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Reactivity series

In chemistry, the reactivity series is a series of metals, in order of reactivity from highest to lowest. It is used to determine the products of single displacement reactions, whereby metal A will replace another metal B in a solution if A is higher in the series.


Differing definitions

In the UK a reduced version of the series below is taught as part of the GCSE chemistry course, leading to various mnemonics being invented to aid memory.[citation needed] The reactivity series taught in the US is defined by the ease of oxidation and corresponds to the ordering of the table of standard electrode potentials.[citation needed] This is markedly different from the table below.

A reactivity series of common metals

Here is a series of some of the most common metals, listed in descending order of reactivity.

Metals Metal Ion Reactivity
K K+ reacts with water
Na Na+
Li Li+
Ca Ca2+
Ba Ba2+
Sr Sr2+
Mg Mg2+ reacts with acids
Al Al3+
Mn Mn2+
Zn Zn2+
Cr Cr2+
Fe Fe2+
Cd Cd2+
Co Co2+
Ni Ni2+
Sn Sn2+
Pb Pb2+
H2 H+ included for comparison
Sb Sb3+ highly unreactive
Bi Bi3+
Cu Cu2+
Hg Hg2+
Ag Ag+
Au Au3+
Pt Pt+

A metal can replace metals listed below it in the activity series, but not above. For example, sodium is highly active and thus able to replace hydrogen from water:

2 Na (s) + 2 H2O (l) → 2 NaOH (aq) + H2 (g)

Metals that can replace hydrogen within acids but not water are listed in the middle of the activity series, for example zinc replaces hydrogen in sulfuric acid:

Zn (s) + H2SO4 (aq) → ZnSO4 (aq) + H2 (g)

The reactivity series has applications in electrochemistry, where two dissimilar metals are chosen as electrodes of a battery (though the above table is not exact for this purpose. See Table of standard electrode potentials).

Simplified Version

The simplified version that is taught in the GCSE and GCE[1][2] 'O' Level chemistry course, as the basic, are listed below. Higher education and standard level are required to study more metals as shown above.

Metals Metal Ion Reactivity
K K+ Going from bottom to top, the metals:
  • reactivity increases
  • lose electrons more readily
  • form positive ions more readily
  • become stronger reducing agents

A metal 'high up' in the reactivity series:

  • reacts vigorously and quickly with chemicals
  • readily gives up electrons in reactions to form positive ions
  • is corroded easily

A metal 'low down' in the reactivity series:

  • does not react vigorously and quickly with chemicals
  • does not readily give up electrons in reactions to form positive ions
  • is not corroded easily
Na Na+
Ca Ca2+
Mg Mg2+
Al Al3+
Zn Zn2+
Fe Fe2+
Sn Sn2+
Pb Pb2+
H2 H+
Cu Cu2+
Ag Ag+
Au Au3+


The reactivity series determines qualitatively characteristics such as the reactions with water, air and acids as demonstrated above. However it is defined by the nature of the metals in single displacement reactions.

When a metal in elemental form is placed in a solution of a metal salt it may be, overall, more energetically feasible for this "elemental metal" to exist as an ion and the "ionic metal" to exist as the element. Therefore the elemental metal will 'displace' the ionic metal over time, thus the two swap places. Only a metal higher in the reactivity series will displace another.


  • [1]Science in Focus, Chemistry for GCE 'O' Level by J G R Briggs; Chapter 11 pg 172. Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd 2005.
  • [2]Longman Pocket Study Guide 'O' Level Science-Chemistry by Lim Eng Wah; Chapter 8 pg 190. Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd 2005.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Reactivity_series". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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