Applying Conversion Factors to Stoichiometry

Now you're ready to use what you know about conversion factors to solve some stoichiometric problems in chemistry. Almost all stoichiometric problems can be solved in just four simple steps:

  1. Balance the equation.
  2. Convert units of a given substance to moles.
  3. Using the mole ratio, calculate the moles of substance yielded by the reaction.
  4. Convert moles of wanted substance to desired units.
These "simple" steps probably look complicated at first glance, but relax, they will all become clear.

Let's begin our tour of stoichiometry by looking at the equation for how iron rusts:

Fe + O2→Fe2O3    

Step 1. Balancing the Equation

The constituent parts of a chemical equation are never destroyed or lost: the yield of a reaction must exactly correspond to the original reagents. This fact holds not just for the type of elements in the yield, but also the number. Given our unbalanced equation:

Fe + O2→Fe2O3    

This equation states that 1 iron (Fe) atom will react with two oxygen (O) atoms to yield 2 iron atoms and 3 oxygen atoms. (The subscript number, such as the two in O2 describe how many atoms of an element are in a molecule.) This unbalanced reaction can't possibly represent a real reaction because it describes a reaction in which one Fe atom magically becomes two Fe atoms.

Therefore, we must balance the equation by placing coefficients before the various molecules and atoms to ensure that the number of atoms on the left side of the arrow corresponds exactly to the number of elements on the right.

4Fe +3O2→2Fe2O3    

Let's count up the atoms in this new, balanced version of the reaction. On the left of the arrow we have 4 atoms of iron and 6 atoms of oxygen (since 3×2 = 6). On the right we also have 4 iron (since 2×2 = 4) and 6 oxygen (2×3 = 6). The atoms on both sides of the equation match.

The process of balancing an equation is basically trial and error. It gets easier and easier with practice. You will likely start to balance equations almost automatically in your mind.

Step 2. Converting Given Units of a Substance to Moles

The process of converting given units into moles involves conversion factors. Below we will provide the most common and important conversion factors to convert between moles and grams, moles and volumes of gases, moles and molecules, and moles and solutions. These conversion factors function in the same way as those discussed in the previous section Note also that though these conversion factors focus on converting from some other unit to moles, they can also be turned around, allowing you to convert from moles to some other unit.