Heterogeneous Mixture: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

You come into contact with mixtures every day. Most of the foods we eat and drink are some form of mixtures. In this lesson, you will learn about heterogeneous mixtures and the types of heterogeneous mixtures recognized by scientists.

Definition of Heterogeneous Mixtures

A mixture is a combination of two or more pure substances in which the original substances retain their chemical properties. In some mixtures, the initial substances cannot be detected after they have been mixed. In a heterogeneous mixture, the substances do not blend smoothly throughout, and the individual substances that compose the mixture can be detected. Heterogeneous mixtures can typically be separated back into their individual components through chemical or physical means.

Examples of Heterogeneous Mixtures

Scientists recognize two types of heterogeneous mixtures; they are known as suspensions and colloids. Suspensions are mixtures containing particles that settle out when left undisturbed. As a child, you may have played in the mud. If you take some muddy water and put it into a jar and leave it alone for a day or two, the mixture will settle out, and you will have the dirt on the bottom of the jar and the water on the top. This makes muddy water a heterogeneous mixture classified as a suspension. Suspensions such as this can typically be separated by using a filter and pouring the solution through the filter. This leaves the solid in the filter and the liquid in a container below the filter.

Do you like Italian dressing on your salads? If so, you are using a classic example of a suspension. You probably have noticed that when Italian dressing is left alone, the solid particles go to the bottom and the oil stays on top of the bottle. This is because it is a suspension, and it could be separated by filtration.

If this dressing is left undisturbed, the solid particles will settle to the bottom, and the oil will stay on top. This makes it a suspension. Heterogeneous mixtures of intermediate-sized particles that do not settle out are known as colloids. The most abundant substance in a colloid is known as the dispersion medium. The other substance is known as the dispersion particle. The particles of a colloid are prevented from settling out because they are charged. The particles that make up the dispersion medium have an opposite charge of the dispersion particles in the mixture. This mixture of opposite charges causes them to attract one another and stay suspended. This keeps the particles from settling out over time.

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