Skip to Content

Why does potassium chloride turn pink in?


Potassium chloride (KCl) is an interesting chemical compound that can exhibit some unusual color changes under certain conditions. Specifically, when dissolved in water, potassium chloride solutions are normally colorless. However, in the presence of certain anionic contaminants, KCl solutions can turn pink or red in color. This phenomenon has fascinated chemists and has practical implications for analytical chemistry techniques. In this article, we will explore the chemical reasons why potassium chloride turns pink, looking at the key chemical reactions and principles involved.

The Chemistry of Potassium Chloride

Potassium chloride is an ionic compound made up of potassium cations (K+) and chloride anions (Cl-). In its solid form, KCl forms a crystalline lattice structure stabilized by the electrostatic forces of attraction between the positively charged potassium ions and negatively charged chloride ions. However, when KCl is dissolved in water, the ions dissociate and become surrounded by water molecules. The potassium and chloride ions then move freely throughout the solution.

Pure KCl solutions are colorless because neither K+ or Cl- ions strongly absorb visible light. The electrons in these ions are too tightly bound to their nuclei to be excited by visible light photons. However, while chloride remains colorless in solution, potassium ions can exhibit some colors in specific chemical environments, which brings us to the pink color change.

The Pink Color Change

While pure KCl solutions are colorless, they can turn pink or red if certain anionic impurities are present. The most common anions that induce this change are permanganate (MnO4-) and dichromate (Cr2O72-) ions. Trace levels of these ions, which may enter a KCl solution as contaminants, can cause the color change by oxidizing a small fraction of the potassium ions.

The chemistry behind this process involves electron transfer reactions in which the permanganate or dichromate anions strip electrons away from a small number of potassium cations, oxidizing them from K+ to K2+. The K2+ ions generated in this reaction can then absorb certain wavelengths of visible light, producing a pink or red color:

K+ + MnO4- → K2+ + MnO42-

K+ + Cr2O72- → K2+ + Cr2O73-

In essence, the contaminating anions oxidize K+ to the colored K2+ ions which produce the pink color. This electron transfer process is facilitated by the very high standard electrode potentials of MnO4-/MnO42- and Cr2O72-/Cr2O73- half reactions.

Factors Influencing Color Change

Several key factors influence the intensity of the pink color change when permanganate or dichromate anions are present with potassium chloride:

Concentration of Oxidizing Anion

The concentration of the permanganate or dichromate contaminant affects color intensity. Higher concentrations lead to deeper pink hues as more potassium ions are oxidized. Trace contaminant levels as low as a few ppm can induce faint pink colors.

pH of Solution

The pH of the solution influences the ease of the oxidation reaction. More alkaline conditions favor the permanganate and dichromate anions, increasing rate of electron transfer. Acidic conditions hinder the reaction, requiring more oxidizer for equivalent color change.

Presence of Other Ions

Ions that can act as alternate oxidizing agents, like SO42-, NO3-, and CO32- will diminish color change as they compete with K+ for electron transfer. Other cations that are more easily oxidized than K+, like Na+, Ca2+, and Mg2+ will be preferentially oxidized, reducing color intensity.

Heating the Solution

Gently heating a contaminated KCl solution intensifies the pink color by providing activation energy for the oxidation reaction. However, boiling the solution can eventually destroy the dichromate or permanganate ions.


The distinctive pink color change of KCl solutions has proven useful for analytical chemistry techniques:

Qualitative Analysis

The pink color can be used to qualitatively detect the presence of permanganate or dichromate ions at trace levels as contaminants in a sample. It provides a simple visual screen for these anions.

Titrimetric Analysis

By titrating a pink KCl solution with reducing agents like sodium thiosulfate, the concentration of the oxidizing contaminants can be quantitatively determined based on the amount of titrant needed to discharge the pink color. This provides a quantitative analytical method.

Detecting Halides

Since halides like chloride are required for the color change along with potassium, the pink coloration can be used to test for halides by adding K+ to a sample as KNO3 then checking for development of pink hue.


In summary, potassium chloride turns pink when contaminated with trace levels of powerful oxidizing anions like permanganate or dichromate. These anions oxidize a fraction of the potassium ions from K+ to the colored K2+ state. Factors like relative concentration, pH, and presence of other ions influence intensity of the pink color. Analytical techniques take advantage of this phenomenon as a simple way to test for the presence of these anionic species at low concentrations. The red color arises from fundamental electron transfer reactions enabled by the high oxidizing power of the contaminants.

Factor Effect on Color Intensity
Higher [Oxidizer] More intense pink color
Higher pH More intense pink color
Other oxidizable ions present Less intense pink color
Heating solution More intense pink color

Key Chemical Reactions

Potassium ion oxidation by permanganate:

K+ + MnO4- → K2+ + MnO42-

Potassium ion oxidation by dichromate:

K+ + Cr2O72- → K2+ + Cr2O73-

Reduced potassium ion absorbs visible light, causing pink color.

This article provides an overview of the key chemical principles that explain why potassium chloride solutions turn pink in the presence of oxidizing anionic contaminants like permanganate and dichromate. It explores the electron transfer reactions responsible for the color change, the factors that influence its intensity, and some analytical applications that leverage this phenomenon. The pink color arises from the generation of small amounts of the colored K2+ ion through oxidation of K+ by these powerful oxidizing agents.