What Is a Chemical? (and What Isn't One)

What Exactly Is a Chemical?

Chemicals aren't just liquids in glassware!
Chemicals aren't just liquids in glassware! Anything you can touch or taste is a chemical. Buena Vista Images, Getty Images

Question: What Is a Chemical?

Short answer: Everything is a chemical.

Long answer: A chemical is any substance consisting of matter. This includes any liquid, solid, or gas. A chemical is any pure substance or any mixture. It doesn't matter whether it occurs naturally or is made artificially.

Examples of Chemicals

Water is a chemical. The artificial flavoring vanillin is a chemical, but so is real vanilla extract.

Salt is a chemical. Technically speaking, so is a chunk of your computer. A chemical can often be broken down into components, as is true with your computer. However, people generally use the term 'chemical' to refer to a substance that appears homogeneous or the same throughout its structure.

Mixtures of Chemicals

There are several ways to categorize chemicals. There are elements, which consist of a single type of atom. Compounds and molecules are made of atoms chemically bonded to other atoms. There are mixtures of chemicals, which could include saline solution, milk, a rock, and a cake. Elements, compounds, and homogeneous mixtures of chemicals are often called pure substances. Homogeneous mixtures have the same appearance and composition throughout their structure. Heterogeneous mixtures have a variable appearance and composition. Blood appears homogeneous to the naked eye, while a car does not.

What Is Not a Chemical?

If anything made of matter is a chemical, then phenomena that aren't made of matter are not chemicals. Energy is not a chemical. So, light, heat, and sound are not chemicals. Thoughts, dreams, and gravity are not chemicals.