Using Chemical Reactions to Identify Substances

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  • 0:02 Reviewing Dissolution…
  • 0:53 Household Solutes
  • 2:53 Household Reactors
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While many household substances look similar, a quick chemical reaction can show just how different they are. In this lesson, we learn how to identify some common household substances using reactions.

Reviewing Dissolution and Reactions

At the core of chemistry are two actions that can occur when multiple substances are mixed together. The first of these is dissolution, by which one substance dissolves into another. The substance that dissolves is known as the solute, while the substance that does the dissolving is known as the solvent. Solutes can be liquid, gas, or solid, while solvents are usually liquid. However, they can be solids or gases as well.

The other action that can occur when multiple substances are mixed together is called a reaction. This is when multiple substances combine to create something new. In this lesson we're going to look at how to put this knowledge to use in a typical household. We will see how substances that look similar can have completely different behaviors when exposed to different types of dissolution and reactions.

Household Solutes

Let's start by looking at some typical solutes. Chances are you've got sand, salt, and water somewhere around your house. Other than color, sand and salt look pretty similar; however, they act completely differently when exposed to water. Pour a little salt into a glass and you'll see that it disappears. That's because salt is a solute and water is a solvent, so salt dissolves in water.

Then, because water is a solvent, it should dissolve the sand too, right? Go ahead and pour the sand into a different glass of water. It sinks to the bottom, right? That's because sand is not a solute.

So what's going on here? Remember that table salt is composed of two atoms - one of sodium and one of chlorine. When salt meets water, those atoms split apart from one another and bond with the water. The water is a polar solvent because it has a positive side and a negative side. The sodium bonds with the negative side and the chloride - as the chlorine atom is now called - bonds with the positive side. Meanwhile, the quartz that makes up sand has no such reaction to water. Quartz is quite happy remaining quartz, so it just sinks to the bottom.

Now let's try something different. Sugar and salt both look the same, so they should dissolve in the same quantities, right? Actually, no. Sugar has bigger molecules than salt, so each sugar molecule takes up more space in the solution than salt. Any excess of each just falls to the bottom, still as a solid.

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