The "Acid Test" for lead carbonate Minerals and also Carbonate Rocks

Article by: Hobart M. King, PhD, RPG

Hydrochloric acid on limestone: This video demonstrates what happens as soon as one fall of dilute (10%) hydrochloric mountain is put on a piece of limestone. Protective glasses and also gloves are recommended when doing the mountain test.

You are watching: What does the acid test tell you about a mineral

What is the acid Test?

To many geologists, the hatchet "acid test" means placing a autumn of dilute (5% come 10%) hydrochloric acid on a absent or mineral and watching because that bubbles the carbon dioxide gas to it is in released. The bubbles signal the existence of carbonate minerals such as calcite, dolomite, or among the minerals listed in Table 1.

The bubbling relax of carbon dioxide gas deserve to be therefore weak the you need a hand lens to observe solitary bubbles slowly farming in the autumn of hydrochloric mountain - or so vigorous that a speed of effervescence is produced. These variations in effervescence vigor room a result of the type of carbonate minerals present, the quantity of carbonate present, the bit size the the carbonate, and also the temperature of the acid.

Hydrochloric mountain on limestone: This video clip demonstrates what happens as soon as one fall of dilute (10%) hydrochloric mountain is put on a piece of limestone. Safety glasses and also gloves room recommended as soon as doing the acid test.


Magnesite: The mineral magnesite, which has actually a chemical composition of MgCO3, will effervesce weakly with heat hydrochloric mountain and an extremely weakly through cold acid. Specimen is about 6.4 cm across.

What reasons the Fizz?

Carbonate minerals space unstable in contact with hydrochloric acid. When acid begins to effervesce (fizz) on a specimen, a reaction comparable to the one shown below is taking place.


On the left side of this reaction, the mineral calcite (CaCO3) is in call with hydrochloric mountain (HCl). These reaction to form carbon dioxide gas (CO2), water (H2O), dissolved calcium (Ca++), and dissolved chlorine (Cl--). The carbon dioxide bubbles that you watch are evidence that the reaction is acquisition place. Once that occurs, calcite or another carbonate mineral is present.

Many other carbonate minerals react through hydrochloric acid. Every of this minerals is composed of one or an ext metal ions linked with a carbonate ion (CO3--). The chemistry of these reactions is similar to the calcite reaction above. The mineral reacts through hydrochloric acid to produce carbon dioxide gas, water, a dissolved metal ion, and dissolved chlorine. The reactions because that magnesite (MgCO3) and also siderite (FeCO3) are shown below.



Calcite: This transparent specimen the calcite shows cleavage the is properties of the mineral. Calcite, v a ingredient of CaCO3, will certainly react strongly with either cold or warm hydrochloric acid. Specimen measures about 10 cm across.

Acid reaction of carbonate Minerals
MineralChemical CompositionCold acid ReactionWarm acid Reaction
MagnesiteMgCO3very weakweak
SideriteFeCO3very weakweak
Table 1: A perform of commonly and occasionally encountered carbonate minerals v their chemistry formula and reactions to cold and warm hydrochloric acid. Check results can vary since of weathering, vault testing, contamination, and specimen purity.


The Vigor of lead carbonate Reactions

Careful observation is important because some carbonate minerals reaction vigorously and also others barely react through cold acid.

The carbonate mineral the is most commonly encountered by geologists is calcite (CaCO3). Calcite is a "ubiquitous" mineral. Ubiquitous method "found everywhere." Calcite occurs in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks and also is the most commonly encountered carbonate mineral. If you location one drop of cold hydrochloric mountain on calcite, the whole drop of acid will certainly erupt through bubbles and a vigorous fizz will certainly last for a few seconds.

Dolomite CaMg(CO3)2 is another commonly encountered lead carbonate mineral. If you location one fall of cold hydrochloric acid on a item of dolomite, the reaction is weak or no observed. Instead of see an apparent fizz, girlfriend will check out a drop of mountain on the surface ar of the mineral that can have a few bubbles the carbon dioxide gas slowly farming on the dolomite surface.

However, if warmth acid is put on dolomite, an obvious fizz will occur. This occurs because the acid and also rock react more vigorously at greater temperatures.

If you place a drop of hydrochloric acid on powdered dolomite, a visible reaction will certainly occur. This is due to the fact that the surface ar area has actually been increased, making more dolomite accessible to the acid. (You can conveniently make dolomite powder by scratching a specimen the dolomite throughout a streak plate. Then test the flour by place a drop of hydrochloric mountain on the powder. One more easy method to create a little amount the mineral powder is to scrape the specimen through a nail.)

Different carbonate minerals have different responses come hydrochloric acid. A list of common and also occasionally encountered carbonate minerals is given in Table 1 v their chemistry composition and also their loved one reaction through cold and also warm hydrochloric acid.

When a mineral has actually a weak an answer to acid, you need to be observant and also patient to see it. Because that example, magnesite has actually a very weakreaction with cold HCl. If you powder a small amount the magnesite ~ above a streak plate and place a fall of mountain on it, you might not view any action for several seconds. Then, together tiny bubbles begin to form on corpuscle of magnesite, the fall of acid will show up to grow larger in size. The occurs together carbon dioxide is liberated from the mineral and also displaces the water. Observing the formation of bubbles through a hand lens have the right to be helpful.


Dolostone: Dolostone is a sedimentary absent composed mostly of the mineral dolomite, which has actually a chemical composition that CaMg(CO3)2. Dolomite will effervesce weakly v cold hydrochloric acid, producing a few bubbles. The reaction is much more noticeable when the mountain is warm and/or the stone is powdered. The specimen in the picture is around 10 centimeter across.

The acid Test top top Rocks


Some rocks contain carbonate minerals, and also the acid test can be supplied to assist identify them. Limestone is composed nearly entirely of calcite and will create a vigorous fizz through a drop of hydrochloric acid. Dolostone is a rock written of practically entirely of dolomite. The will create a very weak fizz once a autumn of cold hydrochloric mountain is inserted upon it, a much more obvious fizz when powdered dolostone is tested, and also a more powerful fizz when hot hydrochloric mountain is used.

Limestone and also dolostone deserve to be a little an ext complex. They are periodically composed of a mixture the calcite and dolomite and also have acid reactions that are deceptive. A dolostone deserve to contain enough calcite to fool you into calling the a limestone. Because that these rocks the mountain test can not be sufficient for a i was sure identification - but at the very least you will understand that the rock has a far-reaching carbonate mineral content.

Marble is a limestone or a dolostone that has actually been metamorphosed. The will have actually an mountain reaction that is similar to the limestone or dolostone from which it to be formed.


Other Applications of the "Acid Test": Geologists can use dilute hydrochloric mountain to aid identify the cementing certified dealer of sandstones. They place a drop of dilute HCl top top the sandstone and also closely observe. If calcite is the cementing agent, an effervescence will occur and some of the sand grains could be liberated. A hand lens or little microscope is offered to do the observations. The photo above is a magnified view that a piece of Oriskany Sandstone, one Ordovician-age rock unit indigenous the Appalachian container that serves as a organic gas reservoir and also a herbal gas storage unit. Oriskany sandstone is regularly cemented by calcite.


Always remember that "calcite is ubiquitous." (Ubiquitous method that that is found almost everywhere.)

Many rocks contain tiny amounts the calcite or other carbonate minerals. All of these can create a fizz also though the lead carbonate is just a minor part of a rock"s composition. These rocks can contain little veins or crystals of carbonate minerals that produce a fizz in contact with acid. These veins and crystals can be therefore tiny that they room not clearly shows to the unaided eye. This little amount that carbonate can fizz the first time a drop of mountain is used but be depleted and also not fizz if acid is applied a 2nd time come the same location on the rock.

Some sedimentary rocks space bound together with calcite or dolomite cement. Sandstone, siltstone, and conglomerate sometimes have actually calcite cement that will produce a vigorous fizz v cold hydrochloric acid. Part conglomerates and breccias save clasts of carbonate rocks or minerals the react through acid.

Many shales to be deposited in maritime environments and also contain enough calcium lead carbonate to develop a vigorous acid fizz. These shales were developed when dirt was deposited in one environment comparable to or surrounding to whereby limestone to be formed. They room composed the sedimentary clay mineral intermixed through a little amount that calcite. They are known as "calcareous shales."

Don"t allow an mountain fizz to overview the to know process. In many cases it will instead include detail to your observation such as: "calcareous shale" or "sandstone with lead carbonate cement." This is beneficial information.


Vinegar deserve to be used for the acid test: Vinegar can be a safe, economical and also easy-to-obtain "acid" for identifying calcite and dolomite. Vinegar is dilute acetic mountain that produces a very weak reaction through calcite and dolomite - finest observed v a hand lens.

The "Vinegar Test"

Vinegar is a dilute acetic acid systems (about 5% come 10%) the produces a weak effervescent reaction v calcite and dolomite. It have the right to be used instead of hydrochloric acid for presenting students to the acid test. Vinegar is straightforward to obtain, inexpensive, and also safer to use than hydrochloric acid.The effervescence using vinegar usually calls for a hand lens for clear observation and also is only observable through carbonate mineralsthat have a strong reaction through hydrochloric acid. Vinegar is regularly used as soon as the acid test is part of a precollege course. Protective gloves, glasses, record towels, and also immediate access to an eyewash station space recommended.


A couple of rocks deserve to produce an extreme reaction with hydrochloric acid. These space usually rocks written of calcite or aragonite withabundant pore room or exceptionally high surface areas. Some specimens of chalk, coquina, oolite, and also tufa room examples. When a autumn of dilute hydrochloric acid is placed on these specimens, one eruption of acid foam can rise up off of the rock and spread to an unexpected diameter. The reaction is really brief (and may not it is in repeatable), however it is for this reason sudden and also vigorous the it have the right to surprise one inexperienced person. This summary is for one autumn of acid. If an ext is used an even more vigorous reaction will certainly occur. (These too much reactions will not take place with every specimen of this rocks. Be aware when testing them or presenting them to students for testing.)

The incredibly vigorous reaction the cold hydrochloric acid v these specimens occurs since the rocks room so porous or because they have actually a very high surface area under a solitary drop the acid.


Calcite and also other lead carbonate minerals have a low resistance come weathering and also can be struck by acids in natural waters and also soils. When testing material that has been exposed at Earth"s surface, it is very important to check unweathered material. A new surface can usually be acquired by break the rock.


Some rocks space porous and contain a reservoir that air. Tiny amounts of waiting escaping into a fall of acid from below can provide the appearance of a gentle acid reaction. Don"t be fooled. If you ar a drop of acid on part sandstones, a couple of bubbles will arise out of pore spaces. It"s not a lead carbonate cement. To avoid this problem scratch the rock across a streak plate and also test the powder or the seed that space produced.


The best way to learn about minerals is to study with a arsenal of tiny specimens that you can handle, examine, and also observe your properties. Inexpensive mineral collection are accessible in the Store.

Contamination in Mineral to know Labs

When students are offered minerals to identify, two cases can cause problems v their work.

1) In mineral to know labs, part students are all set to call any kind of mineral the produces an mountain reaction "calcite" or an additional carbonate. However, calcite is a common mineral and it is often present as one intimate part of other mineral specimens and rocks. These can develop a false mountain reaction. To protect against being misled, student should always be cautioned to check a specimen"s identity with multiple properties. If a specimen fizzes through acid yet has a Mohs hardness of seven and breaks with a conchoidal fracture, then it definitely isn"t calcite!

Depending top top the endure of the students, specimens the are an extremely true to your properties have the right to be gift to the class, or specimens with some obstacles can it is in used. Numerous minerals discovered in the field will not be absolutely true come properties. It"s much better to discover that great in the lab and go into the ar with wisdom.

2) due to the fact that calcite is one of the index minerals of the Mohs Hardness Scale, that is regularly used to test the hardness the mineral specimens. This can place tiny amounts the calcite perhaps on every unknown specimen in the lab! Don"t assume that a solitary acid reaction is correct. Test the specimen in a second location if you doubt that contamination has occurred.

In a mineral identification lab, barite is frequently confused v calcite since of contamination. The barite might naturally contain small amounts that calcite, or the hardness trial and error of a ahead student could have left small amounts of calcite top top a barite specimen.Students room often drawn to an identification as "calcite" simply due to the fact that of the mountain test. If that mineral exhibits a little ofcleavage and also is not really hard, then plenty of students will certainly arrive in ~ an incorrect identification.

Acid check Safety

Hydrochloric acid, effectively diluted to a 10% concentration, can reason irritation if it contact the skin or eyes. It can likewise fade clothing. Hydrochloric acid should kept in clearly-labeled dispensing bottles and used v quick and also easy access to record towels, water, and an eyewash station. Safety glasses and also protective gloves room recommended. If skin call occurs, the area have to be flushed with plenty of water. If eye call occurs, the eye have to be purged for 15 minutes v plenty the water. If a call lens is worn, the eye must be flushed, call lens removed, and also flushing continued. Look for prompt clinical attention for eye contact.Specimens that space tested v acid should be rinsed after testing to eliminate or dilute unreacted acid.

Limiting Frivolous Acid use in Labs

Most students are intrigued through the acid test and also want to try it. To border frivolous acid use, students must be instructed to use a solitary drop of mountain for the test and also to only test specimens as soon as carbonate minerals space suspected. If that is no done, some students will use the mountain frivolously. This behavior is encouraged if the class is fitted with big acid party that space filled to the top. However, if the mountain bottles are small and almost empty at the start of class, students typically ration their use of the acid to suitable amounts. Small, virtually empty bottles makes much less acid obtainable to spill.


Acid dispensing bottles: tiny acid dispensing bottles occupational well for the acid test. Lock dispense the acid one-drop-at-a-time and also will not spill if they space knocked over. If you room a teacher supervising the mountain test in a classroom, give students small bottles that are almost empty. That will mitigate the lot of frivolous acid usage that could otherwise occur. Brand the bottles plainly and instruct college student in mountain use prior to making them available.

Acid party Selection

The type of party selected because that dispensing the mountain is important. Laboratory supply stores offer bottles that room designed because that dispensing acidone-drop-at-a-time. The lid is always on these bottles (except as soon as they space being cleaned or refilled), and also they execute not produce a spill whenthey are knocked over. Bottles v a removable lid that has actually a squeeze bulb dispenser will be occasionally knocked over when the lid is offif they are being provided by typical humans.

Acid dispensing bottles need to be made of rigid plastic with a tiny opening which enables acid to be easily dispensed one-drop-at-a-time. Soft dispensing party or bottles through a larger opening can dispense a big amount of acid v an inadvertently squeeze.

Sources that Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric mountain diluted come a 10% equipment cannot it is in purchased in many communities. The finest place to acquisition commercially all set solutions is native a laboratory supply company. Purchasing it ready-for-use is the recommended method to acquire it. Don"t try to prepare your very own solution if friend don"t know exactly what you are doing and also have an fitted laboratory. Your chemistry department might be able to assist you with ordering acid. Some generous chemists will certainly prepare a 10% solution for you.

Mineral Specimens as "Consumables"

Mineral specimens the are supplied properly in the scientific research classroom or activities will have to be changed frequently.Students will certainly be investigating them v hardness tests, streak tests, mountain tests and other experiments. Every one of thesetests damages the specimen and also make it much less fit because that the next team of students. To save the mountain test native fouling your entire collection, questioning students to rinse specimens after trial and error with acid and also limit trial and error to only as soon as it is needed.

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