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balance chemical equation

A chemical equation refers to a written representation of chemical reactions in symbolic form. All chemicals are designated by letters, which means that letters that depict an element are called elemental letters. Similar to a mathematical equation format, the reacting chemicals are on the left side of the equation, and the resulting chemical is on the right. According to the law of conservation, the number of atoms present in the resulting chemical should be equal to the atoms in the reacting chemicals.

Although the law had been in practice since ancient times, the principle of conservation of mass had first been outlined by Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov.   

This law is applied to suggest that mass in an isolated physical condition can be neither created nor destroyed by chemical reactions or physical transformations, preserving the number of atoms and mass in each reaction.

The equation can be represented as:

Number of atoms of element in the reactant


Number of atoms of element in the product

To put this law into perspective, for eg,

 2H2 + O2 → 2H2O  

The Traditional Way to Balance Chemical Equations

To create a balanced equation, there are several steps to balance chemical equations that should be followed. The process

Step 1: Write down the chemical equations to balance. In this example, we would be looking at the chemical reaction using propane ( C3H8) and oxygen (O2) to create carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O)

We can symbolize the unbalanced chemical equation as - C3H8 + O2 → CO2 + H2O

Step 2: The number of atoms present in each element on the reactant side and the resulting side must be compared.

Tabulated below are the total atoms on both sides of the equation:

balance chemical equations

Step 3:

  • Now, we add stoichiometric coefficients to molecules containing elements with different atomic numbers on the reactant and product sides.
  • The atoms on each side must be balanced by the coefficient.
  • Normally, the last step is to assign stoichiometric coefficients to hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
  • Now, we must update the atomic numbers of the reactant and product side elements. It should be kept in mind that the number of atoms of an element in a species must be calculated by multiplication of the stoichiometric coefficient with the total atoms of that element that are there in 1 molecule of the species.
  • For example, when a CO2 molecule is assigned a coefficient of 3, the total oxygen atoms in CO2 would be 6. In this case, the coefficients are assigned to carbon first, as shown in the following table:

tips to balance chemical equations

We repeat step 3 until the number of atoms is equal on both sides.

balance chemical equation example

Step 4:

After we have balanced the hydrogen atoms, we move on to balancing oxygen atoms. Since there are 10 oxygen atoms in the product equation, the reactant side must also contain the same number.

All O2 molecules have 2 oxygen atoms. Hence, we would assign 5 as the stoichiometric coefficient to the O2. The final equation is depicted in the following table:

c3h8 5o2 3co2 4h2o

Step 5:

The final balanced equation that we have is C3H8 + 5O2 → 3CO2 + 4H2O

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