Types of chemicals found in a chemistry lab

The chemicals found in a chemistry lab are usually high-grade chemicals, which means they have high levels of purity. They can be grouped into different categories based on their reactivity and chemical properties.

Some of the categories of chemicals that are commonly found in laboratories are the following:

  1. Oxidising acids – although these chemicals have a low pH, they’re capable of stripping away electrons from other substances. Examples of oxidising acids include nitric acid, perchloric acid, and hydrogen peroxide.A chemist testing the pH of oxidising acids in a lab
  2. Flammable liquids – these are volatile chemicals that can burst into flames when ignited. Examples include methanol, ethanol, acetone, xylene, and toluene.
  3. Poisons & toxic chemicals – these chemicals are lethal when ingested, especially at high concentrations. Many are in mixture forms, but some are also in pure forms. Acrylamide, formaldehyde, chloroform, phenol, and toxic metal salts such as silver chloride and cadmium sulphate all come under this category.
  4. Organic acids – these types of acids contain carbon or carbon chains. Common examples include butyric acid and pentanoic acid.
  5. Organic bases – the chemicals belonging to this category are alkaline substances with high pH values. They also contain carbons or carbon chains. Examples of organic bases include amines such as ethanolamine and tributylamine.Chemist using an alkaline substance in a chemistry lab
  6. Salts – often produced through neutralisation reactions between acids and bases, these are ionic compounds with a neutral pH. Examples of salts include sodium bisulphate, copper sulphate, sodium chloride, and ammonium fluoride.
  7. Pyrophorics – chemicals that react easily with air are called pyrophoric substances. Examples include phosphorus, methyllithium, trimethylaluminum, diethylzinc, and phenyllithium.
  8. Sulphides – as the name suggests, sulphides are compounds that contain sulphur. Some of them, such as potassium sulphides, are also pyrophoric. Other examples of substances in this category are lead sulphide and iron sulphide.
  9. Cyanides – these compounds are highly poisonous. Each molecule contains one carbon and one nitrogen atom. Common examples include sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide.Chemist handling chemicals in a fume cupboard in a chemistry lab
  10. Inorganic acids – these acids don’t contain carbon and are usually strong acids. Hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, and phosphoric acid are all types of inorganic acids.
  11. Inorganic bases – these are alkaline substances that contain hydroxide functional groups. Many inorganic bases are metal hydroxide compounds, like sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, and calcium hydroxide.

Most common chemicals in a chemistry lab

Some of the most common chemicals in a chemistry laboratory are used as solvents, reagents, and catalysts. Others are used as cleaning agents or as fuel. Here are some examples.

1. Ethanol

Found in wine, beer, whiskey, and other alcoholic beverages, ethanol is the only alcohol that’s safe for human consumption. It’s prepared through the fermentation of sugars from fruits or carbohydrates from grains. Laboratory-grade ethanol is produced through the distillation of the alcohol from fermented solutions.ReAgent's absolute ethanol

Ethanol is mainly used in the laboratory as a solvent in the synthesis of other organic compounds. It’s also commonly used as an additive in fuels and as a disinfectant and cleaning agent.

2. Benzene

Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that’s commonly used as a solvent and a precursor for synthesising other organic compounds like plastics, resins, synthetic fibres, rubber lubricants, and dyes.

3. Hydroxide

Hydroxide is the functional group of alcohols and inorganic metal bases. It can have many functions depending on the group to which it is attached. For example, it can be a base or a proton acceptor. Hydroxide can also act as a ligand and a catalyst.

4. Pyridine

Pyridine is a heterocyclic compound with the chemical formula C5H5N. Classed as a weak base, it’s a highly flammable liquid that’s completely miscible with water. It’s also known for its distinct fish-like smell. Pyridine is widely used as a reagent and precursor to many products such as medicines, vitamins, pesticides, paints, and food flavourings.

5. Methanol

Methanol is another common alcohol found in the laboratory. It’s mainly used during analytical methods like chromatography and spectrometry, as well as in the synthesis of biodiesel.

What are the most dangerous chemicals in a chemistry lab?

Although most laboratory chemicals are hazardous, they have varying degrees of potential harm.

Corrosive chemicals such as acids, for instance, come in different strengths. Sulphuric acid can immediately cause burns upon contact with the skin whereas weaker substances like acetic acid and citric acid are virtually harmless.

The most dangerous chemicals in a chemistry laboratory are poisonous or toxic substances that are capable of causing serious physiological harm. For instance, inhaling hydrogen cyanide can trigger seizures, coma, and cardiac arrest in a matter of seconds – ultimately resulting in death.

Other examples of highly toxic laboratory chemicals are the following:

  • Arsenic trioxide
  • Chlorine
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Phosgene
  • Potassium cyanide
  • Sodium arsenate
  • Sodium cyanide

The importance of safety in a chemical lab

Safety is paramount in a chemical laboratory; working in an unsafe environment can put both people and property in danger. You can help to prevent accidents and injury by following certain safety protocols. The simplest and most effective safety protocol is to wear PPE such as lab gowns, rubber gloves, goggles, and face masks or breathing apparatus.A scientist wearing PPE to conduct an experiment in a chemistry laboratory

The type of PPE you should wear depends on the specific chemical you’re working with and the dangers it poses. Some chemicals also require special environmental conditions to maintain stability. Flammable chemicals, for instance, shouldn’t be stored at high temperatures or near ignition sources such as bunsen burners.


The common chemicals used in a laboratory can be divided into different categories based on their reactivity and chemical properties. Most of these chemicals are hazardous, although the danger they pose can vary considerably. Chemicals have a wide range of applications and are commonly used as reagents, solvents, and precursors. Some examples of common chemicals used in the laboratory include ethanol, sulphuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen peroxide, and sodium hydroxide.

You can browse a wide range of common chemicals in our online shop or get in touch to find out more.