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pH scale

Defines the pH scale and shows the pH of many common solutions.

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The pH Scale

Grapefruit juice is quite acidic

Credit: Courtesy of Renee Comet, National Cancer Institute
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grapefruit_%281%29.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Why is grapefruit juice acidic?

Grapefruit juice has a pH of somewhere between 2.9-3.3, depending on the specific product. Excessive exposure to this juice can cause erosion of tooth enamel and can lead to tooth damage. The acids in grapefruit juice are carbon-based, with citric acid being one of the major constituents. This compound has three ionizable hydrogens on each molecule which contribute to the relatively low pH of the juice. Another component of grape juice is malic acid, containing two ionizable hydrogens per molecule.

The pH Scale

Expressing the acidity of a solution by using the molarity of the hydrogen ion is cumbersome because the quantities are generally very small. Danish scientist Søren Sørenson (1868-1939) proposed an easier system for indicating the concentration of H+ called the pH scale. The letters pH stand for the power of the hydrogen ion. The pH of a solution is the negative logarithm of the hydrogen-ion concentration.

pH = -log[H+]

In pure water or a neutral solution the [H+] = 1.0 × 10-7 M. Substituting into the pH expression:

pH = -log[1.0 × 10-7] = -(-7.00) = 7.00

The pH of pure water or any neutral solution is thus 7.00. For recording purposes, the numbers to the right of the decimal point in the pH value are the significant figures. Since 1.0 × 10-7 has two significant figures, the pH can be reported as 7.00.

A logarithmic scale condenses the range of acidity to numbers that are easy to use. Consider a solution with [H+] = 1.0 × 10-4 M. That is a hydrogen-ion concentration that is 1000 times higher than the concentration in pure water. The pH of such a solution is 4.00, a difference of just 3 pH units. Notice that when the [H+] is written in scientific notation and the coefficient is 1, the pH is simply the exponent with the sign changed. The pH of a solution with the [H+] = 1 × 10-2 M is 2 and the pH of a solution with the [H+] = 1 × 10-10 M is 10.

As we saw earlier, a solution with the [H+] higher than 1.0 × 10-7 is acidic, while a solution with the [H+] lower than 1.0 × 10-7 is basic. Consequently, solutions whose pH is less than 7 are acidic, while those with a pH higher than 7 are basic. Figure below illustrates this relationship, along with some examples of various solutions.

pH values of several common materials

Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Hana Zavadska and Zachary Wilson
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The pH values for several common materials.[Figure2]


  • The concept of pH is defined.
  • pH values for several common materials are listed.


  1. What is one value of using pH instead of molar concentrations?
  2. Is coffee an acidic or a basic substance?
  3. If a material has a pH of 9.3, is it acidic or basic?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Courtesy of Renee Comet, National Cancer Institute; Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grapefruit_%281%29.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Hana Zavadska and Zachary Wilson; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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