When you buy an advanced chemistry set, you might be intimidated by the long list of complicated-sounding chemicals, but in reality, there are not that many different types of chemicals in any chemistry set. This article discusses the most common types of chemicals included in chemistry sets and what types of reactions they will be used for.

Acid-Base Reactions

Many chemistry sets come with acids and bases that react strongly when mixed together. All acid-base reactions produce a salt and water. The most common experiments in a home chemistry set will help you measure the right proportion of an acid with a base to make a mixture with a neutral pH. The pH of a substance can be measured with litmus paper that changes color according to the acidity. Some sets contain liquid indicator solutions instead of pH paper. Acid-base reactions are favorites in many chemistry sets because they tend to be bubbly and fun to watch.


In simple terms, acids are chemical compounds charged with highly reactive hydrogen ions. Acids are used in experiments demonstrating acid-base reactions. Acids can be highly toxic and dangerous, but the ones in your set are in small quantities and are designed to be safe when used according to the instructions. Acids can be classified as stronger or weaker depending on how reactive they are. Most chemistry sets include weak acids (comparable to vinegar) because strong ones can be very dangerous to the skin, eyes and other surfaces.


Bases are chemical compounds with hydroxide, a reactive ion with one hydrogen ion and one oxygen ion. When hydroxide mixes with the hydrogen in an acid, the two join to become water, or H20. The remainder of the chemicals in the acids and bases join together to form salts. Like acids, bases can be considered stronger or weaker depending on their reactivity. Most sets will include fairly weak bases like baking soda, but even with relatively weak chemicals, the resulting reactions can still be very interesting to watch. For example, mixing two safe household chemicals, vinegar (a weak acid) and baking soda (a weak base), creates an impressive reaction that makes up the common  create your own volcano  experiment.

Metallic Chemicals

Many sets contain experiments where you observe a chemical reaction between a liquid and a metal. When iron is exposed to water, for example, rust forms. Making or preventing rust is a common experiment in many home chemistry kits. Another common experiment involves removing tarnish from silver using aluminum foil and vinegar.

Heat Reaction Chemicals

There are two different types of heat reactions: endothermic and exothermic. Endothermic reactions require heat or some other form of energy in order to take place, whereas exothermic reactions occur spontaneously and give off heat. Many sets include chemicals for demonstrating these two types of reactions. Another type of heat reaction involves identifying chemicals by holding them into a flame and observing the color change.


Monomers and polymers are strings of molecules formed by a chain reaction of different chemicals. A common polymer experiment is making nylon.

Before you start performing the experiments in a new set, it is a good idea to take inventory of everything in the box, including the chemicals. Once you ve identified all the chemicals, you can be sure to handle them properly and use the right chemicals for the right experiments. When you re ready to buy your child s first chemistry set or upgrade to a more advanced kit, check out our review of the top ten chemistry sets.

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