Comparing Mixtures of Substances

Tanya Hausman, Rebecca Gillaspy
  • Author
    Tanya Hausman

    Tanya has taught for 21 years, anywhere from 1st through 9th grades, as well as STEM. She has a bachelor's in elementary education with a middle school math endorsement from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. She has a current professional teaching license and years of experience creating interesting, engaging lessons for her students.

  • 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.

Compare colloids, suspensions, solutions, and find their differences. Understand particles in a solution, and explore solution, suspension, and colloid examples. Updated: 02/19/2022

Comparing and Contrasting Mixtures of Substances

In chemistry, when two or more materials are mixed together without a chemical change happening (without it reacting and turning into something else) it is a mixture. To compare and contrast mixtures with solutions, solutions are a type of mixture because substances are mixed together. In contrast, a solution is a special type of mixture in which one substance is dissolved in another. There are other kinds of mixtures, as well. A suspension also mixes substances, but over time the substances will separate from each other. A colloid is somewhere in between a solution and a suspension. The particles are between the sizes of these other two mixtures and the mixture does not separate.

What is a Solution?

To be more specific, a solution is a homogeneous mixture of two or more substances where one substance is dissolved in another. Being homogeneous means the particles or parts of the different substances can't be seen. When one substance dissolves the solution looks completely the same throughout. The substance that is dissolved is called the solute and the substance it is dissolved in is called the solvent. In a solution the particles are microscopic, less than 1 nm in diameter. A solution is a very stable mixture and the solute will not separate from the solvent on its own. One cannot separate the solute from the solvent using filtration, although they can be separated using other methods (such as letting water evaporate and leaving salt crystals behind in a salt solution).

If light is passed through a solution, it cannot be seen, since the particles are so tiny they do not reflect the light. Solutions can exist in any state of matter. Liquid solutions are seen often, such as making a cup of tea or mixing up some hot cocoa. Air is a solution of various gases and water vapor. An example of a solid solution is brass, which is made from copper and zinc.


The particles in the tea leaves and sugar are dissolved in hot water, making a solution.

solution suspension colloid examples


This brass French horn is a solution made from copper and zinc.

solution suspension colloid examples


What is a Suspension?

A suspension is another special type of mixture. When looking at what is different between a solution and a suspension, the particles of a suspension are larger, with a diameter greater than 1,000 nm. The substances are mixed together through means such as shaking or stirring. A suspension is a heterogeneous mixture where one can see the different parts in it because the particles do not dissolve. Over time, the substances will separate from each other, therefore making the mixture unstable. Due to these larger particles, the parts of a suspension can be separated using filtration. These larger particles also scatter light if it is passed through the mixture. Think of any oil-based salad dressing. It always needs to be shaken before using it to mix the parts back together. This is an example of a suspension. Any muddy water from a river or lake is also an example of a suspension.


Over time, the parts of this suspension will separate into the different substances.

solution suspension colloid examples


The water in this river is full of sediment, which would separate if given a chance, making it a suspension.

solution suspension colloid examples


Mixtures

ingredients

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.

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Solution

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!

Suspension

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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Video Transcript

Mixtures

ingredients

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.

Solution

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!

Suspension

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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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between colloid and suspension?

In a suspension, the different substances will eventually separate. In a colloid the substances will not separate, but will stay mixed together.

What is the difference between a solution and a suspension?

A solution is a homogeneous mixture where one substance dissolves into another and stays mixed together. A suspension is a heterogeneous mixture that does not dissolve and the different parts will separate.

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