Chemical solutions are all around us, from the water we drink to the air we breathe. They play a crucial role in a variety of metabolic processes and are essential for sustaining life on Earth. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a chemical system that doesn’t involve some form of chemical solution.
Chemical solutions are also vital for industrial and commercial purposes. Various types of chemical solutions are used to manufacture a wide range of products such as batteries, paints, plastics, medicines, soap, and cosmetics.
Continue reading to learn more about the role of chemical solutions in everyday life, along with some common examples.
In this post:
What is a chemical solution?
A chemical solution is a type of homogeneous mixture composed of solutes and solvents. The solvent is proportionally greater than the solute (the substance that’s being dissolved). Although most solutes and solvents are liquids, they can also be a gas or a solid.
As a homogeneous mixture, a chemical solution has a uniform composition. This means the solute’s particles are scattered at almost an equal distance from each other and the solvent particles.
Consequently, the solute(s) are relatively difficult to separate from the solvent. The particles that make up a chemical solution typically have an ionic or molecular form.
What is the role of chemical solutions in everyday life?
Chemical solutions occur naturally in different combinations in everyday life. For example, seawater is a solution of various salts (mainly sodium chloride) and minerals in the form of an ionic liquid solution. Meanwhile, the entire atmosphere is a gaseous solution of oxygen and other gases dissolved in nitrogen.
The Earth’s climate and weather conditions are regulated by chemical solutions in the form of our atmosphere and oceans. For instance, the salinity levels of seawater regulate the thermohaline circulation of the oceans’ currents. This prevents the Earth from being locked in a permanent ice age and effectively becoming a snowball planet.
Weather phenomena like rainfall, thunderstorms, and cyclones (typhoons) are also regulated by these two major chemical solutions, although climate change is having an impact, too. That’s because increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere are pushing up global temperatures and creating more extreme weather patterns. Atmospheric pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are also causing rain to become acidic.
Metabolic functions, such as cellular respiration, wouldn’t be possible without chemical solutions. The solutions in the cells of living organisms facilitate complex biochemical reactions that are required for these types of metabolic processes to take place.
Complex multicellular organisms like humans need blood to carry nutrients, oxygen, and waste products to and from the cells of organs. Our blood itself is a solution that includes electrolytes and other chemicals like hormones. Homeostasis is partly maintained through buffer solutions in the blood, which help to regulate the pH balance.
Chemical solutions have considerable industrial and commercial value. As the main fuel that’s used to generate electricity, move vehicles, and power industries, petroleum is probably the most economically-important chemical solution.
Gasoline, diesel and kerosene are the main types of petroleum products that make our global economy work. They are complex chemical solutions of various hydrocarbon compounds.
Many industrial, commercial, and agricultural products (including those derived from petroleum) exist in the form of solutions. Most are manufactured using solutions of reagents and precursors. Some of these items, for example, medicines and beverages, are also manufactured as chemical solutions in their final end-user forms.
What are the three types of chemical solutions?
The three types of chemical solutions are solids, liquids, and gases.
Many of us are familiar with liquid solutions (think seawater, coffee, shampoo, etc). However, it might surprise you to discover that not all chemical solutions are liquids. Some, such as air, exist in gaseous form, while others, like ceramics, are solid.
Many people aren’t very familiar with chemical solutions in solid form. These types of solutions occur in nature as minerals and, as you may have guessed, have solvents and solutes that are solid. Some of these solid solutions are things we use on a daily basis, like brass, ceramics, and polymer blends.
Liquid solutions are the most familiar and common type of chemical solution. A liquid solvent can have a solid, liquid, or gas solute. Ordinary tap water, for instance, contains all of these types of solutes. Many commercial products, such as alcoholic beverages and cleaning agents, are liquid solutions.
Air is the most common and important example of a gaseous solution. It contains 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% trace gases (carbon dioxide, argon, etc). Nitrogen is the solvent because it’s present in the largest amount, while oxygen and the trace gases are solutes.
What is the difference between mixtures & solutions?
Chemical solutions are a category of mixture (other categories of mixtures include suspension and emulsion). Hence, all solutions are mixtures but not all mixtures are solutions.
While a mixture can either be homogeneous or heterogeneous, a chemical solution is always homogeneous. The particles are so well mixed that it would be very difficult to distinguish or filter out the solute and the solvent.
Examples of chemical solutions in everyday life
From food and beverages to cleaning agents and cosmetic goods, many of the products we use or consume are chemical solutions. Here are three common examples:
1. Rubbing alcohol
Rubbing alcohol is commonly used to sanitise the skin, clean wounds, and disinfect medical equipment such as scalpels. It’s a combination of water and either isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. Rubbing alcohol typically has a concentration of either 40% or 70% alcohol.
2. Salt water
Salt water is most abundant in the form of seawater, which generally contains around 3.5% salt. Its salinity is largely responsible for the high buoyancy of objects in saltwater. Buoyancy is simply the force equivalent to the weight of the water displaced.
As seawater is salty, it’s heavier than pure water and therefore has greater buoyant force. Saltwater is also used for medical applications such as nasal decongestants. Purified or distilled water, meanwhile, is commonly used as a solvent in a wide range of industries.
3. Sugar dissolved in water
Very few people would typically drink a solution of just sugar dissolved in water. A sugar-water solution is usually combined with other ingredients such as carbon dioxide, citric acid, phosphoric acid, artificial colouring, and artificial flavourings.
Soda or fizzy drinks are the most common form of a sugar-water chemical solution. Sugar in the form of dextrose is also dissolved in water and used for medical applications like IV injections.
Chemical solutions play a vital role in sustaining life on Earth and facilitating metabolic processes. They’re also essential for a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. Most solutes and solvents (the components that make up a solution) are liquids, but they can also be a gas or a solid. Some common types of chemical solutions you might encounter in everyday life include air, rubbing alcohol, and salt water.