Physical and Chemical Properties of Matter

Carolyn LaRoche, Robert Egan
  • Author
    Carolyn LaRoche

    Carolyn LaRoche has been a high school science teacher for twenty years. Her specialties include biology, chemistry, forensic science and anatomy and physiology. She also has laboratory research experience. Carolyn holds a BA in Biological Sciences/Premed and a MS in Forensic Chemistry.

  • Instructor
    Robert Egan
Learn about physical and chemical properties. Understand what they are, the difference between them, and the physical and chemical properties of matter. Updated: 03/14/2022

Table of Contents


Physical and Chemical Properties

Matter is defined as anything that has mass and takes up space. All types of matter have certain properties that are unique to that matter. These properties can be divided into two separate categories: physical properties and chemical properties. What are physical and chemical properties? Physical properties of matter are generally things that describe the property with visual inspection or taking some kind of measurement, such as length or mass. There is no change to the chemical composition of a substance when examining its physical properties. The chemical properties of a type of matter refer to how it interacts with other substances during a chemical process or reaction. It is the combination of physical and chemical properties of a matter that give the matter its identity.

Matter can exist as a pure substance like an element, such as hydrogen gas, a compound, such as water made of hydrogen and oxygen, or in a mixture where two or more substances are combined, but not interacting in a chemical process, such as ocean water. Ocean water is a mixture (solution) of sodium chloride and water existing together, but not chemically reacting.

Physical Properties

Physical properties are properties that can be determined without changing the identity of the matter. Physical properties can be observed or measured without any changes to the chemical composition. Visual observation, a balance, a ruler, or another method of measurement, can be used to determine physical properties. None of the methods used will have any affect on the chemical composition of a substance.

Physical properties can include:

  • Color
  • Texture
  • Mass
  • Length
  • Shape
  • Density

Matter will sometimes undergo physical changes. This happens when a particular type of matter changes state from solid to liquid, liquid to gas, gas to liquid, liquid to solid, or even solid to gas. These phase changes, known as melting, freezing, vaporization, condensation, and sublimation, have no affect on the chemical composition of the substance, therefore, they are not chemical changes. Phase changes, or changes of state, occur when energy is added to or taken from the substance. For example, an ice cube left on a counter will absorb heat energy from its surroundings and eventually melt to become liquid water. In both the solid state and liquid state, it is still water. No chemical reaction occurred to change the identity of the substance. However, sometimes the physical properties change during a phase change. An ice cube may have a square shape, but when it melts to become a puddle of liquid water, it most definitely takes a different shape. Both shapes are still water.

Chemical Properties

Physical and chemical properties are different in that a chemical property refers to how a type of matter interacts with another type of matter. Chemical properties go hand in hand with chemical changes. It isn't possible to discuss a chemical property without taking into account how the matter goes through a chemical change.

Chemical properties of matter can include:

  • Reactivity
  • pH
  • Corrosion
  • Conductivity

When matter undergoes a chemical change, the chemical properties of the original substance determine how the change will proceed. The atoms of the matter are rearranged with other matter, changing the chemical composition of the original substance. The atoms are still there, just in a new combination. This then changes all the properties to fit the newly created matter. For instance, copper is highly reactive with oxygen in the presence of water or water vapor. Copper goes though a chemical process, called oxidation, that changes the copper metal to copper oxide. It is this change that makes the Statue of Liberty have it's characteristic green color.

The Statue of Liberty is made of copper. Over time the metal reacted with the oxygen in the air and oxidized, changing its color to green.

The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island.

What Is the Difference Between Physical Properties and Chemical Properties?

What is the difference between physical properties and chemical properties? The difference between physical and chemical properties is that physical properties can be observed or measured without any sort of reaction process that changes the identity of the matter. The chemical properties of a type of matter can only be determined by putting the matter through some sort of reaction or process that ultimately changes the composition of the substance.

Physical properties:

  • can be observed
  • can be measured with a tool
  • can change when a substance changes state
  • have nothing to do with one type of matter interacts with another type

Chemical properties:

  • happen at the atomic level
  • occur when one substance reacts with another
  • can't always be observed
  • are not easily measured with a tool

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Physical and Chemical Properties of Matter

The physical and chemical properties of matter depend solely on the type of matter in question. Matter is defined as anything that has mass and takes takes up space. Matter can be living or non-living. It can be organic (containing carbon) or inorganic (no carbon present). Basically everything is matter; from the tiniest insect to the largest tree. Humans, animals, cars, houses, grass, and food are all types of matter in every day life.

Trees, grass, fruit, soil, and air all represent different types of matter.

A nature scene depicting various types of matter.

Is Color a Physical or Chemical Property?

Is color a physical or chemical property? Color is an observable characteristic of matter, therefore, color is a physical property, not a chemical property. Color is observed as the portion of the visible electromagnetic spectrum that is reflected by the substance. If an apple is red, it is because the matter that makes up the apple absorbs all visible colors except red. That makes it appear red to the person observing it. The grass is green because the green wavelengths are reflected and not absorbed.

Is Density a Chemical Property?

The density of a substance is how much mass of that substance is packed into a given volume. Density is calculated by dividing the mass of that substance by its volume.

Is density a chemical property? Density is not a chemical property; it is a physical property that can be measured and observed. The density of a substance at a given phase will not change no matter how much or how little there is in a sample. The only time density will/can change is when a change of state occurs.

Density generally decreases as substance melts then vaporizes. The solid phase of a substance tends to be more dense than the liquid phase. Likewise, the liquid phase tends to be more dense than the gas phase. This is because the particles in a solid are more orderly and fixed in position than a liquid or a gas. Liquids have some freedom to flow past each other and gases have the freedom to move wherever they want. Therefore, the solid, with its fixed structure packs more mass into a given volume than a liquid or a solid.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is density not a chemical property?

Density is not a chemical property, it is a physical property. Density is the measure of the mass of a substance divided by its volume. It is a measurable property that does not change the identity of the substance when determining it.

What are examples of physical properties?

Physical properties are characteristics of a certain type of matter that can be observed and/or measured. Physical properties do not affect the chemical composition of the matter. Examples of physical properties include color, mass, texture and density.

What are examples of chemical properties?

Chemical properties are the properties of a specific type of matter that occur when the matter goes through chemical changes. Chemical properties/changes result in a change in the composition of the matter. Examples include corrosion and reactivity.

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