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What color does phenolphthalein change and at what ph?

Phenolphthalein is a chemical indicator that is commonly used to determine the pH of solutions. It undergoes color changes at different pH levels, making it a useful indicator for acids and bases. Understanding the color changes of phenolphthalein at various pH levels is important for performing accurate titrations and other acid-base chemistry experiments.

Overview of Phenolphthalein

Phenolphthalein is a weak organic acid that is colorless in its acidic form and pink in its basic form. It is also known as phenolphthalin or by its chemical name 3,3-bis(4-hydroxyphenyl)-isobenzofuran-1(3H)-one. The exact pH range where it transitions between colorless and pink depends slightly on the concentration being used. Here are some key properties of phenolphthalein:

– Chemical formula: C20H14O4
– Molar mass: 318.33 g/mol
– Melting point: 261-263°C
– Solubility: Soluble in alcohols, ether, benzene
– pka: Between 8.5 and 10

Phenolphthalein works as an indicator because the acidic form and basic form have different molecular structures with different energy absorption patterns. This causes the color change we observe.

Color Change of Phenolphthalein

Phenolphthalein exhibits the following color changes as pH increases:

pH Range Color
Less than 8.2 Colorless
8.2 – 10.0 Pink
Greater than 10.0 Deep pink or magenta

A few key points about the color change:

– Phenolphthalein is colorless below pH 8.2 and pink above pH 10.
– The color transition occurs between pH 8.2 and 10.0.
– The exact midpoint of the color change depends on the concentration.
– At higher pH levels above 10, the color becomes a deeper pink or magenta shade.

The concentration being used can shift the pH range slightly. For a 0.5% phenolphthalein solution, the color change typically occurs between pH 8.3 and 9.8. More dilute solutions will transition at lower pH levels.

Using Phenolphthalein as an Indicator

Phenolphthalein is commonly used as an indicator for acid-base titrations. Here are some tips for using it effectively:

– 3-5 drops of 0.5% phenolphthalein solution are typically added to the titration flask.
– The initial solution is acidic and should be colorless.
– As the titrant (base) is added, the first appearance of a pink color indicates the endpoint has been reached.
– The pH at the color change is around 8.3 for a dilute phenolphthalein solution.
– The pink color should persist for 10-15 seconds before fading back to colorless.
– More titrant can then be added to reach a second endpoint marked by the pink color.

Some advantages of phenolphthalein as an indicator include:

– Sharp visual color change at the endpoint
– Works well for titrations involving weak acids and strong bases
– Relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare

Using a pH Meter and Phenolphthalein

While phenolphthalein provides a visual color change, a pH meter can give a precise numerical pH reading. Using both together provides the best results:

– Add phenolphthalein indicator to the titration flask.
– As titrant is added, note the first appearance of a pink color.
– At this first color change, take a pH reading with the calibrated pH meter.
– The pH meter can confirm the phenolphthalein endpoint and provide a numerical pH value.
– Continue titrating to a second endpoint, again confirming with the pH meter.

This allows phenolphthalein to provide a clear visual indicator while the pH meter gives numerical precision and accuracy. The pH meter eliminates uncertainties from interpreting the color change.

Phenolphthalein in Other Acid-Base Chemistry

Beyond titrations, phenolphthalein has other uses related to acids and bases:

– It can indicate whether a solution is acidic, basic, or neutral. Acidic solutions will remain colorless while basic solutions turn pink.
– It is used in educational chemistry to teach about pH and indicators. The dramatic color change is easy to observe.
– It can test if a solid or liquid is acidic or basic. Add a sample to water with phenolphthalein. Acids won’t cause a color change while bases will turn the solution pink.
– It can identify the endpoint of reactions between acids and bases, such as neutralization reactions. The color change marks the equivalence point.
– The pH range of the color change can be used to estimate the strength of an unknown acid or base. Stronger acids won’t turn pink until higher pH levels.

So while titrations are the most common use, phenolphthalein has many other applications for investigating acids and bases.

Real-World Applications

Beyond educational laboratory experiments, phenolphthalein has practical uses:

– It is used in acid-base titrations for water quality testing. This can analyze water for acidity, alkalinity, and buffering capacity.
– It is used in industry for monitoring processes involving acids or bases. The pH needs to be controlled for optimal results.
– Titration with phenolphthalein can determine the concentration or purity of chemicals being manufactured that act as acids or bases.
– It can indicate pH changes in swimming pools, aquariums, and other water containing systems. Acidity needs to be maintained in proper ranges.
– Neutralization reactions involving phenolphthalein can produce chemical heat packs that activate when the solution turns pink.
– It is used in antacids and medications for reducing stomach acidity. The color change indicates when the remedy has worked.

Phenolphthalein has applications anywhere the pH needs to be monitored or adjusted, both for scientific research and commercial manufacturing.

Safety and Environmental Considerations

Phenolphthalein does have some safety and environmental concerns:

– It is mildly toxic if ingested and can cause irritation or nausea. However, the indicator amounts used in chemistry experiments are very dilute.
– In high doses over extended times, it may potentially have carcinogenic effects. This is still undergoing investigation.
– It can cause staining if spilled, especially at higher pH levels when pink. Care should be taken when transferring solutions.
– While not classified as hazardous waste, it does go through biochemical degradation slower than some other organic compounds. Proper disposal is required.
– The production of phenolphthalein involves benzene which has known toxicity and carcinogenic concerns. Improved synthesis routes are being developed.

General safety precautions when working with phenolphthalein indicator include:

– Wearing gloves and goggles to prevent eye/skin contact and irritation
– Avoiding ingestion by not touching solutions and immediately washing any spills
– Using small quantities of dilute solutions to minimize exposure
– Proper disposal of excess indicator solution

With reasonable handling procedures, phenolphthalein can be used safely for acid-base chemistry experiments and pH monitoring. But care should be taken to avoid environmental release or exposure.


In summary, phenolphthalein is a versatile acid-base indicator that undergoes a colorless to pink transition between pH 8.2 and 10. This color change is due to the molecular structure shifting from the acidic to basic form. It is widely used for titrations and other chemistry experiments to determine pH changes. The visual color indicator combined with a pH meter provides the best accuracy. Phenolphthalein has many real-world applications as well, but environmental and safety concerns require proper handling procedures. When used properly in dilute solutions, it is an inexpensive, sensitive indicator for monitoring pH in educational labs and industrial processes.