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Distinguishes combinations of compounds from true compounds.

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Credit: MGA73bot2
Source: Simply Lemonade
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Ahhhh! A tall glass of ice-cold lemonade is really refreshing on a hot day. Lemonade is a combination of lemon juice, water, and sugar. Do you know what kind of matter lemonade is? It’s obviously not an element because it consists of more than one substance. Is it a compound? Not all combined substances are compounds. Some—including lemonade—are mixtures.  

What Is a Mixture?

A mixture is a combination of two or more substances in any proportion. This is different from a compound, which consists of substances in fixed proportions. The substances in a mixture also do not combine chemically to form a new substance, as they do in a compound. Instead, they just intermingle and keep their original properties. The lemonade pictured above is a mixture because it doesn’t have fixed proportions of ingredients. It could have more or less lemon juice, for example, or more or less sugar, and it would still be lemonade.

Q: What are some other examples of mixtures?

A: Other examples of liquid mixtures include salt water and salad dressing. Air is a mixture of gases, mainly nitrogen and oxygen. The rock pictured in the Figure below is a solid mixture.

A rock is a mixture of smaller rocks and minerals

This rock is a mixture of smaller rocks and minerals.

Homogeneous or Heterogeneous?

The lemonade in the opening picture is an example of a homogeneous mixture. A homogeneous mixture has the same composition throughout. Another example of a homogeneous mixture is salt water. If you analyzed samples of ocean water in different places, you would find that the proportion of salt in each sample is the same: 3.5 percent.

The rock in Figure above is an example of a heterogeneous mixture. A heterogeneous mixture varies in its composition. The black nuggets, for example, are not distributed evenly throughout the rock.

Types of Mixtures

Mixtures have different properties depending on the size of their particles. Three types of mixtures based on particle size are solutions, suspensions, and colloids, all of which are described in Table below. You can watch videos about the three types of mixtures at these URLs:

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Separating Mixtures

The components of a mixture keep their own identity when they combine, so they retain their physical properties. Examples of physical properties include boiling point, ability to dissolve, and particle size. When components of mixtures vary in physical properties such as these, processes such as boiling, dissolving, or filtering can be used to separate them.

Look at the Figure below of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The water in the lake is a solution of salt and water. Do you see the white salt deposits near the shore? How did the salt separate from the salt water? Water has a lower boiling point than salt, and it evaporates in the heat of the sun. With its higher boiling point, the salt doesn’t get hot enough to evaporate, so it is left behind.

Picture of the Great Salt Lake in Utah

Credit: Image copyright Eric Broder Van Dyke, 2013
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The Great Salt Lake in Utah. How can you separate the salt out of this water?[Figure3]

Q: Suppose you have a mixture of salt and pepper. What properties of the salt and pepper might allow you to separate them?

A: Salt dissolves in water but pepper does not. If you mix salt and pepper with water, only the salt will dissolve, leaving the pepper floating in the water. You can separate the pepper from the water by pouring the mixture through a filter, such as a coffee filter.

Q: After you separate the pepper from the salt water, how could you separate the salt from the water?

A: You could heat the water until it boils and evaporates. The salt would be left behind.


License: CC BY-NC 3.0


  • mixture: combination of two or more substances in any proportions.


Take the mixtures quiz at the following URL. Check your answers and read the explanations.



  1. What is a mixture?
  2. What is the difference between a homogeneous and a heterogeneous mixture?
  3. Iron filings are attracted by a magnet. This is a physical property of iron but not of most other materials, including sand. How could you use this difference in physical properties to separate a mixture of iron filings and sand?

Missouri Standards

  • 1.1.A.d: Classify the types of matter in an object into pure substances or mixtures using their specific physical properties
  • 1.1.B.a: Describe the properties of each component in a mixture/solution and their distinguishing properties (e.g., salt water, oil and vinegar, pond water, Kool-Aid)
  • 1.1.B.b: Describe appropriate ways to separate the components of different types of mixtures (sorting, evaporation, filtration, magnets, boiling, chromatography, screening)
  • 1.1.B.c: Predict how various solids (soluble/insoluble) behave (e.g., dissolve, settle, float) when mixed with water

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: MGA73bot2; Source: Simply Lemonade; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  3. [3]^ Credit: Image copyright Eric Broder Van Dyke, 2013; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  4. [4]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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