What are Pure and Impure Substances?

A pure substance is a single chemical substance that is made up of only one type of element or compound. Pure substances can exist in different physical forms, such as solid, liquid, or gas, but their chemical properties remain the same.

The Two Types of Pure Substance

The two types of pure substances are elements and compounds.


Elements are a type of substance that is made up of just one type of atom and all elements are pure substances. In the image below, you can see an old copper teapot.

This is an example of a pure substance, made purely out of the element copper (Cu). If you zoom in on a pure substance, such as this copper pot, you will see something similar to the diagram below.

The substance is made up of the same type of particle. In this case, it is the same type of atom.

Another example of a pure substance is the graphite found in the lead of a pencil. When looking closely at the lead, you will see that it is made up of only carbon atoms. Graphite is a naturally occurring mineral form of carbon and is a pure substance.


The other type of pure substance is compounds, which are made up of only one type of molecule. Compounds are formed when two or more elements chemically combine in a fixed ratio. If you zoom in on a compound, you will see something similar to the diagram below.

If we zoom in on a compound at a molecular level, we will see that atoms are bonded together in a specific arrangement. This arrangement of atoms can be represented by a chemical formula, such as CO2.

  • This is different from a mixture which can be separated by physical means

For example, when hydrogen and oxygen combine, they form water. If we zoom in on pure water, we will see water (H2O) molecules that make up the compound:

This is where the chemical formula (H2O) for water comes from. There is an oxygen atom in the middle and two hydrogen atoms attached to it.

  • In the image, the oxygen atoms are red and the hydrogen atoms are white

However, it is difficult to get substances that are completely pure, as it will almost always include other substances.

Impure Chemical Substance

As you can see below, if you drop salt into a beaker of pure water, this is what you’ll see.

When you zoom in on the sodium chloride salt (NaCl) at the bottom of the beaker, you can see it has not dissolved yet. The salt that hasn’t dissolved is a pure substance, it consists of just sodium chloride.

However, the water in the beaker is not pure because it has sodium and chlorine ions (from the salt) that have dissolved in the water. When you mix the contents of the beaker, there will be no pure substances and the solution will become salt water.