Balancing Chemical Equations
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Balancing Chemical Equations

How to Balancing Chemical Equations

For chemical equations to represent a chemical reaction correctly, first you must write the correct formulas for the reactants and the products. This is always the first step in writing a chemical equation. The next step is to balance the chemical equation so that it is quantitatively correct. Balancing the equation is necessary to be consistent with the law of conservation of mass. Remember, in a chemical reaction, atoms are not created or destroyed; they are simply rearranged. In every balanced equation,each side of the equation has the same number of atoms of each element.

Sometimes when you write the formulas for the reactants and the products in an equation, the equation may already be balanced. One example of this is the equation for the burning of carbon in the presence of oxygen to produce carbon dioxide.

Reactants                                                             Product

1 carbon atom                                                1 carbon atom

2 oxygen atoms                                              2 oxygen atoms

This equation is balanced. One carbon atom is on each side of the equation, and two oxygen atoms are on each side. You do not need to change the coefficients. They each remain one. Another equation you have seen is the reaction of hydrogen with oxygen to form water.

Reactants                                                             Products

2 hydrogen atoms                                             2 hydrogen atoms

2 oxygen atoms                                                1 oxygen atom

This equation is not balanced even though the formulas for all the reactants and products are correct. Count the atoms on both sides of the equation. There are two oxygen atoms on the reactant (left) side of the equation and only one oxygen atom on the product (right) side. As written, the equation does not obey the law of conservation of mass. What can you do to balance it? Many chemical equations can be balanced by trial and error. A few guidelines, however, will speed up the process.

Rules for Balancing Chemical Equations

1. Determine the correct formulas for all reactants and products.

2. Write the formulas for the reactants on the left side and the formulas for the products on the right side with a yields sign (arrow) in between. If two or more reactants or products are involved, separate their formulas with plus signs.

3. Count the number of each element in the reactants and the products. For simplicity, a polyatomic ion appearing unchanged on both sides of the equation is counted as a single unit.

4. Balance the elements one at a time by using coefficients. A coefficient is a small whole number that appears in front of a chemical formula in an equation. When no coefficient is written, it is assumed to be 1. It is best to begin the balancing operation with elements that appear only once on each side of the equation. You must not attempt to balance an equation by balancing the subscripts in the chemical formula of a substance.

5. Check each atom or polyatomic ion to be sure that the equation is balanced.

6. Finally, make sure that all the coefficients are in the lowest possible ratio.

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