Secrets to BALANCING chemical equations!

Ah….chemical equations and stoichiometry; the stuff dreams are made of….I mean nightmares!  Chemical equations and stoichiometry are the backbone of any General Chemistry course.  Successfully balancing chemical equations will enable you to better understand stoichiometry and thus, pass that Chemistry course.  But, how do you know which coefficients go where?  I learned from trial and error and through many failed methods.  Read on and let me share my tips for balancing chemical equations!

1.)  Know What the Equation Means

A chemical equation isn’t just random numbers and symbols put into a format to annoy students.  Each component of the equation represents part of a chemical reaction.  Periodic symbols represent the elements within the reaction; the coefficients represent the amount of element either reacting or being produced; that little arrow in the middle of the equation let’s you know that given reactants are yielding products.  Everything in a chemical equation means something.  Simply put….the reactants undergo a chemical reaction to produce products.

2.)  The Law of Conservation of Mass

Wait….what is the law of conservation of mass?  Basically, it’s a principle stating that mass is neither created nor destroyed.  That’s great, but how does this principle relate to balancing chemical equations?  If mass is neither created nor destroyed, than the mass of reactants in a chemical equation must equal the mass of products within that same equation.  Voila!  You’re welcome!  In order for a chemical equation to be balanced, it must have the same number of each element on both the reactant and product side of the equation.  The number of each element on the left-side of the arrow must equal the number of that same element on the right-side of the arrow.  

3.)  Don’t Change the Equation

I cannot stress this enough….do not change the equation.  Subscripts and superscripts included within an equation serve a purpose and should not be altered.  When balancing a chemical equation, pay attention to the small details.  Neglecting this one simple tip will make balancing equations an absolute nightmare.  The only numbers you can change in any chemical equation are the coefficients of reactants and products.  This tip sounds amateur, but many equations were never balanced because the initial chemical equation was not written correctly….I’m speaking from experience!  Hours of aggravation caused by writing the number 2 instead of 3.  Trust me….it will happen!

4.)  Leave Hydrogen and Oxygen Until Last

Is there a specific order in which to balance the atoms of elements within a chemical equation?  Not really….to each their own.  However, I have found that balancing the hydrogen and oxygen atoms last has resulted in the successful balancing of many chemical equations.  Take care of the big guys first and leave the little guys until last.  It sounds elementary, but it does work!

If you’ve had the patience to read through this entire post, success is on the horizon.  By applying these four tips, you will find that balancing chemical equations is definitely doable.  Take the knowledge you’ve learned from balancing chemical equations and apply it to stoichiometry.  You will find that you can’t do one without the other!  Understanding stoichiometry is reliant upon your ability to successfully balance equations.

Don’t forget, practice makes perfect!  Hit those textbooks and complete a few practice problems.  The more you practice, the easier it will be to identify the proper coefficients for any given chemical equation.  Again, I’m speaking from experience!

Did you find this post helpful?  Do you still have questions pertaining to balancing chemical equations?  Feel free to leave me a comment.  Take care and thank you for reading!  Good luck!

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ThePineyChemist

I'm just your average thirty-something woman, living in Small Town, USA. I graduated college with a B.S. Degree in Chemistry in 2008. While pursuing my passion for Chemistry, my life took an unexpected turn and I became my grandmother's 24-hour caregiver....for 11 years. During this time, I married and became a very independent woman. The Piney Chemist combines my love of Chemistry with eventful life experiences. It's Chemistry, caregiving, and me!

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