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Flame Test

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What is the Flame Test?

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The flame test is one of the most widely used analytical procedures in Chemistry. It is primarily used to observe and analyze the presence of certain elements in the given compound or salt. Generally, the flame test observes the occurrence of metal ions in a  compound. The flame test for every element is different as ions of each element have a specific feature based on their emission spectrum.


This difference is observed by the colour of flames given out when the salt including the metal ion is burnt. It should be observed here that the emission spectrum of each element that discovers the flame colour includes atoms rather than ions. The transformation of electrons in the ions has a tendency to produce the visible colour lines which are observed in flame tests.


Read the article below to know flame test definition in Chemistry, how to do a flame test, flame test colour and limitation of the flame test.


Flame Test Definition

The flame test is a method used by scientists to observe the occurrence of specific metals in a compound by the colour they give to a flame. For example, the presence of Sodium turns the flame colour to yellow.


How to do a Flame Test?

After knowing what a flame test is? You must be wondering, how to do a flame test? Let us now look at the methods of performing flame tests.


There are two methods to perform the flame test. These are:

  • Classic Wire Loop Method.

  • Wooden Split or Cotton Swab Method.

Let us now discuss each method in detail:

Classic Wire Loop Method: In Classic Wire Loop Method, you will require a wire loop. The most commonly used loops are platinum or nickel-chromium loops. These can be cleaned by immersing in nitric or hydrochloric acid, followed by washing with distilled or deionized water. Test the cleanliness of the loop by placing it into a gas flame. The loop may not be adequately cleaned if the burst is produced. The loop should be properly cleaned between tests.


The cleaned loop is immersed in either a powder or solution of an ionic (metal) salt. The loop along with a sample is placed in the blue or clear part of the flame and the resulting colour is observed.


Wooden Split or Cotton Swab Method: Wooden or Cotton Swab’s method of conducting flame text provides a competitive alternative to wire loops. To use wooden splints, immerse them overnight in distilled water. Discharge the water and wash out the splints with clear water. Be cautious to prevent polluting the water with sodium. Hold a cotton swab or splint that has been soaked in water, immerse it in the sample that has to be tested and flush the splint or swab through the flame. Avoid holding the sample in the flame as this would cause the split or swab to catch fire. Each time use a new splint or swab for a new flame test.


Flame Test Colour

The Flame test colour table given below describes the colour of each flame as precisely as possible. Generally, most of the metals produce green colours and you can also see various shades of red and blue. The feasible method to observe metal ions is to compare it to the set of standards (known as composition) to determine what colour can be expected when using the fuel in a laboratory.


The flame test is not distinctive as multiple variables are included in it. Generally, only a single tool is available to observe the elements present in a compound. While performing a flame test, be cautious of any contamination of the fuel or loop with sodium which has a bright yellow colour and hides other colours. Many fuels include sodium contamination. You may observe the flame test colour with the help of the blue filter to take off any yellow colour.


Here is the list of the common elements that are observed through the flame test. They have different emission spectrums that permit them to show a particular coloured flame in a flame test. However, the colour given below of different elements is only guidance as different colours are described differently by different people performing a flame test.


Flame Test Colour Table

S.No.

Element

Symbol

Colour

1

Sodium

Na

Intense Yellow

2

Potassium

K

Intense Yellow Orange

3

Calcium

Ca

Orange Red

4

Lithium

Li

Red

5

Strontium

Sr

Red

6

Barium

Ba

Pale- Green

7

Copper

Cu

Blue- Green

8

Caesium

Cs

Blue

9

Iron

Fe

Gold 

10

Germanium

Ge

Pale Blue

11

Mercury

Hg

Red

12

Nickel

Ni

Silver - White

13

Hafnium

Hf

White

14

Phosphorus

P

Pale Bluish Green

15

Molybdenum 

Mo

Yellowish Green

16

Manganese

Mn

White

17

Tin

Sn

Blue - White

18

Zinc

Zn

colourless or Bluish Green

19

Lead

Pb

Bluish White

20

Zirconium

Zr

Light Red

21

Radium

Ra

Crimson

22

Chromium

Ch

Silver - White

23

Cadmium

Cd

Brick red

24

Arsenic

As

Blue


Limitation of the Flame Test

Some of the limitations of the flame test are given below:

  • The ions will not be observed during the flame test as long as the concentration ions are minimum.

  • The intensity of the light changes from one sample to another. For example, yellow sodium emissions are much more intense during the flame test in comparison to the red litmus emission.

  • The flame test will be affected by the presence of contaminants or impurities. For example, sodium is generally present in most of the compounds and gives the yellow colour to the flame. To avoid that, cobalt blue gas is used to filter out the yellow colour of sodium.

  • The flame test cannot make a distinction between all elements. Most of the metals produce similar colours whereas some of the compounds do not change the colour of the flame at all.