12.5: Solution Equilibrium and Saturation
Imagine adding a small amount of sugar to a glass of water, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved, and then adding a bit more. You can repeat this process until the sugar concentration of the solution reaches its natural limit, a limit determined primarily by the relative strengths of the solute-solute, solute-solvent, and solvent-solvent attractive forces. You can be certain that you have reached this limit because, no matter how long you stir the solution, undissolved sugar remains. The concentration of sugar in the solution at this point is known as its solubility.
The solubility of a solute in a particular solvent is the maximum concentration that may be achieved under given conditions when the dissolution process is at equilibrium.
When a solute’s concentration is equal to its solubility, the solution is said to be saturated with that solute. If the solute’s concentration is less than its solubility, the solution is said to be unsaturated. A solution that contains a relatively low concentration of solute is called dilute, and one with a relatively high concentration is called concentrated.
Solutions may be prepared in which a solute concentration exceeds its solubility. Such solutions are said to be supersaturated, and they are interesting examples of nonequilibrium states. For example, the carbonated beverage in an open container that has not yet “gone flat” is supersaturated with carbon dioxide gas; given time, the CO2 concentration will decrease until it reaches its solubility.
This text is adapted from Openstax, Chemistry 2e, Section 11.3: Solubility.