Common Ion Effect

The common ion effect is an effect that suppresses the ionization of an electrolyte when another electrolyte (which contains an ion which is also present in the first electrolyte, i.e. a common ion) is added. It is considered to be a consequence of Le Chatlier’s principle (or the Equilibrium Law).

What is the Common Ion Effect?

The statement of the common ion effect can be written as follows – in a solution wherein there are several species associating with each other via a chemical equilibrium process, an increase in the concentration of one of the ions dissociated in the solution by the addition of another species containing the same ion will lead to an increase in the degree of association of ions.

An example of the common ion effect can be observed when gaseous hydrogen chloride is passed through a sodium chloride solution, leading to the precipitation of the NaCl due to the excess of chloride ions in the solution (brought on by the dissociation of HCl).

Common Ion Effect

This effect cannot be observed in the compounds of transition metals. This is because the d-block elements have a tendency to form complex ions. This can be observed in the compound cuprous chloride, which is insoluble in water. This compound can be dissolved in water by the addition of chloride ions leading to the formation of the CuCl2 complex ion, which is soluble in water.

Effect on Solubility

The way in which the solubility of a salt in a solution is affected by the addition of a common ion is discussed in this subsection.

  • The common ion effect can be used to obtain drinking water from aquifers (underground layer of water mixed with permeable rocks or other unconsolidated materials) containing chalk or limestone. Sodium carbonate (chemical formula Na2CO3) is added to the water in order to decrease the hardness of the water.
  • In the treatment of water, the common ion effect is used to precipitate out the calcium carbonate (which is sparingly soluble) from the water via the addition of sodium carbonate, which is highly soluble.
  • A finely divided calcium carbonate precipitate of a very pure composition is obtained from this addition of sodium carbonate. The CaCO3 precipitate is, therefore, a valuable by-product which can be used in the process of manufacturing toothpaste.
  • Since soaps are the sodium salts of carboxylic acids containing a long aliphatic chain (fatty acids), the common ion effect can be observed in the salting out process which is used in the manufacturing of soaps. The soaps are precipitated out by adding sodium chloride to the soap solution in order to reduce its solubility.

However, it can be noted that water containing a respectable amount of Na+ ions, such as seawater and brackish water, can hinder the action of soaps by reducing their solubility and therefore their effectiveness.

Effect on pH

When the conjugate ion of a buffer solution (solution containing a base and its conjugate acid, or acid and its conjugate base) is added to it, the pH of the buffer solution changes due to the common ion effect.

  • An example of such an effect can be observed when acetic acid and sodium acetate are both dissolved in a given solution, generating acetate ions. However, sodium acetate completely dissociates but the acetic acid only partly ionizes. This is because acetic acid is a weak acid whereas sodium acetate is a strong electrolyte.
  • As per Le Chatlier’s principle, the new acetate ions put forth by sodium acetate facilitate the suppression of the ionization of acetic acid, thereby shifting the equilibrium to the left. Since the dissociation of acetic acid is reduced, the pH of the solution is increased.
  • Therefore, the common ion solution containing acetic acid and sodium acetate will have an increased pH and will, therefore, be less acidic when compared to an acetic acid solution.

Thus, the common ion effect, its effect on the solubility of a salt in a solution, and its effect on the pH of a solution are discussed in this article. For more engaging content on this concept and other related topics, download the BYJU’S app.

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