Science, Tech, Math › Science Qualitative Analysis in Chemistry Identifying Anions and Cations Share Flipboard Email Print Stuart Minzey / Getty Images Science Chemistry Molecules Basics Chemical Laws Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. Updated November 04, 2019 Qualitative analysis is used to identify and separate cations and anions in a sample substance. Unlike quantitative analysis, which seeks to determine the quantity or amount of sample, qualitative analysis is a descriptive form of analysis. In an educational setting, the concentrations of the ions to be identified are approximately 0.01 M in an aqueous solution. The "semimicro" level of qualitative analysis employs methods used to detect 1-2 mg of an ion in 5 mL of solution. While there are qualitative analysis methods used to identify covalent molecules, most covalent compounds can be identified and distinguished from each other using physical properties, such as refractive index and melting point. Lab Techniques for Semi-Micro Qualitative Analysis It's easy to contaminate the sample through poor laboratory technique, so it's important to adhere to certain rules: Do not use tap water. Rather, use distilled water or deionized water.Glassware must be clean prior to use. It's not essential that it be dried.Don't put a reagent dropper tip into the mouth of a test tube. Dispense reagent from above the test tube lip to avoid contamination.Mix solutions by flicking the test tube. Never cover the test tube with a finger and shake the tube. Avoid exposing yourself to the sample. Steps of Qualitative Analysis If the sample is presented as a solid (salt), it's important to note the shape and color of any crystals. Reagents are used to separate cations into groups of related elements.Ions in a group are separated from each other. After each separation stage, a test is performed to confirm certain ions truly were removed. The test is not performed on the original sample!Separations rely on different characteristics of ions. These may involve redox reactions to change oxidation state, differential solubility in an acid, base, or water, or precipitating certain ions. Sample Qualitative Analysis Protocol First, ions are removed in groups from the initial aqueous solution. After each group has been separated, then testing is conducted for the individual ions in each group. Here is a common grouping of cations: Group I: Ag+, Hg22+, Pb2+Precipitated in 1 M HCl Group II: Bi3+, Cd2+, Cu2+, Hg2+, (Pb2+), Sb3+ and Sb5+, Sn2+ and Sn4+Precipitated in 0.1 M H2S solution at pH 0.5 Group III: Al3+, (Cd2+), Co2+, Cr3+, Fe2+ and Fe3+, Mn2+, Ni2+, Zn2+Precipitated in 0.1 M H2S solution at pH 9 Group IV: Ba2+, Ca2+, K+, Mg2+, Na+, NH4+Ba2+, Ca2+, and Mg2+ are precipitated in 0.2 M (NH4)2CO3 solution at pH 10; the other ions are soluble Many reagents are used in the qualitative analysis, but only a few are involved in nearly every group procedure. The four most commonly used reagents are 6M HCl, 6M HNO3, 6M NaOH, 6M NH3. Understanding the uses of the reagents is helpful when planning an analysis. Common Qualitative Analysis Reagents Reagent Effects 6M HCl Increases [H+]Increases [Cl-]Decreases [OH-]Dissolves insoluble carbonates, chromates, hydroxides, some sulfatesDestroys hydroxo and NH3 complexesPrecipitates insoluble chlorides 6M HNO3 Increases [H+]Decreases [OH-]Dissolves insoluble carbonates, chromates, and hydroxidesDissolves insoluble sulfides by oxidizing sulfide ionDestroys hydroxo and ammonia complexesGood oxidizing agent when hot 6 M NaOH Increases [OH-]Decreases [H+]Forms hydroxo complexesPrecipitates insoluble hydroxides 6M NH3 Increases [NH3]Increases [OH-]Decreases [H+]Precipitates insoluble hydroxidesForms NH3 complexesForms a basic buffer with NH4+ Continue Reading How to Balance Net Ionic Equations What Is an Ion? Definition and Examples Predict Whether a Precipitate Will Form in a Chemical Reaction The Molar Heats of Formation for Cations and Anions What are Complex Ions and Precipitation Reactions? What Determines the Strength of an Acid or Base? Find Chemistry Definitions From A to Z Do You Know How to Tell Cation and Anion Ions Apart? Learn The Chemistry Behind Salt Formation How to Make a Phosphate Buffer Solution What Is a Net Ionic Equation? Review Your Chemistry Concepts What Are the Strong Bases? How to Calculate the Molarity of Ions in an Aqueous Solution Why the Transition Metals Form Colored Solutions What Is Quantitative Analysis in Chemistry? What Is a Double Displacement Reaction?