What's the difference between a substance and a mixture?

Expert Answers
caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These terms are often loosely applied in everyday language, but they have very specific definitions in chemistry. At the root of these definitions are the ideas of chemical bonds and chemical properties.

All matter is composed of atoms, and these atoms can associate, or bond, with other atoms in a huge variety of ways. Some of these relationships are very common, such as two hydrogens associated with one oxygen; we call this water. Water has distinct chemical properties that basically disappear if we remove any part of the water compound; oxygen and hydrogen, by themselves, do not act like a "fraction" of water. We would consider water a substance because it cannot be broken down into its components without destroying some of its relationships - that is, its chemical bonds.

A mixture involves two or more substances that are close to each other, but are not chemically bonded. For example, we know that oil and water do not mix; the reason for this is based on the chemical properties of the oil and the water. However, if we put oil and water into a bucket and swirl them together, we can get a mixture; the two substances are occupying the same space, but there isn't much order to their relationship with each other, and we can easily separate them back into oil and water again. Mixtures can always be separated into their ingredients without breaking any chemical bonds.

sid-sarfraz | Student

Matter is classified into two forms:-

  1. Substance
  2. Mixture

Substance is a form of matter (element or compound) whose composition doesn't vary, and is pure and cannot be separated by physical and chemical means.

Mixture is a form of matter whose composition varies and which is combination of two or more substances that can be easily separated by physical and chemical methods. 

ssarfraz | Student

Matter is classified into 2 broad categories that are as follows:-

1. Pure substances

2. Mixtures

Differences are as follows:-


  1. Substance can be either element or compound but its composition doesn't vary.
  2. Its composition doesn't vary
  3. Substance is further divided into two categories:-a. Element                                                                                        b. Compound
  4. Cannot be separated into substances by physical or chemical means


  1. Mixture is a physical combination of two substances that can be easily separated by physical methods.
  2. Its composition may vary.
  3. It is further divided into:-                                                                     a. Homogenous mixtures                                                                     b. Heterogeneous mixtures
  4. Can be separated into two or more substances by physial and chemical methods
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rachellopez | Student

A substance is a pure element, like Iron. Substances are also known as just elements on the periodic table. A mixture is 2 or more substances combined. No chemical reaction occurs, they are simply combined. A mixture can be broken back apart. A common example is soil, which is a mixture of several elments, but can be separated. 

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