Oxidation state

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Plutonium ions in several oxidation states

Oxidation state (or oxidation number) refers to the number of electrons added to or removed from an element when it forms a chemical compound. Sodium metal, for example, has an oxidation state of 0 in the elemental state. But when it gives up its one valence (outer) electron (symbolized by e), it becomes a sodium ion Na+ with an oxidation state of +1. Iron is another example. It can lose two electrons, forming an oxidation state of +2; or it can lose three electrons, forming an oxidation state of +3.

If elements gain electrons, they have negative oxidation states. If chlorine gains an electron, it forms a Cl ion (chloride) and has oxidation state of −1. If sulfur gains two electrons, it forms an S2− ion (sulfide) and has oxidation state of −2.

The Na+ ions and Cl ions then form a compound, NaCl, sodium chloride (table salt). Or the Fe2+ and S2− ions form FeS, iron sulfide.

All free elements have an oxidation state of 0.

  1. oxygen has an oxidation number −2 in most of its compounds except peroxides where it has an oxidation number −1.
  2. hydrogen has oxidation state +1 in most compounds except with electropositive elements like Na, where it has −1.
  3. alkali earth metals have oxidation state +2
  4. alkali metals have oxidation state +1
  5. oxidation states of all the atoms in a molecule add up to 0 and in an ion to the ion charge.

Examples: potassium permanganate with the formula KMnO4 has Mn in oxidation state +7, and CrO42− has Cr in oxidation state +6.