The term Chlorite can refer to the following meanings:
- The chlorite group of clay minerals.
- A Chlorite ion is a polyatomic anion consisting of an atom of chlorine and two oxygen atoms. Its chemical formula is ClO2-. The oxidation state of the chlorine atom within the chlorite ion is +3.
How does the chlorite anion fit within the overall scheme of chlorine based anions? In general, chlorine can assume oxidation states of -1, +1, +3, +5, or +7 corresponding to the anions Cl-, ClO-, ClO2-, ClO3-, or ClO4-, respectively, known as chloride, hypochlorite, chlorite, chlorate, and perchlorate respectively.)
The free acid, chlorous acid, HClO2, is only stable at low concentrations. Since it cannot be concentrated, it is not a commercial product. However, the corresponding sodium salt, sodium chlorite, NaClO2 is stable and inexpensive enough to be commercially available. The corresponding salts of heavy metals (Ag+, Hg+, Tl+, Pb2+, and also Cu2+ and NH4+) decompose explosively with heat or shock.
Sodium chlorite is derived indirectly from sodium chlorate, NaClO3. First, the explosively unstable gas chlorine dioxide, ClO2 is produced by reducing sodium chlorate in a strong acid solution with a suitable reducing agent (for example, sodium chloride, sulfur dioxide, or hydrochloric acid). The chlorine dioxide is then absorbed into an alkaline solution and reduced with hydrogen peroxide, H2O2 yielding sodium chlorite.
The main application of sodium chlorite is the generation of chlorine dioxide for bleaching and stripping of textiles, pulp, and paper. It is also used for disinfection in a few municipal water treatment plants after conversion to chlorine dioxide. An advantage in this application, as compared to the more commonly used chlorine, is that trihalomethanes are not produced from organic contaminants. Sodium chlorite, NaClO2 also finds application as a component of contact lens cleaning solution under the trade name purite.
Sodium chlorite, like many oxidizers, should be protected from inadvertant contamination by organic materials to avoid the formation of an explosive mixture.