The chemistry of salts: A beginner’s guide to understanding their properties and uses


Salt is an every-day compound that we encounter every day. It’s used in food, medicine, and various industries. But what exactly are salts, and what makes them so unique? In this beginner’s guide, we will explore the chemistry of salts, their molecular structure, and their properties. We will also look at the different types of salts and their various applications in industries like pharma, agriculture, and manufacturing.

What are salts?

Salts are chemical compounds that result from the combination of a cation (a positively charged ion) and an anion (a negatively charged ion). The most common type of salt is table salt, which is made up of the cation sodium (Na+) and the anion chloride (Cl-), giving it the chemical formula NaCl.

There are many other types of salts, each with a unique chemical formula and properties. For example, sea salt is a mixture of various salts, including sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and potassium chloride. Epsom salt, on the other hand, is made up of magnesium sulfate (MgSO4).

The science behind salts

Salts are held together by ionic bonds, which are formed when a positively charged ion is attracted to a negatively charged ion. In the case of table salt, the positively charged sodium ion is attracted to the negatively charged chloride ion, creating a stable ionic bond.

Salts can also form crystal structures, which are repeating patterns of ions that create a solid structure. For example, table salt forms cubic crystals, while Epsom salt forms needle-like crystals.

The properties of salts depend on their chemical composition and crystal structure. For example, table salt is a white crystalline solid that is soluble in water and has a melting point of 801 °C. In contrast, Epsom salt is a white crystalline powder that is also soluble in water but has a much lower melting point of 200 °C.

Types of salts

There are many different types of salts, each with unique properties and uses. Some common types of salts include:

  • Table salt (NaCl)
  • Sea salt (a mixture of various salts)
  • Epsom salt (MgSO4)
  • Himalayan salt (contains various minerals and trace elements)
  • Kosher salt (used in koshering meat)
  • Rock salt (used for de-icing roads and sidewalks)
  • Potassium chloride (used to treat low blood potassium)
  • Each type of salt has a specific chemical composition and crystal structure, which can affect its properties and uses.

Properties of salts

The properties of salts depend on several factors, including their chemical composition, crystal structure, and environmental conditions. Some common properties of salts include:

Solubility: Salts can be soluble or insoluble in water, depending on their chemical composition. For example, table salt is highly soluble in water, while Epsom salt is only moderately soluble.

Melting point: Salts have varying melting points, which can range from a few hundred degrees Celsius to over 1,000 °C.

Crystal structure: Salts can form a variety of crystal structures, including cubic, needle-like, and irregular shapes.

Conductivity: Salts can conduct electricity when dissolved in water or molten.

These properties make salts useful in a variety of applications, from seasoning our food to de-icing roads.

The uses of salts in daily life

Salts have many important uses in our daily lives. Here are some examples:

Salts in food and cooking

Salt is a common seasoning used to enhance the flavor of food. It is also used as a preservative to prevent food spoilage. Salt can also affect the texture of food, such as in bread-making, where it helps to strengthen the gluten structure.

Different types of salts can be used in cooking for different purposes. For example, sea salt is often used as a finishing salt because of its unique flavor and texture. Kosher salt is used in koshering meat, while Himalayan salt is used for its trace mineral content.

Salts in medicine and health

Salts have several important uses in medicine and health. For example, saline solution (a mixture of salt and water) is used to rehydrate patients and to flush out wounds. Epsom salt has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various ailments, including muscle pain and constipation.

Salt can also affect our health in other ways. Too much salt in our diet can lead to high blood pressure and other health problems. However, some salts (such as Himalayan salt) contain trace minerals that are beneficial to our health in moderation.

Salts in industry and agriculture

Salts have many important uses in various industries, including:

Chemical manufacturing: Salts are used to produce various chemicals, such as chlorine, soda ash and caustic soda.

Agriculture: Salts are used as fertilisers to provide essential nutrients to plants as well as animal nutrition. They are also used to control pests and diseases.

Water treatment: Salts are used to remove impurities from water, such as in the process of desalination.

De-icing: Salts (such as rock salt) are used to melt ice on roads and sidewalks during the winter.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, salts are fascinating chemical compounds with unique properties and uses. From table salt to Epsom salt, each type of salt has a specific chemical composition and crystal structure that affects its properties and uses. Salts are used in various industries, from healthcare to agriculture, and are an essential ingredient in our daily lives. Understanding the chemistry of salts can provide insight into the world around us and the fascinating science behind these useful compounds.


If you have questions about salts or other chemical compounds, please contact PlusChem today.

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