In chemistry, an alkali (/; from Arabic: al-qaly "ashes of the saltwort") is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal chemical element. An alkali also can be defined as a base that dissolves in water. A solution of a soluble base has a pH greater than 7.0. The adjective alkaline is commonly, and alkalescent less often, used in English as a synonym for basic, especially for bases soluble in water. This broad use of the term is likely to have come about because alkalis were the first bases known to obey the Arrhenius definition of a base, and they are still among the most common bases.


The word "alkali" is derived from Arabic al qalīy (or alkali),[1] meaning the calcined ashes (see calcination), referring to the original source of alkaline substances. A water-extract of burned plant ashes, called potash and composed mostly of potassium carbonate, was mildly basic. After heating this substance with calcium hydroxide (slaked lime), a far more strongly basic substance known as caustic potash (potassium hydroxide) was produced. Caustic potash was traditionally used in conjunction with animal fats to produce soft soaps, one of the caustic processes that rendered soaps from fats in the process of saponification, one known since antiquity. Plant potash lent the name to the element potassium, which was first derived from caustic potash, and also gave potassium its chemical symbol K (from the German name Kalium), which ultimately derived from alkali.