goulard was a surgeon and anatomist in Montpellier who specialized in genitourinary disorders. His best known written work is titled Oeuvres de...

, is a white crystalline chemical compound
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

 with a sweetish taste. It is made by treating lead(II) oxide
Lead(II) oxide
Lead oxide is the inorganic compound with the formula PbO. Lead oxide occurs in two polymorphs, red, having a tetragonal crystal structure and yellow, having an orthorhombic crystal structure...

 with acetic acid
Acetic acid
Acetic acid is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3CO2H . It is a colourless liquid that when undiluted is also called glacial acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar , and has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell...

. Like other lead compounds, it is toxic. Lead acetate is soluble in water and glycerin. With water it forms the trihydrate, Pb(CH3COO)2·3H2O, a colorless or white efflorescent monoclinic crystalline substance.

The substance is used as a reagent to make other lead compounds and as a fixative for some dyes. In low concentrations, it is the principal active ingredient in progressive types of hair coloring
Hair coloring
Hair coloring is the practice of changing the color of hair. Common reasons are to cover gray hair, to change to a color regarded as more fashionable or desirable, and to restore the original hair color after it has been discolored by hairdressing processes or sun bleaching...

 dyes. Lead(II) acetate is also used as a mordant
A mordant is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics or tissue sections by forming a coordination complex with the dye which then attaches to the fabric or tissue. It may be used for dyeing fabrics, or for intensifying stains in cell or tissue preparations. The term mordant comes from the Latin...

 in textile printing
Textile printing
Textile printing is the process of applying colour to fabric in definite patterns or designs. In properly printed fabrics the colour is bonded with the fiber, so as to resist washing and friction...

 and dyeing
Dyeing is the process of adding color to textile products like fibers, yarns, and fabrics. Dyeing is normally done in a special solution containing dyes and particular chemical material. After dyeing, dye molecules have uncut Chemical bond with fiber molecules. The temperature and time controlling...

, as a drier
A desiccant is a hygroscopic substance that induces or sustains a state of dryness in its local vicinity in a moderately well-sealed container....

 in paints and varnishes, and in preparing other lead compounds.


Like other lead(II) salts, lead(II) acetate has a sweet taste, which has led to its use as a sugar substitute
Sugar substitute
A sugar substitute is a food additive that duplicates the effect of sugar in taste, usually with less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic. Those that are not natural are, in general, called artificial sweeteners....

 throughout history. The ancient Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, who had few sweeteners besides honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

, would boil must
Must is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace; it typically makes up 7%–23% of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in winemaking...

 (grape juice) in lead pots to produce a reduced sugar syrup called defrutum
Defrutum, carenum, and sapa were reductions of must used in Ancient Roman cuisine. They were made by boiling down grape juice or must in large kettles until it had been reduced to two-thirds the original volume, carenum;...

, concentrated again into sapa. This syrup was used to sweeten wine and to sweeten and preserve fruit. It is possible that lead(II) acetate or other lead compounds leaching
Leaching (chemical science)
Leaching is the process of extracting minerals from a solid by dissolving them in a liquid, either in nature or through an industrial process. In the chemical processing industry, leaching has a variety of commercial applications, including separation of metal from ore using acid, and sugar from...

 into the syrup might have caused lead poisoning
Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems...

 in anyone consuming it. Therefore, lead acetate is no longer used in the production of sweeteners in most of the world because of its recognized toxicity. Modern chemistry can easily detect it, which has all but stopped the illegal use that continued decades after legal use as a sweetener was terminated.

Resultant deaths

Pope Clement II
Pope Clement II
Pope Clement II , was Pope from December 25, 1046 to his death. He was the first in a series of reform-minded popes from Germany.Born in Hornburg, Lower Saxony, Germany, he was the son of Count Konrad of Morsleben and Hornburg and his wife Amulrad.In 1040, he became Bishop of Bamberg...

 died in October 1047. A recent toxicologic examination of his remains confirmed centuries-old rumors that he had been poisoned with lead sugar. It is not clear if he was assassinated.

In 1787 painter Albert Christoph Dies
Albert Christoph Dies
-As painter:He was born at Hanover , and began his studies there. For one year he studied in the academy of Düsseldorf, and then he started at the age of twenty with thirty ducats in his pocket for Rome, studying briefly on the way in Mannheim and Basel. In Rome he lived a frugal life till 1796;...

 swallowed, by accident, approximately 0.75 ounces (21 g) of lead acetate. His recovery from this poison was slow and incomplete. He lived with illnesses until his death in 1822.

Although the use of lead(II) acetate as a sweetener was already illegal at that time, composer Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

 may have died of lead poisoning caused by wines adulterated with lead acetate.

Mary Seacole
Mary Seacole
Mary Jane Seacole , sometimes known as Mother Seacole or Mary Grant, was a Jamaican nurse best known for her involvement in the Crimean War. She set up and operated boarding houses in Panama and the Crimea to assist in her desire to treat the sick...

 applied lead(II) acetate, among other remedies, against an epidemic of cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 in Panama.


Lead acetate can be made by boiling elemental lead in acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide. It's also possible to create with lead carbonate or lead oxide.

Other uses

Lead(II) acetate, as well as white lead
White lead
White lead is the chemical compound 2·Pb2. It was formerly used as an ingredient for lead paint and a cosmetic called Venetian Ceruse, because its opaque quality made it a good pigment. However, it tended to cause lead poisoning, and its use has been banned in most countries.White lead has been...

, have been used in cosmetics throughout history, though this practice has ceased in Western countries.
It is still used in men's hair coloring
Hair coloring
Hair coloring is the practice of changing the color of hair. Common reasons are to cover gray hair, to change to a color regarded as more fashionable or desirable, and to restore the original hair color after it has been discolored by hairdressing processes or sun bleaching...

 products like Grecian Formula
Grecian formula
Grecian Formula is a popular men's hair coloring product in the United States. It is made by Combe Incorporated in White Plains, New York, and is also known as Grecian Formula 16. It is available as a clear liquid, cream and a foam...


Lead(II) acetate paper is used to detect the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of expired eggs perceptible at concentrations as low as 0.00047 parts per million...

. The gas reacts with lead(II) acetate on the moistened test paper to form a grey precipitate of lead(II) sulfide
Lead(II) sulfide
Lead sulfide is an inorganic compound with the formula Pb. It finds limited use in electronic devices. PbS, also known as galena, is the principal ore and most important compound of lead....


Lead(II) acetate solution was a commonly used folk remedy for sore nipples.
In modern medicine, for a time, it was used as an astringent
An astringent substance is a chemical compound that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, usually locally after topical medicinal application. The word "astringent" derives from Latin adstringere, meaning "to bind fast"...

, in the form of Goulard's Extract
Goulard's Extract
Goulard's Extract is a solution of lead acetate and lead oxide used as an astringent during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. It was named after its introducer, Thomas Goulard. Lead poisoning and the development of more effective astringents led doctors to abandon its use...


An aqueous solution of lead(II) acetate is the byproduct of the 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide and an oxidizer. Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. In dilute solution, it appears colorless. With its oxidizing properties, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleach or cleaning agent...

 and white vinegar
Vinegar is a liquid substance consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, the acetic acid being produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional...

 used in the cleaning and maintenance of stainless steel firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

A suppressor, sound suppressor, sound moderator, or silencer, is a device attached to or part of the barrel of a firearm which reduces the amount of noise and flash generated by firing the weapon....

s (silencers) and compensators. The solution is agitated by the bubbling action of the hydrogen peroxide, and the main reaction is the dissolution of lead deposits within the suppressor by the acetic acid, which forms lead acetate. Because of its high toxicity, this chemical solution must be appropriately disposed by a chemical processing facility or hazardous materials center. Alternatively, the solution may be reacted with sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 to precipitate insoluble lead(II) sulfate. The solid may then be removed by mechanical filtration and is safer to dispose of than aqueous lead acetate.

It was also used in making of slow matches
Slow match
Slow match or match cord is the very slow burning cord or twine fuse used by early gunpowder musketeers, artillerymen, and soldiers to ignite matchlock muskets, cannons, and petards...

 during the middle ages
Middle age
Middle age is the period of age beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age. Various attempts have been made to define this age, which is around the third quarter of the average life span of human beings....

. It was made by mixing natural form of lead(II) oxide called litharge
Litharge is one of the natural mineral forms of lead oxide, PbO. Litharge is a secondary mineral which forms from the oxidation of galena ores. It forms as coatings and encrustations with internal tetragonal crystal structure. It is dimorphous with the orthorhombic form massicot...

 and vinegar
Vinegar is a liquid substance consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, the acetic acid being produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional...


Lead(II) acetate has also been used to treat poison ivy
Poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans, better known as poison ivy , is a poisonous North American plant that is well known for its production of urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching rash in most people who touch it...


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