Sulfuric acid is a corrosive substance.

Although it’s dangerous to touch, sulfuric acid can be beneficial if handled correctly.

It’s an important substance in the chemical industry.

Is sulfuric acid an element, compound, or mixture?

Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is a compound that has hydrogen (H), sulfur (S), and oxygen (O) in it. Those different elements bond chemically in a fixed certain ratio. Thus, sulfuric acid is a compound. It’s neither an element nor a mixture.

This article will talk about why sulfuric acid is classified as compound as opposed to an element or mixture.

So, keep on reading!

What Is Sulfuric Acid?

Sulfuric acid a.k.a oil of vitriol, is an inorganic liquid substance that is extremely corrosive.

It has no color and no odor. The texture might look similar to oil.

Sulfuric acid is soluble in water and it’s a good conductor of electricity.

It’s a highly dangerous material. It can burn the skin if it’s touched. It can irritate the respiratory organ if it’s inhaled. And it can be explosive when it’s concentrated.

How Is Sulfuric Acid Made?

Sulfuric acid is made by combining water (H2O) with sulfur trioxide.

To make sulfuric acid, substances needed are water, air, and sulfur.

There are three stages of making sulfuric acid.

  1. Converting sulfur into sulfur dioxide. It’s done by burning the sulfur. Sulfur + oxygen -> sulfur dioxide.
  2. Converting sulfur dioxide into sulfur trioxide. Sulfur dioxide + oxygen -> Sulfur trioxide.
  3. Combining sulfur trioxide with water to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4).

Element VS Compound VS Mixture

You might have heard before that a matter can be classified into gas, liquid, or solid.

That’s a way of classifying matter according to the state.

But there is also a way to classify matter according to the composition.

Classification of Matter Based On Its Composition

Matter can be categorized into element, compound, or mixture.

It’s all based on the composition.

What is an element?

An element is the simplest kind of matter.

Element only consists of its own kind of atom.

Atom is the smallest building block of a matter. Inside the atom, there are proton(s) and electron(s). Different atom can have different proton and electron.

When the same kind of atom combine together, they make an element. Element is composed of a single type of atom.

Element is so pure that it cannot be split into other elements.

Some examples of elements are lead (Pb), tin (Sn), iron (Fe), oxygen (O), and phosphorus (P).

Each element has its own symbol and atomic number.

Though element is a standalone substance, different elements can combine together to form other form of substances i.e. compound or mixture.

What is a compound?

Compound is a substance that happens when two or more elements combine and forming a chemical bond in a definite ratio.

A substance can be classified as a compound when they have these features:

  • they are composed of more than 1 element
  • the elements combine chemically, not physically
  • the elements combine in a definite ratio

An example of compound is H2O.

H2O (pure water) is composed of two different elements i.e. hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). The hydrogen and oxygen bond chemically in the fixed ratio of 2:1. It’s always this way.

The ratio cannot change. If the ratio change, it becomes another compound. For example, when there is one more oxygen join the molecule, it won’t be H2O anymore, it will become H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide).

What is a mixture?

A mixture is a substance that happens when two or more substances combine physically without a definite ratio of composition.

The complexity of a mixture can vary according to its composition.

A mixture can consists of 2 elements or multiple compounds. It can also consists of different mixtures.

An example of a mixture that consists of 2 elements is steel. Steel can be formed by combining iron (Fe) and carbon (C).

An example of mixture with high complexity is cookie dough. A cookie dough may contain flour, sugar, egg, butter, milk, chocolate chips, vanilla essence, and baking soda.

A mixture doesn’t have a definite ratio of composition. This means that two things can have the exact name but they are different in composition.

For example, two cookie doughs can have different ratios of flour and sugar, but they are still called cookie dough.

Another example of a mixture is brass. Brass consists of copper and zinc. It has no definite percentage of zinc (it can vary between 5% to 40%), but they are all called ‘brass’.

Is Sulfuric Acid Compound or Mixture?

Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is a compound of hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen that combine chemically. It’s not a mixture because the ratio of composition is fixed.

After understanding the difference of element, compound, and mixture, now you can easily classify matter just by understanding the composition.

Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) has two hydrogen atoms, 1 sulfur atom, and 4 oxygen atoms that bond chemically. The ratio of the composition is definite, it cannot be changed. If the formula change, for example into H2SO3 (only 3 oxygen atoms) it won’t be sulfuric acid anymore, it will become another substance called sulfurous acid.

This means that sulfuric acid is definitely a compound.

Sulfuric acid cannot be classified as mixture because a mixture doesn’t have a fixed ratio of composition.

What Is Sulfuric Acid Used For?

Sulfuric acid is used mainly in the chemical industry.

Some uses of sulfuric acid are:

  • to make phosphoric acid for fertilizer
  • to make detergent
  • as a part of car batteries
  • to make cleaning products (detergent, toilet cleaner, etc)
Daniel Smithson

Hi, I'm Daniel Smithson, a Chemistry teacher for over 35-years and the founder of Learning should be fun and accessible to all. Find out more about our mission here:

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