Separating Mixtures

Mixtures come in many forms and phases. Most mixtures can be separated, and the kind of separation method depends on the type of mixture it is. Below are some common separation methods:

Paper Chromatography

This method is often used in the food industry to identify chemicals (coloring agents) in foods or inks. For example, if a scientist wants to know how many substances are in a particular blob of ink, paper chromatography can be used. CLICK HERE to see how it works.


It is a more common method of separating an insoluble solid from a liquid. An example of such a mixture is sand and water. Filtration is used in water treatment plants, where water from rivers is filtered to remove solid particles. CLICK HERE to see how it works.


Evaporation is great for separating a mixture (solution) of a soluble solid and a solvent. The process involves heating the solution until the solvent evaporates (turns into a gas) leaving behind the solid residue. CLICK HERE to see an illustration of how it works.

Simple distillation

This method is best for separating a liquid from a solution. In a way, the concept is similar to evaporation, but in this case, the vapor is collected by condensation. For example, if you want to separate water from a salt solution, simple distillation would be great for this. CLICK HERE to see how it works.

Fractional distillation

Similar to simple distillation, fractional distillation is best for separating a solution of two miscible liquids. (Miscible liquids are liquids that dissolve in each other). The Fractional method takes advantage of the different boiling points of the two liquids. CLICK HERE to see how it works.


Magnetism is ideal for separating mixtures of two solids with one part having magnetic properties. Some metals like iron, nickel, and cobalt have magnetic properties whiles gold, silver, and aluminum do not. Magnetic elements are attracted to a magnet. CLICK HERE to see how it works.

Separating funnel

In this technique, two liquids that do not dissolve very well in each other (immiscible liquids) can be separated by taking advantage of their unequal density. A mixture of oil and water, for example, can be separated by this technique. CLICK HERE to see how it works.