Solubility in Chemistry: Definition & Properties

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  • 0:05 What is Solubility?
  • 1:32 What Affects Solubility?
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nathan Crawford

Nathan, a PhD chemist, has taught chemistry and physical science courses.

This lesson defines solubility and discusses this property in the context of chemistry. The lesson also includes a discussion of the impact that temperature and intermolecular interactions can have on solubility.

What is Solubility?

Have you ever wondered why salt dissolves completely in water, but the oil in some salad dressing never mixes with the vinegar? This simple question of why some substances mix while others do not is explained by a concept known as solubility. Solubility is defined as the ability of one substance to dissolve within another substance.

The solubility of solids mixed with liquids, liquids mixed with other liquids, and gases mixed with liquids is a vitally important factor within chemistry, and the solubility of solids within liquids is particularly significant. Some reactions produce compounds that are insoluble, or have very low solubility, which means they don't mix easily. The insoluble products, called precipitates, settle to the bottom of containers following the reaction. Liquids also exhibit varying solubility with one another. Some liquids, like isopropyl alcohol and water, show great solubility with one another. Isopropyl alcohol and water are used to make an antiseptic solution for medical applications. Other liquids, such as gasoline, have extremely low solubility with water. Gases like oxygen easily dissolve in liquids like water and are vital to the biochemistry of aquatic organisms. Oxygen can also dissolve in the liquid ingredients that are used to make plastics, and if the oxygen is not removed, the oxygen can stop the chemical reaction that forms the plastic.

What Affects Solubility?

One of the factors that has a profound impact on solubility is temperature. Temperature, a measure of the available thermal energy, can increase the solubility of solids in liquids. This phenomenon can be observed in the creation of supersaturated solutions, or mixtures that contain far more of the solid dissolved in a liquid than would be possible under room temperature conditions. One application of supersaturated solutions can be seen in the production of rock candy where high-temperature sugar solutions readily form sugar crystals on the surface of objects placed in the solution. For gases that are dissolved in liquids, however, the trend is just the opposite. Cooler temperatures increase the solubility of gases in liquids, and higher temperatures decrease the solubility of gases. An example of the effect of temperature on dissolved gases can be found in the loss of dissolved oxygen in lakes or streams during extremely hot weather, a condition that results in the death of fish.

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