Separation of a Mixture: Determining the Percent
Composition of Ammonium Chloride, Salt, and Sand
Use physical properties to separate the components of a mixture.
Calculate the percent composition of a mixture.
Most materials found in nature are mixtures of different substances. A mixture is the
combination of two or more substances in which each substance retains its own chemical
identity. Mixtures that have varying compositions throughout are heterogeneous mixtures (e.g.
wood, granite, soil and pizza); mixtures that are uniform in composition and properties are
homogeneous mixtures (e.g. clear iced tea, many chemical solutions and air). While pure
substances have fixed compositions, and can only be separated by chemical means, physical
mixtures can have varying compositions and can be separated with physical processes.
Separation of physical mixtures is often the first step in refining products whether for lab or
industrial purposes.
Most solid substances, when heated, undergo a phase transition from the solid phase to
the liquid phase, a process known as melting. However, some substances go from the solid
phase directly to the gas phase, a process known as sublimation. (A familiar example is frozen
carbon dioxide, or dry ice. If you put a chunk of dry ice on a tabletop, the dry ice does not melt,
but the chunk gets smaller and smaller as the particles in the solid warm up and go directly into
the gas phase.) Ammonium chloride sublimes when heated, which gives us a convenient way to
separate ammonium chloride from salt and sand. By knowing the weight of the sample before
and after heating, the mass of the ammonium chloride in the sample can be determined.
Another physical property can be exploited to separate the sodium chloride from the
sand: sodium chloride is soluble in water, while sand is not. (As you know if you’ve ever been
to a beach.) Hot water will be added to the mixture to dissolve the sodium chloride, and the salt
water is removed by decanting it away from the sand. The sand is then dried over a low flame so
that its mass can be determined.
Once the weights of each component are known, the percent composition of the mixture
is determined by dividing the weight of each component by the total weight of the sample and
multiplying by 100.
Copy the table following the procedure into your lab notebook.
Why should you never weigh a hot object?
Define the process of sublimation?
Suggest two SAFE ways to determine whether a colorless liquid is pure water or a salt
A. Weighing the Unknown Sample.
1. The overall process used in this
experiment is noted in figure 1 to
the right. Obtain a sample of an
unknown mixture of ammonium
chloride and sand from the
stockroom and record the sample
number on the lab report .
2. Clean an evaporating dish, warm
it over a Bunsen burner to dry,
allow it to cool, and weigh it to
the accuracy of the balance.
Handle the clean dish with tongs,
not your hands. Add between two
to three grams of your unknown
mixture to the dish, weigh it
again, and calculate the mass of
the unknown mixture.
Heat to
(mass loss)
NaCl with
water, dry
& mass
Dry SiO2
and mass
Figure 1 – separation process
B. Separation of Ammonium Chloride from the Mixture by Sublimation.
3. Place the evaporating dish containing the mixture hot plate in the fume hood. Heat carefully
at first to avoid any spattering, and increase the heat after a couple of minutes. After heating
strongly for 8-10 minutes, stir the contents with a glass stirring rod. Heat the sample again
for another 8-10 minutes, or until no more white fumes are observed. Using your crucible
tongs, carefully move the hot evaporating dish to a wire gauze or a clay triangle bent into the
shape of a tripod, and allow the dish and its contents to cool in the hood. Do NOT put the
hot dish down directly on the floor of the hood or the lab bench, because when the dish cools
off, it may stick.
4. After the dish has cooled to room temperature, weigh the dish, salt and sand.
C. Separation the Salt from the Mixture.
5. Add 25 ml of warm water to your sand/salt mixture to fill the evaporating dish, and stir
several minutes with a glass stirring rod. Let the mixture settle, then decant (pour off) the
salt water solution into a second evaporating dish which you have previously weighed
together with a clean dry watch glass. Be careful to avoid pouring the sand out of the
evaporating dish. Add another 10 ml portion of warm water, stir, allow it to settle, and
decant the liquid. Repeat this process with still another 10 ml portion of warm water. This
process extracts the soluble NaCl from the sand. You now have two evaporating dishes: one
with an NaCl solution and the other with wet sand.
6. Carefully place the evaporating dish containing the NaCl solution on a hot plate (a clay
triangle and a Bunsen burner may also be used). Heat gently to evaporate the water, taking
care to avoid spattering. Near the end of the drying process, cover the evaporating dish with
the watch glass that was weighed with the evaporating dish. Reduce heat to avoid spattering.
While the water is evaporating, you may dry the sand in the other evaporating dish as
explained in the next section.
9. When the NaCl is completely dry, no more water will condense on the watch glass. Let the
evaporating dish and the watch glass cool to room temperature and weigh them.
D. Drying and Weighing the Sand.
10. Position the evaporating dish containing the wet sand about 10-15 cm above the tip of the
Bunsen burner flame to avoid loss of material by spattering. Cover the evaporating dish with
a clean, dry watch glass. Heat the sand in the evaporating dish gently to evaporate the water
remaining in the sand. As the sand approaches dryness, gently shake the dish to cause the
sand to loosen and slide around, then heat strongly for five minutes.
11. Clean off the desk with wet paper towel at the end of the lab period.
E. Percent recovery.
12. Determine that mass of each component recovered. You are expected to recover within 1%
of the total mass and that the percentages of each component will be within 2-3%. If you
have recovered less than 99% of the original sample, repeat the experiment with a new
sample. If your results are within 1%, see your instructor to ensure that your determinations
of individual components are sufficiently accurate.
A. Original Sample Unknown Number
Mass of evaporating dish
Mass of evaporating dish and sample
Mass of original sample (calculated)
B. Mass of evaporating dish after sublimation of NH4Cl
Mass of NH4Cl (calculated)
Percent NH4Cl (show calculations)
C. Mass of evaporating dish #2 and watch glass (initial)
Mass of evaporating dish #2, watch glass and NaCl
Mass NaCl
Percent NaCl (show calculations)
D. Mass of evaporating dish
Mass of evaporating dish and SiO2
Mass SiO2
Percent SiO2 (show calculations)
E. Mass of original Sample
Mass recovered (NH4Cl + NaCl + SiO2)
Percent recovered (show calculation)
Percent SiO2 (show calculations)
1. Explain how your results might have differed if you had only completed one water wash
of the sand/salt mixture instead of three?
2. Could this experiment been done in a different order (for example, if the mixture were
first extracted with water could it have been quantitatively completed)? Explain.
3. A student found that his mixture was 13% NH4Cl, 18% NaCl and 75% SiO2. Assuming
that the calculations are correct, what did h most likely do incorrectly?
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