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Everyday Stoichiometry

The quantitative relationship between reactants and products in a chemical reaction

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Everyday Stoichiometry

Everyday Stoichiometry

You have learned about chemical equations and the techniques used in order to balance them. Chemists use balanced equations to allow them to manipulate chemical reactions in a quantitative manner. Before we look at a chemical reaction, let’s consider the equation for the ideal ham sandwich.

Making a ham sandwich involves stoichiometry

The ideal ham sandwich.

Our ham sandwich is composed of 2 slices of ham (H), a slice of cheese (C), a slice of tomato (T), 5 pickles (P), and 2 slices of bread (B). The equation for our sandwich is shown below:

2\text{H}+\text{C}+\text{T}+5\text{P}+2\text{B} \rightarrow \text{H}_2\text{CTP}_5\text{B}_2

Now let us suppose that you are having some friends over and need to make five ham sandwiches. How much of each sandwich ingredient do you need? You would take the number of each ingredient required for one sandwich (its coefficient in the above equation) and multiply by five. Using ham and cheese as examples and using a conversion factor, we can write:

5 \text{H}_2\text{CTP}_5\text{B}_2 \times \frac{2 \ \text{H}}{1 \ \text{H}_2 \text{CTP}_5\text{B}_2} &= 10 \ \text{H}\\5 \text{H}_2\text{CTP}_5\text{B}_2 \times \frac{1 \ \text{C}}{1 \ \text{H}_2\text{CTP}_5\text{B}_2} &= 5 \ \text{C}

The conversion factors contain the coefficient of each specific ingredient as the numerator and the formula of on sandwich as the denominator. The result is what you would expect. In order to make five ham sandwiches, you would need 10 slices of ham and 5 slices of cheese.

This type of calculation demonstrates the use of stoichiometry. Stoichiometry is the calculation of the amount of substances in a chemical reaction from the balanced equation. The sample problem below is another stoichiometry problem involving ingredients of the ideal ham sandwich.

Sample Problem: Ham Sandwich Stoichiometry

Kim looks in the refrigerator and finds that she has 8 slices of ham. In order to make as many sandwiches as possible, how many pickles does she need? Use the equation above.

Step 1: List the known quantities and plan the problem.


  • have 8 ham slices (H)
  • 2 H = 5 P (conversion factor)


  • How many pickles (P) needed?

The coefficients for the two reactants (ingredients) are used to make a conversion factor between ham slices and pickles.

Step 2: Solve.

8 \ \text{H} \times \frac{5 \ \text{P}}{2 \ \text{H}}=20 \ \text{P}

Since 5 pickles combine with 2 ham slices in each sandwich, 20 pickles are needed to fully combine with 8 ham slices.

Step 3: Think about your result.

The 8 ham slices will make 4 ham sandwiches. With 5 pickles per sandwich, the 20 pickles are used in the 4 sandwiches.

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