Comparing Solutions, Suspensions & Colloids: Properties & Examples

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  • 0:02 Mixtures
  • 0:43 Solution
  • 2:33 Suspension
  • 3:43 Colloid
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

With a few simple observations, you can classify a mixture as a solution, suspension or colloid. Learn how we use properties, such as visibility of particles, how light is affected and the ability of particles to settle out to classify mixtures.



Here, we have three common kitchen ingredients: sugar, oil, and gelatin powder. We're going to mix these ingredients into three separate glasses of water to perform a kitchen-style science project. Before we create our mixtures, can you guess which ingredients will mix well and which will not? Will the oil mix with the water or separate into layers? Will the mixtures be clear or cloudy? Our observations about these mixtures will allow us to classify them as solutions, suspensions, or colloids. Did you make your predictions? Great, let's go ahead and start mixing.


One of our three mixtures is a solution, which is a homogeneous mixture of two or more substances. We describe a solution as homogeneous because the added components mix completely and are uniformly distributed throughout the mixture. With a homogenous mixture, like a solution, the particles are very small. This small size prevents them from being filtered out or separated. The small size also means that the individual particles cannot be seen, which is one of the properties that all solutions have in common. Another property that we can attribute to solutions is that the particles will not settle out, regardless of how long the solution sits.

With these tidbits of knowledge, we can eliminate one of the three mixtures from our kitchen experiment. Oil and water do not mix well. With that mixture, the added components remain separate and do not mix completely, so we call it a heterogeneous mixture.

That leaves us with the sugar and the gelatin mixtures. Which one of these is a solution? Well, to answer that, we need to know one more property of solutions, which is that solutions do not scatter light. If we were to place a flashlight behind the glass of sugar water, the light would pass through easily, but we cannot say that for the glass of gelatin and water. That mixture is cloudy, and if we were to shine the same flashlight through it, we would see that the light would get dispersed and not easily shine through. Congratulations! You just identified sugar water as a solution!


Now, we have to decide which of our two remaining mixtures is a suspension. A suspension is defined as a heterogeneous mixture that contains large particles. I bet you can already guess that the oil and water mixture matches this description. When we stir the oil and water, the globs of oil get smaller, but they never completely mix. The particles are visible, and when we stop stirring, the particles settle out to form a separate layer.

With a suspension, it's easy to separate the particles using a filter, which is not something we can do with the other two types of mixtures. To complete our look at suspensions, we can try our flashlight test. When the light is shown through a suspension, it may scatter light, but sometimes suspensions are opaque, so the light might not be able to penetrate the mixture at all. For example, if we were to put mud in our water glass, we would create a suspension that would be so dark and murky that light would not be able to pass through.

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