Aluminium sulfate is a chemical compound with the formula Al2(SO4)3. It is soluble in water and is mainly used as a coagulating agent (promoting particle collision by neutralizing charge) in the purification of drinking water and waste water treatment plants, and also in paper manufacturing.
It is sometimes used in the human food industry as a firming agent, where it takes on E number E520, and in animal feed as a bactericide. Aluminum sulfate may be used as a deodorant, an astringent, or as a stiptic for superficial shaving wounds.
It is a common vaccine adjuvant and works "by facilitating the slow release of antigen from the vaccine depot formed at the site of inoculation."
Aluminium sulfate is used in water purification and as a mordant in dyeing and printing textiles. In water purification, it causes suspended impurities to coagulate into larger particles and then settle to the bottom of the container (or be filtered out) more easily. This process is called coagulation or flocculation. Research suggests that in Australia, aluminium sulfate used this way in drinking water treatment is the primary source of hydrogen sulfide gas in sanitary sewer systems. An improper and excess application incident in 1988 polluted the water supply of Camelford in Cornwall.
When dissolved in a large amount of neutral or slightly alkaline water, aluminium sulfate produces a gelatinous precipitate of aluminium hydroxide, Al(OH)3. In dyeing and printing cloth, the gelatinous precipitate helps the dye adhere to the clothing fibers by rendering the pigment insoluble.
Aluminium sulfate is sometimes used to reduce the pH of garden soil, as it hydrolyzes to form the aluminium hydroxide precipitate and a dilute sulfuric acid solution. An example of what changing the pH level of soil can do to plants is visible when looking at Hydrangea macrophylla. The gardener can add aluminium sulfate to the soil to reduce the pH which in turn will result in the flowers of the Hydrangea turning a different color (blue). The aluminium is what makes the flowers blue; at a higher pH, the aluminium is not available to the plant.
In the construction industry, it is used as waterproofing agent and accelerator in concrete. Another use is a foaming agent in fire fighting foam.