Reactivity Series

What is the Reactivity Series?

The reactivity series of metals, also known as the activity series, refers to the arrangement of metals in the descending order of their reactivities.

The data provided by the reactivity series can be used to predict whether a metal can displace another in a single displacement reaction. It can also be used to obtain information on the reactivity of metals towards water and acids.

A chart of the reactivity series of common metals is provided below.

Activity Series of MetalsMetals tend to readily lose electrons and form cations. Most of them react with atmospheric oxygen to form metal oxides. However, different metals have different reactivities towards oxygen (unreactive metals such as gold and platinum do not readily form oxides when exposed to air).

Salient Features

  • The metals at the top of the reactivity series are powerful reducing agents since they are easily oxidized. These metals tarnish/corrode very easily.
  • The reducing ability of the metals grows weaker while traversing down the series.
  • The electro positivity of the elements also reduces while moving down the reactivity series of metals.
  • All metals that are found above hydrogen in the activity series liberate H2 gas upon reacting with dilute HCl or dilute H2SO4.
  • Metals that are placed higher on the reactivity series have the ability to displace metals that are placed lower from their salt solutions.
  • Higher ranking metals require greater amounts of energy for their isolation from ores and other compounds.

Another important feature of the activity series is that while travelling down the series, the electron-donating ability of the metals reduces.

Long Tabular Form of the Reactivity Series

The reactivities of metals are tabulated below (in the descending order) along with their corresponding ions. Note that the metals in Red react with cold water, those in Orange cannot react with cold water but can react with acids, and those in Blue only react with some strong oxidizing acids.

Reactivity Series of Metals Ions Formed
Caesium Cs+
Francium Fr+
Rubidium Rb+
Potassium K+
Sodium Na+
Lithium Li+
Barium Ba2+
Radium Ra2+
Strontium Sr2+
Calcium Ca2+
Magnesium Mg2+
Beryllium Be2+
Aluminium Al3+
Titanium Ti4+
Manganese Mn2+
Zinc Zn2+
Chromium Cr3+
Iron Fe3+
Cadmium Cd2+
Cobalt Co2+
Nickel Ni2+
Tin Sn2+
Lead Pb2+
Hydrogen H+ (Non-Metal, Reference for Comparison)
Antimony Sb3+
Bismuth Bi3+
Copper Cu2+
Tungsten W3+
Mercury Hg2+
Silver Ag+
Platinum Pt4+
Gold Au3+

Despite being a non-metal, hydrogen is often included in the reactivity series since it helps compare the reactivities of the metals. The metals placed above hydrogen in the series can displace it from acids such as HCl and H2SO4 (since they are more reactive).

Important uses of Reactivity Series

Apart from providing insight into the properties and reactivities of the metals, the reactivity series has several other important applications. For example, the outcome of the reactions between metals and water, metals and acids, and single displacement reactions between metals can be predicted with the help of the activity series.

Reaction Between Metals and Water

Calcium and the metals that are more reactive than calcium in the reactivity series can react with cold water to form the corresponding hydroxide while liberating hydrogen gas. For example, the reaction between potassium and water yields potassium hydroxide and H2 gas, as described by the chemical equation provided below.

2K + 2H2O → 2KOH + H2

Therefore, the reactivity series of metals can be used to predict the reactions between metals and water.

Reaction Between Metals and Acids

Lead and the metals ranking above lead on the activity series form salts when reacted with hydrochloric acid or sulphuric acid. These reactions also involve the liberation of hydrogen gas. The reaction between zinc and sulphuric acid is an example of such a reaction. Here, zinc sulfate and H2 gas are formed as products. The chemical equation is:

Zn + H2SO4 → ZnSO4 + H2

Thus, the reactions between metals and some acids can be predicted with the help of the reactivity series.

Single Displacement Reactions Between Metals

The ions of low ranking metals are readily reduced by high ranking metals on the reactivity series. Therefore, low ranking metals are easily displaced by high ranking metals in the single displacement reactions between them.

A great example of such a reaction is the displacement of copper from copper sulphate by zinc. The chemical equation for this reaction is given by:

Zn (s) + CuSO4 (aq) → ZnSO4 (aq) + Cu (s)

This concept has several practical applications in the extraction of metals. For example, titanium is extracted from titanium tetrachloride via a single displacement reaction with magnesium. Thus, the reactivity series of metals can also be used to predict the outcome of single displacement reactions.

Frequently Asked Questions


What does a reactivity series show?

The metal reactivity series is a list of metals arranged in the order of their decreasing activities. The metals at the top of the series (K, Na, Ca, Mg and Al) are so reactive that they are never found in nature as free elements. It is difficult to separate them from their compounds and extract. The metals at the bottom of the activity series are the least reactive. Some of these metals are found in the earth’s crust in their free state. For example, Gold, Platinum is found in free state. So, it becomes comparatively easier to extract such least reactive metals


Which metal is the least reactive?

Platinum is the least reactive metal. It has remarkable resistance to corrosion, even at high temperatures, and is therefore considered a noble metal. Consequently, platinum is often found chemically uncombined as native platinum.


What is metal reactivity?

Reactivity series is a list of metals arranged in decreasing order of their reactivity. Most reactive metals are at the top while the least reactive metals at the bottom. For any two metals in the series, the metal placed higher in the series can displace lower metals from their salt solution.


Which is the most reactive metal?

alkali metal are most reactive metals. Down the reactivity increases. Francium is most reactive element in periodic table. However, francium is artificial or only few quantities have produced right now, so after the francium, cesium is most reactive metal.


Are non-metals Reactive or non-reactive?

Non-metal properties have a relatively low boiling point, and other non-metals are gases. Likewise, non-metals are poor heat conductors, and solid non-metals are dull and brittle. Many non-metals are strongly reactive, while others are in no way reactive. It depends on the number of electrons in the outer amount of energy.


What is the reactivity series of metal?

The reactivity series of metals refers to the array of metals in the descending order of their reactivities. It is also known as the activity series of metals.

What does the reactivity series of metals depend on?

The reactivity series of metals depends on the reactivity of metals which is dependent on the atomic radius, nuclear charge, sublevel electrons arrangement and shielding effect.

How is the reactivity series of metals originated?

The reactivity of metal originated from the reactivity of metals. In the activity series of metals more reactive metal is placed on the top of the series while a less reactive metal is placed at the bottom of the series.

What is the significance of the reactivity series of metal?

The reactivity series of metals is the array of metals in the descending order of their reactivities. It helps in predicting if a metal can displace another metal in a displacement reaction.

Why is hydrogen placed in the reactivity series of metal?

Hydrogen is a part of the reactivity series of metals because like metals it also loses electrons to form a positive ion.

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