Last Update: May 25th, 2022
Reviewed & Fact Checked by Lori Stutts
What’s the difference between solutions and mixtures? Why are they used interchangeably? Worry no more and read ahead to distinguish these two easily!
First, Let’s Define Mixtures!
From the name itself, mixtures are produced when we mix two or more components. For example, when you make your breakfast cereal, mixing milk and the cereal would give you a mixture. Mixtures can be sorted back out into each original component.
Another example would be a mixture of bleach and water. In order to prevent damage to sensitive clothes, bleach is diluted with water. There are a whole lot of other examples of mixtures.
Let’s take the first example. You could stare at your cereal bowl and see that you have milk with soaked cereal bits. In this case, you could distinguish which is the cereal and which is the milk.
The milk is still in the liquid phase, still tastes like milk, usually still white (if you’ve used fresh milk). While the cereal is still distinguishably solid but probably soggy and still has that distinct advertised flavor depending on the cereal you’ve bought. This cereal-milk mixture is called a heterogeneous mixture.
Heterogeneous mixtures have components that maintain their chemical compositions, can still be distinguished from each other and can be easily separated by filtering, screening, etc. Moreover, the quantity or concentration of components is not uniform throughout the mixture. If you mix m&ms and jelly beans, there could be a portion where there are more m&ms than jelly beans.
In the bleach-water example, the components are blended so thoroughly, that you could no longer differentiate bleach from water once mixed. Every sample of the mixture would look the same and not allow you to visually determine which parts are bleach and which are water. We call this mixture a homogeneous mixture.
What Is a Solution?
A homogeneous mixture is called a solution. A solution is a mixture where every sample looks exactly the same. If unlabeled, a mixture of salt and water would appear like water only. You wouldn’t know that it is actually composed of salt and water. Of course, unless you taste it.
A solution is made out of a solute and a solvent. The solvent allows the solute to be dissolved. The component placed in the solvent which needs to be dissolved is the solute. Solutions are usually liquid, and their solvent is water.
Usually, the component that is greater in quantity is the solvent. From the example, the solvent, water, and dissolved bleach have a homogeneous solution. Another type of solution would be dissolving sugar (solute) in water (solvent) to have a sugar solution.
It is also critical to note that you could have solutions where the solvent is not liquid. As an example, the air is a homogeneous mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and other gasses in the atmosphere. Alloys are homogeneous mixtures of solid metals.
In summary, mixtures are composed of two or more joined components with each component retaining its chemical properties. When these components appear distinguishable, you form a heterogeneous mixture. However, if the mixture seems uniform and components couldn’t be distinguished from each other, a homogeneous mixture is formed. A solution is a type of homogeneous mixture