CHEMICAL TESTS FOR IDENTIFYING CATIONS (positive ions)
Doc Brown's Chemistry Qualitative Methods of Analysis Revision Notes
CHEMICAL identification TESTS Part 3 Qualitative tests to test for, and identify, cations (positive ions)
Tests for the following cations – positive ions – mainly metal ions: ammonium ion NH4+, hydrogen ion/oxonium ion/acids H+/H3O+, lithium ion Li+, sodium ion Na+, potassium ion K+, calcium ion Ca2+, strontium ion Sr2+, barium ion Ba2+, copper(II) ion Cu2+, aluminium ion Al3+, magnesium ion Mg2+, iron(II) ion Fe2+, iron(III) ion Fe3+, zinc ion Zn2+, chromium(III) ion Cr3+, manganese(II) ion Mn2+, lead(II) ion Pb2+, metal carbonates – zinc carbonate ZnCO3and copper(II) carbonate CuCO3
Chemical Tests Index
some associated revising links
Full list of KEYWORDS for inorganic/organic identification methods in alphabetical order e.g. test/reagent for: * acid ==> H+ * acid/acyl chloride RCOCl * alcohols – general ROH/prim RCH2OH/sec R2CHOH/tert R3COH) * aldehyde RCHO * prim aliphatic amine R–NH2 * aliphatic/aromatic carboxylic acids * alkali ==> OH– * alkane/alkene >C=C</alkyne –CC– (saturated versus unsaturated) * aluminium/aluminum ion Al3+ * amide RCONH2 * prim aliphatic amines R–NH2 * ammonia gas NH3 * ammonium ion NH4+ * prim aromatic amine C6H5–NH2 etc. * barium ion Ba2+ * Benedict's solution * Brady's reagent * bromide ion Br– * bromine Br2 * caesium ion Cs+ * calcium ion Ca2+ by flame or hydroxide ppt. * carbonate CO32–/hydrogencarbonate HCO3– with acid or effect of heating metal carbonate e.g. MCO3 * carbon dioxide gas CO2 * carboxylic acid RCOOH * carboxylic acid (aliphatic) salts e.g. RCOO–Na+ * chloride ion Cl– * chlorine gas Cl2 * Chomate(VI) ion CrO42– * copper(II) ion Cu2+ by flame or hydroxide ppt. * 24DNPH (for aldehydes/ketones test) * esters RCOOR * Fehlings test/solution * flame test for metal ions * fluoride ion F– * haloalkanes/halogenoalkanes R–X * hydrogen gas H2 * hydrogen sulphide H2S * hydrogen ion, acids H+ * hydrogen bromide gas/hydrobromic acid HBr * hydrogen chloride gas/hydrochloric acid HCl * hydrogen iodide gas/hydriodic acid HI * hydroxide ion, alkali OH– * hydroxy/alcohol/phenol (organic) * iodide ion I– * iodine I2 * iodoform test – formation of CHI3 * iron(II) ion Fe2+ * iron(III) ion Fe3+ * ketone R2C=O * lead(II) ion Pb2+ * lithium ion Li+ * lime water Ca(OH)2(aq) * magnesium ion Mg2+ * metal carbonates–heating e.g. MCO3 * metal ions via hydroxide precipitate * nitrate or nitrate(V) NO3– * nitrite or nitrate(III) NO2– * nitrogen dioxide or nitrogen(IV) oxide NO2 * oxygen gas O2 * phenols C6H5OH etc. * potassium ion K+ * rubidium ion Rb+ * reducing sugars * saturated/unsaturated * silver nitrate AgNO3 (see chloride, bromide, iodide tests) * sugars (reducing) * sodium ion Na+ * strontium Sr+ * 'sulphate/sulfate' or sulphate(VI) SO42– * sulphide S2– * 'sulphite/sulfite' or sulphate(IV) SO32– * sulphur dioxide gas SO2 * Tollen's Reagent * unsaturated/saturated * water H2O * zinc ion Zn2+ *
Use the alphabetical test list above for identifying anions, cations, gases, molecules etc. to find what you require! for your KS3–KS4 Science–GCSE–IGCSE– Chemistry and GCE–AS–A2–IB–US grades 9–12 K12 advanced subsidiary chemistry course etc. and help you to identify unknown inorganic and organic compounds–molecules for qualitative analysis.
3. INORGANIC Qualitative TESTS Cations and Acids
|CHEMICAL TEST FOR||TEST METHOD||OBSERVATIONS||TEST CHEMISTRY–comments|
Chemical test for the
|Add COLD sodium hydroxide solution to the suspected ammonium salt and test any gas above the solution with red litmus.||Smelly ammonia released! and red litmus turns blue, gentle warming helps BUT the ammonia should be released at room temperature.||
gas is evolved because alkali frees ammonia from its salts.
NH4+(aq) + OH–(aq) ==>
The hydroxide ion removes a proton from the ammonium ion to release the ammonia.
|Chemical test for acids i.e. the aqueous hydrogen ion i.e. H+ or H3O+ ion (note: to completely identify acids you need to test for the anion e.g. chloride for HCl hydrochloric or sulfate ion if sulfuric acid etc.)||
Litmus or universal indicator or pH meter.
(ii) Adding a little sodium hydrogen carbonate powder.
Litmus turns red, and, a variety of colours with univ. ind. strong
– red, weak
– yellow /orange, depending on strength of acid.
(ii) Fizzing with any carbonate and test the gas to see if it is carbon dioxide – test for CO2.
pH meter reading gives a value of less than 7, the lower the pH number the
stronger the acid, the higher the H+ concentration,
(ii) HCO3–(aq) + H+(aq) ==>
However, some salts can give acid or alkaline solutions but advanced acid–base theory is needed to explain this.
metal cations with a flame test
This test can be done in a more precise and specific manner using an instrument called a spectroscope and the technique is called emission spectroscopy. Specific emission lines of a characteristic frequency are observed – a fingerprint pattern.
|A little of the
metal salt or other compound is mixed with a few drops
hydrochloric acid and a sample of the mixture is heated strongly in a
bunsen flame on the end of a cleaned nichrome wire (or platinum if you can
In this simple flame test, many metals ions give characteristic flame colours and the chloride salts tend to be the most volatile giving a stronger colour, hence the use of conc. HCl(aq).
The nichrome/platinum wire should be cleaned in conc. hydrochloric acid and heated in the hottest part of the flame to make sure there is no contaminating flame colours.
|Group 1: lithium Li/Li+ crimson (carmine–red)||All
colours are due to electronic excitations to a higher electronic energy levels. You see the
light emitted as the electrons return to lower more stable electronic
This is the basis of atomic emission and absorption spectroscopy.
Aluminium, magnesium, iron and zinc do not produce a useful identifying
Other metal flame colors in Group 1:rubidium – red and caesium/cesium – blue
|Group 1: sodium Na/Na+ golden yellow (can be slightly orangeish)|
|Group 1: potassium K/K+ violet–lilac (crimson through cobalt blue glass)|
|Group 2: calcium Ca/Ca2+ brick–red (yellowish red) (light green through cobalt blue glass)|
|Group 2: strontium Sr/Sr2+ crimson|
|Group 2: barium Ba/Ba2+ yellowish–apple green|
|Transition Metal: copper(II) Cu/Cu2+ livid blue (flashes of green too), arsenic (As), antimony (Sb) and bismuth (Bi) also give a blue flame colour|
Testing for positive
metal cations via sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or ammonia (NH3)
Some metal ions give coloured hydroxide precipitates that can be used as a simple identification test. Some metal ions give a white precipitate and others no precipitate at all. Adding excess sodium hydroxide or ammonia solution can sometimes give useful extra observations.
Note: chemical tests
(1) Both are alkalis, giving hydroxide ions, OH–, in their solutions.
(2) Aluminium, magnesium, iron and zinc do not produce a useful identifying flame colour.
(3) A more advanced test to distinguish iron(II) ions, Fe2+and iron(III) ions, Fe3+
(i) If potassium hexacyanoferrate(III) solution is added to the suspected iron solution, iron(II) ions give a deep blue precipitate of Turnbull's blue.
(ii) If potassium hexacyanoferrate(II) solution is added to the suspected iron solution, iron(III) ions give a deep blue precipitate of Prussian blue.
Note that Turnbull's blue is identical in composition to Prussian blue. For more chemical details see the transition metals page on iron.
sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution is added to a solution containing the
Both the precipitate formed and the effect of excess alkali are important observations.
All precipitates are white, unless otherwise stated, and all tend to be gelatinous in nature.
The test should be repeated with aqueous ammonia solution (NH3, 'ammonium hydroxide').
The observations with ammonia solution are usually similar, but not always, the same and the differences can be important clues as to the identity of the metal ion.
ppt. = precipitate.
More on some of these hydroxide precipitates on the 3–d block Transition Metals Series pages.
ion: Al3+(aq) + 3OH–(aq)
gives a white precipitate
of aluminum hydroxide with both ammonia and sodium hydroxide, which is not soluble in excess of the weak alkali ammonia, but dissolves in the stronger base/alkali sodium hydroxide (amphoteric) to give a clear colourless solution.
Al(OH)3(s) + 3OH–(aq) ==> [Al(OH)6]3–(aq)
or more simply Al(OH)3(s) + OH–(aq) ==> [Al(OH)4]–(aq)
(amphoteric behaviour because it dissolves in acids too)
ion: Ca2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
gives a white precipitate
of calcium hydroxide with sodium hydroxide IF the concentration of calcium ion is high. It is not soluble in excess of NaOH. No precipitate is formed with ammonia solution.
ion: Mg2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
gives a white precipitate
of magnesium hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which is not soluble in excess of either NH3 or NaOH. You could distinguish Mg from Ca with a flame test or ammonia test above.
ion: Cu2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
gives a blue/turquoise ppt.
of copper(II) hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which dissolves in excess ammonia to give a deep blue solution of an ammine complex, but copper(II) hydroxide is NOT soluble in excess NaOH.
Cu(OH)2(s) + 4NH3(aq) ==> [Cu(NH3)4]2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
ion: Fe2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
gives a dark green precipitate
of iron(II) hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which is not soluble in excess of NH3 or NaOH. Darkens in air due to oxidation to Fe(OH)3.
ion: Fe3+(aq) + 3OH–(aq)
forms a brown precipitate
of iron(III) hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which is not soluble in excess of NH3 or NaOH.
Another test for iron(III) ions is to add a few drops of potassium/ammonium thiocyanate solution and a blood–red coloured compound is formed.
ion: Zn2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
a white precipitate formed
of zinc hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which dissolves in both excess (i) sodium hydroxide or (ii) ammonia to give a clear colourless solution:
(i) Zn(OH)2(s) + 2OH–(aq) ==> [Zn(OH)4]2–(aq) (amphoteric behaviour because zinc hydroxide dissolves in acids too).
(ii) Zn(OH)2(s) + 4NH3(aq) ==> [Zn(NH3)4]2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq) (soluble complex ion formation)
ion: Cr3+(aq) + 3OH–(aq)
a grey–green precipitate forms
of chromium(III) hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which is soluble in excess of NaOH (amphoteric, dissolves in acids too) but not soluble in excess ammonia NH3. With sodium hydroxide a dark green soluble hexahydroxo–complex ion is formed.
Cr(OH)3(s) + 3NaOH(aq) ==> [Cr(OH)6]3–(aq)
ion: Mn2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
produces an off–white precipitate
of manganese(II) hydroxide with ammonia or sodium hydroxide, which is NOT soluble in excess of NH3 or NaOH and rapidly turns brown ==> black in air due to oxidation to manganese(III) oxide Mn2O3 and then manganese(IV) oxide, MnO2.
ion: Pb2+(aq) + 2OH–(aq)
a white precipitate forms
of lead(II) hydroxide, which dissolves in excess sodium hydroxide (amphoteric) to give a clear colourless solution but does not dissolve in excess ammonia solution.
Pb(OH)2(s) + 2OH–(aq) ==> [Pb(OH)4]2–(aq) (amphoteric behaviour with NaOH as with zinc hydroxide which also dissolves in acids too)
|The barium ion, Ba2+(aq) does not give a hydroxide precipitate because barium hydroxide, Ba(OH)2, is too soluble.|
(i) Lead(II) ion chemical test
|(i) add potassium iodide solution ==> yellow precipitate||(i) Pb2+(aq) +2I–(aq) ==>PbI2(s) a yellow precipitate of lead(II) iodide is formed|
Carbonates chemical tests
heating a metal carbonate strongly to decompose it provides some clues
to its identity.
Adding acid to a carbonate ==> CO2 and the colour of the resulting solution e.g. blue copper(II) ion Cu2+(aq), may also provide clues, but no good in most cases because most carbonates you come across are white giving colourless solutions except for some transition metals like copper, nickel and cobalt.
carbonate==> copper(II) oxide + carbon dioxide
CuCO3(s) ==> CuO(s) + CO2(g)
observations [green solid] ==> [black solid residue] + [colourless gas, test with limewater, white precipitate]
(ii) zinc carbonate==> zinc oxide + carbon dioxide
ZnCO3(s) ==> ZnO(s) + CO2(g)
Tests for NH4+, H+/H3O+, Li+, Na+, K+, Ca2+, Sr2+, Ba2+, Cu2+, Al3+, Mg2+, Fe2+, Fe3+, Zn2+, Cr3+, Mn2+, Pb2+, CuCO3, ZnCO3 What is the test for the ammonium ion? How do you test for the ammonium ion? What is the test for the hydrogen ion? How do you test for the hydrogen ion? What is the test for a lithium ion? How do you test for lithium ion? What is the test for a sodium ion? How do you test for sodium ion? What is the test for the calcium ion? How do you test for calcium ion? What is the test for strontium ions? How do you test for strontium ion? What is the test for barium ions? How do you test for barium ion? What is the test for copper(II) ions? How do you test for copper ion? What is the test for the aluminium ion? (aluminum) How do you test for aluminium ions? What is the test for magnesium ions? How do you test for magnesium ion? What is the test for iron(II) ions? (ferrous ion) How do you test for the iron(II) ion? What is the test for iron(III) ions? (ferric ion) How do you test for the iron(III) ion? What is the test for zinc ions? How do you test for zinc ions? What is the test for chromium(III) ions? How do you test for the chromium(III) ion? What is the test for the zinc ion? How do you test for zinc ions? What is the test for lead(II) ions? How do you test for the lead(II) ion? What are the tests for copper(II) carbonate? How do you test for copper carbonate? What are the tests for zinc carbonate? How do you test for zinc carbonate?
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