How to Set Up Distillation Apparatus

How To Set Up Distillation Apparatus

This is an example of a simple setup for distillation.
This is an example of a simple setup for distillation. Pearson Scott Foresman, public domain

Distillation is a method of separating or purifying liquids based on their different boiling points. If you don't wish to construct the distillation apparatus and can afford it, you can buy a complete setup. That can get expensive, so here is an example of how to set up a distillation apparatus from standard chemistry equipment. You can customize your setup based on what you have on hand.

Distillation Equipment

  • 2 Erlenmeyer flasks
  • 1 1-hole stopper that fits a flask
  • 1 2-hole stopper that fits a flask
  • some plastic tubing
  • short lengths of glass tubing
  • cold water bath (any container that can hold both cold water and a flask)
  • boiling chip
  • hotplate
  • thermometer (optional)

If you have them, two 2-hole stoppers are ideal because then you can insert a thermometer into the heated flask. This is helpful and sometimes necessary to control the temperature of the distillation. Also, if the temperature of the distillation suddenly changes, this usually indicates one of the chemicals in your mixture has been removed.

Set Up the Distillation Apparatus

  1.  The liquid you are distilling goes into one beaker, along with a boiling chip.
  2. This beaker sits on the hot plate, since this is the liquid you will be heating.
  3. Insert a short length of glass tubing into a stopper. Connect it to one end of a length of plastic tubing.
  4. Connect the other end of the plastic tubing to a short length of glass tubing inserted into the other stopper. The distilled fluid will pass through this tubing to the second flask.
  5. Insert a short length of glass tubing into the stopper for the second flask. It is open to the air to prevent pressure buildup inside the apparatus.
  6. Place the receiving flask in a large container filled with ice water. Vapor passing through the plastic tubing will condense immediately when it comes into contact with the cooler air of the receiving flask.
  7. It's a good idea to clamp down both flasks to help keep them from tipping over by accident.

Distillation Projects

This is a simple home water distilling pot.
This is a simple home water distilling pot. dmitriymoroz / Getty Images

Now that you have a distillation apparatus, what can you do with it? Here are some easy projects to try to get familiar with the equipment:

Distill Water: Got salt water or impure water? Remove particulates and many impurities using distillation. Bottled water is often purified this way.

Distill Ethanol: Alcohol distillation is another common application. Note this is trickier than water because different types of alcohol have close boiling points, so separating them requires close control of temperature.

Purify Alcohol: You can use distillation to purify impure alcohol. This is a common method used to obtain pure alcohol from denatured alcohol.