Template:Infobox potassium

Potassium metal

Potassium is a chemical element in the periodic table. It has the symbol K. This symbol is taken from the Latin word kalium. Potassium's atomic number is 19. It has 19 protons and electrons. Potassium is not found as an element in nature, because it is so reactive.

Potassium has two stable isotopes, with 20 or 22 neutrons. Its atomic mass is 39.098. The unstable isotope with 21 neutrons is one of the most common radioactive materials.


Physical properties

Potassium is a soft gray metal. It can be cut easily with a knife. Its melting point is 63 degrees Celsius (145.4 degrees Fahrenheit). It melts at a very low temperature. It is an alkali metal. It is the second lightest metal, after lithium.

Chemical properties

File:Potassium water 20.theora.ogv
A reaction of potassium metal with water. Hydrogen is liberated. The pink or lilac flame comes from burning potassium vapor. Strongly alkaline potassium hydroxide is formed in solution.[1]

Potassium reacts in many chemical reactions similar to sodium and other alkali metals. It tarnishes in air to produce a whitish oxidized layer on the surface. This is why it is stored in oil. It also reacts very fast with water, which is another reason for its storage in oil. The hydrogen produced during its reaction with water can burst into flames when a large amount of potassium is added to water. Potassium hydroxide is also produced. Potassium also burns in air easily, to make the peroxide or the superoxide.

Chemical compounds

File:Flame Test K.jpg
Potassium chloride in a flame

Potassium compounds are only in one oxidation state: +1. Potassium ions are colorless and similar to sodium ions. Potassium chloride can be used as a substitute for table salt. Potassium hydroxide is used in the electrolyte of alkaline cells. Most potassium compounds are nontoxic. If they are toxic, it is because of the anion. Potassium chromate is colored because of the chromate, not the potassium. Potassium chromate is toxic because of the chromate, not the potassium.


The word potassium comes from the word "potash". Potash is a mixture of potassium carbonate and potassium hydroxide that has been used for a very long time. In past centuries potash was made from ashes in pots. It is used to make fertilizer, soap, and glass.


Potassium does not occur in nature because it is too reactive. It is found in minerals, though. It is extracted from them by electrolysis of potassium hydroxide or potassium chloride. The potassium hydroxide or potassium chloride has to be melted at a very high temperature.


Potassium metal is used to absorb water from solvents. It is also used in some scientific instruments.

Potassium compounds are used in soap, fertilizer, explosives, and matches.

Potassium ions are very important to organisms. That is why fertilizers have potassium compounds in them. The ions send messages from cells to other cells. It helps biological membranes depolarize. This means go from a negative to a positive electrical charge. This is needed for muscles to contract (get shorter and move things.) It is needed for the heart to beat (push blood through blood vessels.) If the potassium level in the blood is too high or too low it can cause death because the heart stops. A few good sources of potassium are bananas, apricots and raisins.


Potassium metal is very dangerous and can form an explosive coating if it is kept in air. It also reacts violently with water, spewing corrosive liquid. Potassium compounds are not normally dangerous, unless they contain a toxic anion like chromate or chlorate.

Related pages

Other websites


  1. "Potassium". Retrieved 13 October 2010.