The skeletons of land vertebrates contain a massive reserve of alkaline mineral (hydroxyapatite), which is ultimately available to buffer metabolic H+ if acid-base balance is not maintained within narrow limits. The negative impact of acidosis on the skeleton has long been known but was thought to result from passive, physicochemical dissolution of bone mineral. This brief, selective review summarizes what is now known of the direct functional responses of bone cells to extracellular pH. We discovered that bone resorption by cultured osteoclasts is stimulated directly by acid. The stimulatory effect is near-maximal at pH 7.0, whereas above pH 7.4, resorption is switched off. In bone organ cultures, H+-stimulated bone mineral release is almost entirely osteoclast-mediated, with a negligible physicochemical component. Acidification is the key requirement for osteoclasts to excavate resorption pits in all species studied to date, and extracellular H+ may thus be regarded as the long-sought osteoclast activation factor. Acid-activated osteoclasts can be stimulated further by agents such as parathyroid hormone, 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol, and receptor activator of nuclear factor kappaB ligand. Osteoclasts may respond to pH changes via H+-sensing ion channels such as transient receptor potential vanilloid 1, a nociceptor that is also activated by capsaicin. Acidosis also exerts a powerful, reciprocal inhibitory effect on the mineralization of bone matrix by cultured osteoblasts. This is caused by increased hydroxyapatite solubility at low pH, together with selective inhibition of alkaline phosphatase, which is required for mineralization. Diets or drugs that shift acid-base balance in the alkaline direction may provide useful treatments for bone loss disorders.