Introduction to Titrations

Titration, a type of volumetric analysis, is a method commonly used in chemistry to figure out the amount or concentration of a chemical in a solution. A chemical reaction is utilized between a solution with an unknown concentration (called an analyte) and a solution with a known concentration (called a titrant or standard solution). Titrations use a buret to carefully measure out small amounts of solutions accurately so the volume of the titrant added can be used to determine the concentration of the analyte. Acid-base reactions are utilized frequently in titrations but oxidation-reduction reactions and precipitate reactions can also be used to determine the concentration of a solution.

Acid Base Titration

Acid-base reactions are most often used to analyze the amount of acid or base in a solution by titration.  An example of an acid-base titration where a hydrochloric acid solution with an unknown concentration is titrated with a sodium hydroxide standard solution . In this titration, a known volume of the hydrochloric acid solution would be "titrated" by slowly adding small amounts of the NaOH standard solution.   The titrant, sodium hydroxide in this case, reacts with and consumes  the acid through a neutralization reaction (shown in Equation 1).  The exact volume of base needed to react completely with the acid is measured.  This is called the equivalence point of the titration - the point where the molar amount of base added and the molar amount of acid in the unknown are equal.

HCl (aq)  +   NaOH (aq)   →   NaCl (aq)  +  H2O (l)

Knowing the exact concentration of and volume of the titrant gives the number of moles of sodium hydroxide.  The latter, in turn, is related by stoichiometry to the number of moles of hydrochloric acid initially present in the unknown.

Endpoint and Equivalence Points in Titrations

The terms endpoint and equivalence point often get used to mean the same thing but these two terms can refer to slightly different points in a titration. The endpoint of a titration is the point at which an color change, often from an indicator added to the reaction signals that reaction is complete. Indicators are usually added to acid-base titrations to detect the equivalence point, but they are often not exact. The equivalence point is the point in the reaction where the amount (or moles) of titrant neutralizes the amount (or moles) of analyte.

For example, in the case of the neutralization reaction shown in Equation 1, the pH of the solution would be acidic (<7) before the equivalence point and basic (>7) after the equivalence point.  The pH at the equivalence point should be exactly 7, corresponding to the neutral products (sodium chloride and water).  An indicator like phenophthalein that changes color just above a pH of 7 is a suitable indicator for the titration of a strong acid with a strong base and would tell us the endpoint of this reaction and comes close to determining the equivalence point.

The progress of an acid-base titration can also be followed  by measuring the pH of the unknown solution being analyzed and keep track of amount of the titrant added.   A plot  of the resulting data is called a titration curve.  Titration curves allow a precise determination of the equivalence point of a titration without the use of an indicator.

Setting Up A Titration

Equipment & Techniques for Lab

How to Standardize a pH meter

Animated Molecular View of a Weak Acid-Strong Base Titration
 - University of Guelph, (Ontario, Canada) Chemistry Department