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Reactivity series of metals

Reactivity series

When metals react with other substances the metal atoms form positive ions by loosing electrons (from their outermost shells). However, some metals tend to form ions more easily than others. This tendency of forming positive ions (by loosing electrons) is called reactivity.

Metals can be arranged in a list in order of their reactivity, and such a list is called reactivity series.

In a reactivity series, the most reactive element is, usually, placed at the top and the least reactive element at the bottom.

The metals potassium, sodium, lithium, calcium, magnesium, aluminium, zinc, iron, tin, lead, copper, silver and gold can be arranged in the order of their reactivity from their reactions with water and dilute acids.

The non-metals hydrogen and carbon are often included in the reactivity series as they are useful in extracting metals from their oxides (metals ores), and they are cheap and commonly available.

Reactivity series of metals, including non-metals Carbon and Hydrogen
Fig 1. Reactivity series of metals, inclusing non-metals carbon and hydrogen

Displacement reactions:

A more reactive metal will displace a less reactive metal from one of its compound. A displacement reaction is one where a more reactive element (a metal or a non-metal) replaces (displaces) a less reactive element (a metal or a non-metal) in a compound. This type of reactions are often very useful in various industrial applications.

The following example demonstrates how magnesium displaces copper from aqueous copper sulfate solution.

Example of displacement reactions: magnesium displacing copper from copper sulfate solution
Fig 2. Magnesium displacing copper from copper sulfate solution in a displacement reaction

Reaction with water:

Some metals react with water, either warm or cold, or with steam.

Most reactive metals such as Potassium (K), Sodium (Na), Lithium (Li) and Calcium (Ca) react quickly with cold water.

Less reactive metals such as Magnesium (Mg), Zinc (Zn) and Iron (Fe) won’t react with water, but they react with steam.

Unreactive metals such as Copper (Cu), Silver (Ag) and Gold (Au) won’t react with water.

Reaction with dilute acids:

Most metals react with dilute acids to produce a salt and hydrogen gas.

Metal oxides:

When metals react with oxygen a metal oxide is formed.

Oxidation is the loss of electrons and reduction is the gain of electrons.

Rust is formed when iron reacts with oxygen and water to form hydrated Iron (III) oxide. Rusting is an oxidation reaction.

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