Examples of Physical Changes

They are distinct from chemical changes in several ways

Examples of 10 different physical changes
Examples of physical changes. Illustration by Hugo Lin. ThoughtCo.

Physical changes involve states of matter and energy. No new substance is created during a physical change, although the matter takes a different form. The size, shape, and color of matter may change. Also, physical changes occur when substances are mixed but don't chemically react.

How to Identify a Physical Change

One way to identify a physical change is that such a change may be reversible, especially a phase change. For example, if you freeze water into an ice cube, you can melt it into the water again. Ask yourself:

  • Is the change reversible? (Not all physical changes are easy to reverse.)
  • Was there a color change (with exceptions), bubble formation, or formation of a precipitate? (These are all signs of a chemical change, not a physical change.)
  • Is the chemical identity of the end product the same as it was before the change? If the answer is yes, it's a physical change. If the answer is no, it's a chemical change.

Examples of Physical Changes

Here are 10 examples of physical changes:

Here are more examples of physical changes:

  • Crumpling a paper bag
  • Melting solid sulfur into liquid sulfur (This is an interesting example since the state change does cause a color change, even though the chemical composition is the same before and after the change. Several nonmetals, such as oxygen and radon, change color as they change phase.)
  • Chopping an apple
  • Mixing salt and sand
  • Filling a candy bowl with different candies
  • Vaporization of liquid nitrogen
  • Mixing flour, salt, and sugar
  • Mixing water and oil

Indications of a Chemical Change

Sometimes the easiest way to identify a physical change is to rule out the possibility of a chemical change. There may be several indications that a chemical reaction has occurred. (Note: It's possible for a substance to change color or temperature during a physical change.)

  • Evolving bubbles or releasing gas
  • Absorbing or releasing heat
  • Changing color
  • Releasing an odor
  • Inability to reverse the change
  • Precipitation of a solid from a liquid solution
  • Formation of a new chemical species. This is the best and surest indicator. A change in the chemical properties of the sample may indicate a chemical change (e.g., flammability, oxidation state).

Learn More About Chemical and Physical Changes