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Water of crystallization

Water of crystallization (alt. Br.E. water of crystallisation) is water that occurs in crystals but is not covalently bonded to a host molecule or ion. The term is archaic and predates modern structural inorganic chemistry, coming from an era when the relationships between stoichiometry and structure were poorly understood. Nonetheless, the concept is pervasive and when employed precisely, the term can be useful. Upon crystallization from water or moist solvents, many compounds incorporate water molecules in their crystalline frameworks. Often, in fact, the species of interest cannot be crystallized in the absence of water, even though no strong bonds to the "guest" water molecules may be apparent.

Classically, "water of crystallization" refers to water that is found in a crystalline framework of a metal complex but that is not directly bonded to the metal ion. Obviously the "water of crystallization" is bound or interacting with some other atoms and ions or it would not be included in the crystalline framework. Consider the case of nickel(II) chloride hexahydrate. This species has the formula NiCl2(H2O)6. Examination of its molecular structure reveals that the crystal consists of [trans-NiCl2(H2O)4] subunits that are hydrogen bonded to each other and two isolated molecules of H2O. Thus 1/3 of the water molecules in the crystal are not directly bonded to Ni2+, and these might be termed "water of crystallization".

Compared to inorganic salts, proteins crystallize with unusually large amounts of water in the crystal lattice. A water content of 50 % is not uncommon. The extended hydration shell is what allows the protein crystallographer to argue that the conformation in the crystal is not too far from the native conformation in solution.


Further examples

A salt with associated water of crystallization is known as a hydrate. The structure of hydrates can be quite elaborate, because of the existence of hydrogen bonds that define polymeric structures. Historically, the structures of many hydrates were unknown, and the dot in the formula of a hydrate was employed to specify the composition without indicating how the water is bound. Examples:

  • CuSO4•5H2O - copper (II) sulphate pentahydrate
  • CoI2•6H2O - cobalt (II) iodide hexahydrate
  • SnCl2•2H2O - stannous (tin II) chloride dihydrate

Since the latter part of the 20th century, the structures of most common hydrates have been determined by crystallography, so the dot formalism is increasingly obsolete. Another reason for using the dot formalism is simplicity. For many salts, the exact bonding of the water is unimportant because the water molecules are labilized upon dissolution. For example, an aqueous solution prepared from CuSO4•5H2O and anhydrous CuSO4 behave identically. Therefore, knowledge of the degree of hydration is important only for determining the equivalent weight: one mole of CuSO4•5H2O weighs more than one mole of CuSO4. In some cases, the degree of hydration can be critical to the resulting chemical properties. For example, anhydrous RhCl3 is not soluble in water and is relatively useless in organometallic chemistry whereas RhCl3•3H2O is versatile. Similarly, hydrated AlCl3 is a poor Lewis acid and thus inactive as a catalyst for Friedel-Crafts reactions. Samples of AlCl3 must therefore be protected from atmospheric moisture to preclude the formation of hydrates.

Crystals of the aforementioned hydrated copper sulphate consists of [Cu(H2O)4]2+ centers linked to SO42- ions. Copper is surrounded by six oxygen atoms, provided by two different sulfate groups and four molecules of water. A fifth water resides elsewhere in the framework but does not bind directly to copper. The cobalt iodide mentioned above occurs as [Co(H2O)6]2+ and I-. In the tin chloride, each Sn(II) center is pyramidal (mean O/Cl-Sn-O/Cl angle is 83°) being bound to two chloride ions and one water. The second water in the formula unit is hydrogen-bonded to the chloride and to the coordinated water molecule. Water of crystallization is stabilized by electrostatic attractions, consequently hydrates are common for salts that contain +2 and +3 cations as well as -2 anions. In some cases, the majority of the weight of a compound can arises from water. Glauber's salt, a white crystalline solid Na2SO4(H2O)10 is >50% water by weight.


Main article: desiccation
See also: list of desiccants

Some anhydrous compounds are hydrated so easily that they are said to be hygroscopic and are used as drying agents or desiccants. Common drying agents include CaCl2 and Na2SO4.


The water content of most compounds can be determined with a knowledge of its formula. An unknown sample can be determined through thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) where the sample is heated strongly, and the accurate weight of a sample is plotted against the temperature. The amount of water driven off is then divided by the molar mass of water to obtain the number of molecules of water bound to the salt.

A serious complication to the thermal analysis for the presence of water of hydration is that compounds that contain hydrogen and oxygen will release water when heated, regardless of whether they contained water molecules. Thus, the release of water upon heating, especially to high temperatures, is insufficient criterion for the presence of water in the sample prior to heating. For example, if one heats a carboxylic acid, RCO2H, one obtains H2O. No water was present in the starting carboxylic acid.

Waters of crystallization in inorganic halides

In the table below are indicated the number of molecules of water per metal in various salts.[1]

Formula of
hydrated metal halides
sphere of the metal
of water of
crystallization that
are not bound to M
VCl3(H2O)6 trans-[VCl2(H2O)4]+ two
VBr3(H2O)6 trans-[VBr2(H2O)4]+ twobromides and
chlorides are usually
VI3(H2O)6 [V(H2O)6]3+ none iodide competes
poorly with water
CrCl3(H2O)6 trans-[CrCl2(H2O)4]+ two dark green isomer
CrCl3(H2O)6 [CrCl(H2O)5]2+ one blue-green isomer
CrCl2(H2O)4 trans-[CrCl2(H2O)4] none molecular
CrCl3(H2O)6 [Cr(H2O)6]3+ none violet isomer
CrBr3(H2O)6 trans-[CrBr2(H2O)4]+ two green isomer
CrBr3(H2O)6 [Cr(H2O)6]3+ none violet isomer
MnCl2(H2O)6 trans-[MnCl2(H2O)4] two
MnCl2(H2O)4 cis-[MnCl2(H2O)4] none note cis
MnBr2(H2O)4 cis-[MnBr2(H2O)4] none note cis
MnCl2(H2O)2 trans-[MnCl4(H2O)2] none polymeric with
bridging chloride
MnBr2(H2O)2 trans-[MnBr4(H2O)2] none polymeric with
bridging bromide
FeCl2(H2O)6 trans-[FeCl2(H2O)4] two
FeCl2(H2O)4 trans-[FeCl2(H2O)4] none molecular
FeBr2(H2O)4 trans-[FeBr2(H2O)4] none molecular
FeCl2(H2O)2 trans-[FeCl4(H2O)2] none polymeric with
bridging chloride
CoCl2(H2O)6 trans-[CoCl2(H2O)4] two
CoBr2(H2O)6 trans-[CoBr2(H2O)4] two
CoBr2(H2O)4 trans-[CoBr2(H2O)4] none molecular
CoCl2(H2O)4 cis-[CoCl2(H2O)4] none note: cis
CoCl2(H2O)2 trans-[CoCl4(H2O)2] none polymeric with
bridging chloride
CoBr2(H2O)2 trans-[CoBr4(H2O)2] none polymeric with
bridging bromide
NiCl2(H2O)6 trans-[NiCl2(H2O)4] two
NiCl2(H2O)4 cis-[NiCl2(H2O)4]none note: cis
NiBr2(H2O)6 trans-[NiBr2(H2O)4] two
NiCl2(H2O)2 trans-[NiCl4(H2O)2] none polymeric with
bridging chloride
CuCl2(H2O)2 [CuCl4(H2O)2]2 none tetragonally distorted
two long Cu-Cl distances
CuBr2(H2O)4 [CuBr4(H2O)2]n two tetragonally distorted
two long Cu-Br distances

Other solvents of crystallization

Water is particularly common solvent to be found in crystals because it is small and polar. But all solvents can be found in some host crystals. Water is noteworthy because it is reactive, whereas other solvents such as benzene are considered to be chemically innocuous. Occasionally more than one solvent is found in a crystal, and often the stoichiometry is variable, reflected in the crystallographic concept of "partial occupancy." It is common and conventional for a chemist to "dry" a sample with a combination of vacuum and heat "to constant weight."

For other solvents of crystallization, analysis is conveniently accomplished by dissolving the sample in a deuterated solvent and analyzing the sample for solvent signals by NMR spectroscopy. Single crystal X-ray crystallography is often able to detect the presence of these solvents of crystallization as well.


  1. ^ K. Waizumi, H. Masuda, H. Ohtaki, "X-ray structural studies of FeBr24H2O, CoBr24H2O, NiCl2 4H2O, and CuBr24H2O. cis/trans Selectivity in transition metal(I1) dihalide Tetrahydrate" Inorganica Chimica Acta, 1992 volume 192, pages 173-181.
  1. Wells, A.F. (1984). Structural Inorganic Chemistry, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  2. Chemistry, The Central Science, 5th Ed. Brown, T.L., LeMay, H.E. and Bursten, B.E., Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
  3. Chemistry, 4th Ed. Mcmurry, Fay, Pearson Education, Patparganj, Delhi, India
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Water_of_crystallization". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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