Basic Properties of Chemical Reactions

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  • 0:10 Chemical Reactions
  • 1:05 Neutralization
  • 3:23 Exergonic Reactions
  • 4:11 Endergonic Reactions
  • 4:59 Equilibrium
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Lesson Transcript
Greg Chin
Expert Contributor
Matthew Bergstresser

Matthew has a Master of Arts degree in Physics Education. He has taught high school chemistry and physics for 14 years.

Learn how about the various components of a chemical reaction, and how those components function. Use this lesson to understand the basic properties of different kinds of chemical reactions.

What Are Chemical Reactions?

Think back to childhood. Didn't glo sticks and firecrackers just seem like magic? Glo sticks somehow produce light without any fire and firecrackers went from those tiny little paper tubes to dazzling lights and sound in the sky. Although these products may seem to defy nature, they actually can be explained by chemical reactions.

A chemical reaction is a process in which molecules interact to form new substances. Now, to make it easier to talk about chemical reactions, scientists will use symbols. Here's a basic representation of a chemical reaction: A + B -- > C + D.

The actual glo stick and firecracker reactions are kind of complicated, so let's just consider a simple example to begin with. Let's talk about the neutralization of acids and bases.

Reactants interact and recombine to form new molecules

Neutralizing Acids and Bases

So let's consider the neutralization between hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Remember that hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide are a strong acid and a strong base. So, what does that mean? So what that means is that both of them are going to dissociate completely. HCl, because it's a strong acid, is going to donate hydrogen ions into solution. That means it's also going to produce chlorine ions. Sodium hydroxide is going to produce hydroxide ions and sodium ions.

Now, these things to the left of the arrow generically appear as A and B, and down here as these four ions, are called the reactants (H+ + Cl- + Na+ + OH-). They are the things that are going to interact with each other and recombine in different ways. The arrow signifies that a reaction is taking place. That means that whatever's on the right side of the arrow are the products of the chemical reaction.

All right, so what are the products of this chemical reaction? How do you think that these reactants can recombine? Well, do these two ions (Cl- and Na+) look familiar to you? That could form NaCl, otherwise known as table salt.

So that just leaves two ions that are left (H+ and OH-) that could potentially interact with each other. What could those two ions form? Well, if you add H+ and OH- together, you actually end up with water (H20). So this reaction is considered a neutralization reaction because the H+ ions and the OH- ions have consumed each other to produce water. That means that there are less H+ ions in solution, which raises the pH and brings it closer to seven.

Exothermic reactions occur spontaneously without having to input energy
Exothermic Reaction

Endothermic and Exothermic Reactions

Ok, great. But doesn't that just raise the question of why reactions happen? I mean, why not the opposite? Why can't I make hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide from table salt and water?

Let's consider a boulder on a hill. The height of the hill is a measure of the free energy in the system. The boulder has potential energy. The amount of energy that the boulder has is dependent on how high the hill is. Now, if the boulder is just placed here at the edge of the hill, it's just going to naturally roll down the hill, releasing the potential energy that it had stored up.

If we think about this situation in terms of a chemical reaction, it is a spontaneous reaction which will occur without any extra input of energy. The glo stick is an example of an exothermic reaction. As soon as you crack that inner compartment, the chemicals mix and the glo stick spontaneously produces light.

On the other hand, if the boulder was at the bottom of the hill, you would actually have to expend energy to push it up to the top of the hill. If free energy has to be added for a chemical reaction to proceed, the reaction is called endothermic. This means that the reaction will not occur spontaneously.

Endothermic reactions require an outside energy contribution before they can take place
Endothermic Reaction

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Additional Activities

Chemical Reactions

Without chemical reactions, there would be only around 100 elements (types of atoms) in the universe. This means only atoms would exist, and there would be no life. There are telltale signs that a chemical reaction has occurred. Let's practice working with chemical reactions and how to identify a change as a chemical reaction. There is a word bank below. Use these terms to fit the scenarios listed under the Scenarios section.

Word Bank

  • pH change
  • neutralization
  • exothermic
  • endothermic
  • color change
  • bubbles observed without the liquid or solution being heated


1. A clear liquid is poured into another clear liquid. The mixture of the liquids causes the acid detector phenolphthalein to turn pink. Which term from the word bank fits this scenario?

2. An electric current is put through water and bubbles are seen on both the cathode and anode. Which term from the word bank fits this scenario?

3. When two solutions are mixed, the container holding them gets very cold. Which term from the word bank fits this scenario?

4. A piece of wood catches on fire. Which term from the word bank fits this scenario?

5. Water is created when HCl is added to NaOH. Which term from the word bank fits this scenario?

6. Colorless lead(II) nitrate is added to colorless potassium iodide, and a yellow precipitate is formed. Which term from the word bank fits this scenario?


1. pH change. Phenolphthalein turns pink when in the presence of a base.

2. Bubbles observed without heating is a sign of a chemical reaction. The electric current separates the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atom.

3. Endothermic. Heat energy is absorbed.

4. Exothermic. Heat energy is released.

5. Neutralization. Acids plus bases yield salts plus water.

6. Color change. The yellow precipitate is lead(II) iodide.

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