AQA GCSE Chemistry

Revision Notes

3.2.4 Limiting Reactants

Higher Tier Only

Limiting & Excess Reactant

  • A chemical reaction does not go on indefinitely and stops when one of the reagents is used up
  • The reagent that is used up first is the limiting reactant, as it limits the duration of the reaction and hence the amount of product that a reaction can produce
  • The one that is remaining is the excess reactant
  • The limiting reagent is the reactant which is not present in excess in a reaction
  • The amount of product obtainable is therefore directly proportional to the amount of the limiting reagent added at the beginning of a reaction
  • So if you use half of the limiting reagent then you will get half of the product, provided the other reagents are present in excess. If you double the amount of the limiting reagent then you obtain double the amount of product
Higher Tier Only

Determining the Limiting Reactant

  • In order to determine which reactant is the limiting reagent in a reaction, we have to consider the amounts of each reactant used and the molar ratio of the balanced chemical equation
  • When performing reacting mass calculations, the limiting reagent is always the number that should be used, as it indicates the maximum possible amount of product that can form
    • Once all of a limiting reagent has been used up, the reaction cannot continue
  • The steps are:
    1. Convert the mass of each reactant into moles by dividing by the molar masses
    2. Write the balanced equation and determine the molar ratio
    3. Look at the equation and compare the moles

Worked Example

In a reaction to produce sodium sulfide, Na2S, 9.2 g of sodium is reacted with 8.0 g of sulfur. Which reactant is in excess and which is limiting?


Limiting Reactant WE, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Chemistry revision notes

Exam Tip

For a reactant to be present in excess, there only needs to be slightly more of it present than the other reactant, as determined from the molar ratio. In a two reactant system, if one reactant is in excess then the other is by default the limiting reagent.

A common error is to determine the limiting reactant as the reactant with the least amount of moles in the molar ratio. This is incorrect as the masses of each reactant must also be considered.

Author: Francesca

Fran has taught A level Chemistry in the UK for over 10 years. As head of science, she used her passion for education to drive improvement for staff and students, supporting them to achieve their full potential. Fran has also co-written science textbooks and worked as an examiner for UK exam boards.

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