What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is an inorganic molecule made up of two nitrogen elements and one oxygen element. It is one of the variable oxides of nitrogen. But its name is not considered in the NOx gases that are responsible for air pollution. This gas was discovered by the chemist Joseph Priestley.

Nitrous Oxide Chemical Formula and Chemical Name

The chemical name of nitrous oxide is dinitrogen monoxide or nitrogen (I) oxide. The Nitrous oxide chemical formula is N2O. The nitrous oxide chemical formula represents two atoms of nitrogen and one atom of oxygen. It is an unreactive gas. The oxidation state of nitrogen is +1 in nitrous oxide gas.

Structure of Nitrous Oxide

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Nitrous oxide is a linear inorganic molecule. The pi-bond present in the molecule shows resonance. The overall structure of nitrous oxide shows the bond length of 113 pico-meter N-O bond and 119 pico-meter N-O bond.

Properties of Nitrous Oxide

Physical properties of nitrous oxide

  • Nitrous oxide is colourless in nature.

  • It exists in the gaseous state. 

  • Nitrous oxide is a neutral molecule.

  • It has a pleasant odour.

  • It is sweet in taste.

  • Its molecular weight is 44 g/mol.

  • It is soluble in water.

  • Its vapour is denser than air.

  • It is non-comustible in nature.

Chemical Properties of Nitrous Oxide

  • Nitrous oxide gas decomposes violently at high temperatures.

  • It causes global warming.

  • Nitrous oxide reacts with sodamide to form sodium azide.

N2O + 2NNH2 → NaN3 + NH3 + NaOH

  • In small amounts, it generally acts as an anaesthetic chemical for minor operations.

  • Nitrous oxide decomposes into nitrogen and oxygen at 873 K. Therefore, it supports the combustion reaction in the presence of a source of oxygen.

  • The oxidation state of nitrogen in nitrous oxide gas is +1.

Preparation of Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is prepared by a heating rection. Ammonium nitrate is heated at a high temperature and nitrous oxide is formed as a product and water molecule as a byproduct. Ammonium nitrate is a thermally unstable molecule. Therefore, it gets decomposed at high temperatures.

NH4NO3 → N2O + 2H2

Nitrogen Oxide Formula

Nitrogen combines with oxygen under different conditions to form a number of binary oxides which differ with respect to the oxidation state of the nitrogen atom. They range from nitrous oxide (oxidation state of nitrogen is +1) through nitric oxide (oxidation state of nitrogen is +2), nitrogen trioxide (oxidation state of nitrogen is +3), nitrogen tetraoxide (oxidation state of nitrogen is +4) to nitrogen pentaoxide (oxidation state of nitrogen is +5). The nitrogen oxide formula represents the number of nitrogen atoms and oxygen atoms in a molecule.

Nitrogen Oxide Formula

Oxidation State of Nitrogen

Physical Appearance,

Acidic or Neutral Character


Dinitrogen monoxide (N2O)


Colourless gas and neutral

Unreactive gas

Nitric oxide (NO)


Colourless gas and neutral

Paramagnetic, reactive and thermodynamically unstable

Dinitrogen trioxide (N2O3)


Pale blue solid and acidic

Unstable in the gaseous phase

Dinitrogen tetraoxide (N2O4)


Colourless solid or liquid acidic

Exists in equilibrium with NO2 both in the gaseous phase and liquid phase

Nitrogen dioxide



Brown gas acidic

Reactive and paramagnetic

Dinitrogen pentaoxide


Colourless solid or gas and acidic

Unstable as gas, in solid-state exists as [NO2]+ [NO3]-

Nitrous Oxide Uses

  • Nitrous oxide is used in making chemicals for rocket fuels.

  • It is used as a human and veterinary anaesthetic chemical.

  • It is used as a foaming agent.

  • It is used in dentistry.

  • It is used as an oxidiser.

  • It is used in air spray propellant.

  • It is used in surgery as an anaesthetic.

Nitrous Oxide Effects

  • It causes mental impairment.

  • It causes mutation by damaging DNA.

  • It causes oxygen deprivation.

  • Chronic exposure to nitrous oxide causes vitamin B12 deficiency.

  • It shows euphoric effects.

  • It shows an anxiolytic effect.

Nitrous Oxide Facts

  • Nitrous oxide is a naturally occurring agent.

  • It is known as laughing gas.

  • Nitrous oxide is used in the food industry.

  • Nitrous oxide is used in childbirth as it can be used at any point during labour.

  • It causes sleepiness when inhaled.

  • Oxides of nitrogen are emitted into the atmosphere during the burning of coal and oil in power stations and automobile engines.

  • These are also present in the automobile exhausts.

  • These oxides of nitrogen also cause acid rain and photochemical smog.

  • You will be surprised to note that though nitric oxide is very reactive and harmful in nature, yet it occurs in biological systems in traces.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Write the properties of nitrous oxide.

The properties of nitrous oxide are given below:

  • Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas with a pleasant odour.

  • It is sweetish in taste and exists in the gaseous state. 

  • It is a neutral molecule.

2. What are the uses of nitrous oxide?

The uses of nitrous oxide are given below:

  • It is used in making chemicals for rocket fuels.

  • It acts as an anaesthetic chemical for human and veterinary purposes.

  • Nitrous oxide is used as a foaming agent and propellant in air sprays.