Nitrous acid (molecular formula HNO2) is a weak and monobasic acid known only in solution and in the form of nitrite (NO−
2) salts. Nitrous acid is used to make diazonium salts from amines. The resulting diazonium salts are reagents in azo coupling reactions to give azo dyes.
|Preferred IUPAC name
|Systematic IUPAC name
3D model (JSmol)
CompTox Dashboard (EPA)
|Molar mass||47.013 g/mol|
|Appearance||Pale blue solution|
|Density||Approx. 1 g/ml|
|Melting point||Only known in solution|
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
|what is ?)(|
In the gas phase, the planar nitrous acid molecule can adopt both a cis and a trans form. The trans form predominates at room temperature, and IR measurements indicate it is more stable by around 2.3 kJ mol−1.
(from the microwave spectrum)
Nitrous acid is usually generated by acidification of aqueous solutions sodium nitrite with a mineral acid. The acidification is usually conducted at ice temperatures, and the HNO2 is consumed in situ. Free nitrous acid is unstable and decomposes rapidly.
Nitrous acid can also be produced by dissolving dinitrogen trioxide in water according to the equation
- N2O3 + H2O → 2 HNO2
- 2 HNO2 → NO2 + NO + H2O
- 2 NO2 + H2O → HNO3 + HNO2
In warm or concentrated solutions, the overall reaction amounts to production of nitric acid, water, and nitric oxide:
- 3 HNO2 → HNO3 + 2 NO + H2O
The nitric trioxide can subsequently be re-oxidized by air to nitric acid, making the overall reaction:
- 2 HNO2 + O2 → 2 HNO3
With I− and Fe2+ ions, NO is formed:
- 2 KNO2 + 2 KI + 2 H2SO4 → I2 + 2 NO + 2 H2O + 2 K2SO4
- 2 KNO2 + 2 FeSO4 + 2 H2SO4 → Fe2(SO4)3 + 2 NO + 2 H2O + K2SO4
With Sn2+ ions, N2O is formed:
- 2 KNO2 + 6 HCl + 2 SnCl2 → 2 SnCl4 + N2O + 3 H2O + 2 KCl
With SO2 gas, NH2OH is formed:
- 2 KNO2 + 6 H2O + 4 SO2 → 3 H2SO4 + K2SO4 + 2 NH2OH
With Zn in alkali solution, NH3 is formed:
- 5 H2O + KNO2 + 3 Zn → NH3 + KOH + 3 Zn(OH)2
5, HN3, and subsequently, N2 gas is formed:
- HNO2 + [N2H5]+ → HN3 + H2O + H3O+
- HNO2 + HN3 → N2O + N2 + H2O
- I2 + 2 e− ⇌ 2 I− Eo = +0.54 V
3 + 3 H+ + 2 e− ⇌ HNO2 + H2O Eo = +0.93 V
- HNO2 + H+ + e− ⇌ NO + H2O Eo = +0.98 V
It can be seen that the values of Eo
cell for these reactions are similar, but nitric acid is a more powerful oxidizing agent. Base on the fact that dilute nitrous acid can oxidize iodide into iodine, it can be deduced that nitrous is a faster, rather than a more powerful, oxidizing agent than dilute nitric acid.
Nitrous acid is used to prepare diazonium salts:
- HNO2 + ArNH2 + H+ → ArN+
2 + 2 H2O
where Ar is an aryl group.
Such salts are widely used in organic synthesis, e.g., for the Sandmeyer reaction and in the preparation azo dyes, brightly colored compounds that are the basis of a qualitative test for anilines. Nitrous acid is used to destroy toxic and potentially explosive sodium azide. For most purposes, nitrous acid is usually formed in situ by the action of mineral acid on sodium nitrite: It is mainly blue in colour
- NaNO2 + HCl → HNO2 + NaCl
- 2 NaN3 + 2 HNO2 → 3 N2 + 2 NO + 2 NaOH
Reaction with two α-hydrogen atoms in ketones creates oximes, which may be further oxidized to a carboxylic acid, or reduced to form amines. This process is used in the commercial production of adipic acid.
- (CH3)2CHCH2CH2OH + HNO2 → (CH3)2CHCH2CH2ONO + H2O
Atmosphere of the EarthEdit
Nitrous acid is involved in the ozone budget of the lower atmosphere: the troposphere. The heterogeneous reaction of nitric oxide (NO) and water produces nitrous acid. When this reaction takes place on the surface of atmospheric aerosols, the product readily photolyses to hydroxyl radicals. 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to nitrous acid.|
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