What should sulfuric acid be stored in?

Sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive chemical that requires proper storage and handling precautions. Choosing the right container material is critical to safely storing sulfuric acid. The key factors to consider when selecting a storage container for sulfuric acid include chemical compatibility, strength and durability, cost, and ease of use.

Quick Answers

Sulfuric acid should be stored in containers made of materials like:

  • Glass
  • Lead
  • Steel
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene

Stainless steel, high-density polyethylene, and glass are common choices for sulfuric acid storage. Lead and carbon steel have better chemical resistance but may be impractical for larger containers due to weight and cost.

Chemical Compatibility

The most important factor in choosing a sulfuric acid storage container is chemical compatibility. Sulfuric acid will quickly corrode and degrade many common materials.

Sulfuric acid is highly corrosive to most metals due to its strong oxidizing properties. It can dissolve steel, aluminum, copper, zinc and many other metals over time. Sulfuric acid also degrades many plastics and rubbers.

The best materials for sulfuric acid storage are those that form a protective oxide layer or are inherently inert to acid attack. This includes materials like:

  • Stainless steel
  • Lead
  • Glass
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene

Stainless steel forms a passivating chromium oxide layer that resists corrosion. Lead is also corrosion resistant. Glass is impervious to sulfuric acid (though it can still break). Polyethylene and polypropylene are essentially inert to sulfuric acid.

Other materials that have decent sulfuric acid resistance include titanium, tantalum, carbon steel, and specialty plastics like PVDF or PTFE. Most rubber compounds degrade rapidly in sulfuric acid.

Strength and Durability

In addition to chemical compatibility, the container material also needs to be strong and durable enough for the storage application.

For smaller laboratory containers, glass or plastic bottles are usually adequate. Lead and stainless steel small containers are also safe choices but more expensive.

For larger bulk storage or transport vessels, the container weight becomes a bigger concern. Weaker plastics like polyethylene are not suitable for large tanks and vats. Stainless steel or lead-lined carbon steel are common choices for large industrial sulfuric acid containers.

Thicker and reinforced grades of polyethylene may sometimes be used for bulk sulfuric acid storage. Fiber-reinforced plastic and rubber-lined steel tanks are other options.

The container must be able to safely hold sulfuric acid without bursting or cracking under pressure. Brittle materials like glass have a higher risk of breaking compared to ductile metals and plastics. Proper structural support is necessary.

Cost Considerations

Cost is another key factor in selecting a sulfuric acid storage container type. More corrosion resistant materials usually have a higher upfront cost.

For very small amounts, glass and plastic bottles are inexpensive choices. Polyethylene containers are low cost for larger volumes.

Stainless steel has much higher fabrication costs than carbon steel. Lined carbon steel vessels are more economical for bulk storage than stainless steel.

Lead is expensive but has excellent chemical resistance. Larger lead containers are impractical for most applications due to the high weight and material cost.

Fiber reinforced plastic tanks are moderately priced but have shorter service lives than stainless steel. They require internal liners or coatings for sulfuric acid resistance.

When selecting a storage container material, it is important to consider the lifetime costs and not just the initial purchase price. More durable and corrosion resistant materials usually have lower overall costs in the long run.

Ease of Use

The sulfuric acid storage container should also be designed for safe and practical use. Important ease of use factors include:

  • Handling – Containers must be able to be moved safely. Excessive weight makes handling difficult.
  • Accessibility – Manways, hatches and discharge valves should allow adequate access inside the vessel.
  • Secondary Containment – Larger tanks need containment structures to prevent spills and leaks.
  • Instrumentation – Level gauges, pressure relief valves, and other instruments should be compatible with sulfuric acid.
  • Cleaning and Maintenance – Tanks should be easy to clean and service. Internal coatings facilitate maintenance.

Plastic and stainless steel tanks rate highly for ease of handling compared to materials like lead or lined carbon steel. Glass containers are lightweight but can break if dropped.

Proper design is crucial for larger tanks and vessels. All aspects of the sulfuric acid storage system must be compatible and functional.

Selecting the Right Material

There are several suitable materials for sulfuric acid storage containers, each with advantages and disadvantages. Some key considerations for selecting the best material include:

Stainless Steel

  • Excellent corrosion resistance
  • High strength and impact resistance
  • Suitable for a wide range of temperatures
  • Relatively expensive, especially in thicker gauges
  • Heavier than plastic containers
  • Requires stainless steel valves, fittings, etc.


  • Low cost
  • Good chemical resistance
  • Lightweight and easy to handle
  • Flexible; can expand and contract
  • Not suitable for very large volumes
  • Can become brittle over time

Fiber-Reinforced Plastic

  • Better strength than polyethylene
  • Relatively lightweight
  • May degrade over time
  • Requires internal liners
  • Not suitable for high temperatures

Carbon Steel with Rubber or Plastic Lining

  • Low material cost
  • High strength
  • Internal liner provides acid resistance
  • Heavier than plastic or stainless steel
  • Internal liners can fail over time

Container Design Standards

In addition to material selection, sulfuric acid storage containers must meet certain design standards for safety. Some important design considerations include:

  • Thickness – minimum wall thickness for structural integrity
  • Welds – fully welded seams, coded vessels
  • Pressure rating – ability to withstand internal pressure
  • Vents – pressure relief in case of temperature buildup
  • Secondary containment – leak and spill protection
  • Support structure – proper tank foundations and saddles
  • Instrumentation – level, pressure, and temperature sensors
  • Coatings – internal liners or external paints for protection

Larger sulfuric acid tanks must comply with design codes such as ASME, API, ASTM, and NFPA. Local regulations may also apply to storage above certain volumes.

Even smaller lab containers should follow best practices, like using shatter-proof bottles and adding vented caps where heat buildup is a concern.

Examples of Sulfuric Acid Storage Containers

Some common examples of suitable sulfuric acid storage containers include:

Glass Bottles

Borosilicate glass bottles are safe for storing small quantities in laboratories. Available in a range of sizes from a few ounces up to 1 gallon. Glass provides excellent chemical resistance and visibility of container contents. Glass is fragile and not suitable for larger volumes.

Polyethylene Carboys

HDPE plastic carboys are available up to 5 gallons. Relatively inexpensive and provide good chemical resistance. All plastic caps and fittings must be used. Can crack from impact or degradation over time.

Stainless Steel Drums

Stainless drums in 15-55 gallon sizes are common for intermediate sulfuric acid storage. More expensive than plastic but far more durable. Require proper grounding/bonding and venting in most cases.

Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic Tanks

FRP tanks from 100-15,000 gallons provide economical sulfuric acid storage. Interior liners (rubber, polyethylene) prevent direct acid contact with the fiberglass. Less durable than stainless steel.

Polyethylene Tank Containers

Large 350-500 gallon polyethylene tanks suitable for bulk sulfuric acid storage and transport. Chemically resistant and lightweight. Require full plastic construction – fittings, valves, vents, etc.

Lead-Lined Steel Tank

Large custom-fabricated steel tanks with internal lead lining for excellent sulfuric acid resistance. Very heavy and expensive but have long service life. Used for fixed bulk acid storage.

Safe Handling Practices

Proper handling procedures are crucial when working with sulfuric acid. No container can prevent hazards if used improperly. Some guidelines include:

  • Wear appropriate PPE – face shield, rubber apron & gloves, boots
  • Work in a fume hood to avoid breathing vapors
  • Add acid slowly to water to prevent violent reactions
  • Keep water sources readily available in case of contact with skin or eyes
  • Label all containers clearly with contents and hazards
  • Transport acid containers using appropriate carts
  • Ensure adequate ventilation when handling large amounts
  • Neutralize and collect small spills immediately
  • Have proper emergency response plans and equipment in place

Always review safety data sheets and handling instructions before working with any hazardous chemicals like sulfuric acid.


Storing sulfuric acid safely requires containers made of compatible materials that can withstand the corrosive properties. Glass, certain plastics, stainless steel, lead, and lined steel tanks are suitable options. Smaller lab containers prioritize chemical resistance, while larger storage vessels must also consider durability, cost, ease of handling, and regulatory compliance. With proper storage methods and protective equipment, sulfuric acid can be handled safely.

Leave a Comment