Textbook Chapters | Study Guides | MCAT 2015 Topics | Online Presentations | About | Privacy Policy

Biology Study Guide Topics

Endocrine System | Lymphatic System | Blood | Circulatory System | Skull Bones | Human Skull and Brain | Tissue Types | The Cell | DNA | Anatomy Models | Electron Transport Chain | History of Microbiology | Human Anatomy | Punnett Squares | What is Mitosis | What is Life | Macromolecules | Cellular Respiration | DNA Replication | Enzymes | Pathogenic Bacteria | Natural Selection | Punnett Squares | Transcription and Translation | Exam Notes | Viruses | Osmosis | Protists | Genetic Code | Mendelian Genetics | Meiosis | Sensory Processing | Amino Acids |

Online Presentations

Bones of the Human Skull | Tissue Types | Selective and Differential Media

Classroom Activities

Recombinant DNA Cut And Tape Classroom Activity

Other Units for Solution Concentrations

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

In the previous section, we introduced molarity, a very useful measurement unit for evaluating the concentration of solutions. However, molarity is only one measure of concentration. In this section, we will introduce some other units of concentration that are commonly used in various applications, either for convenience or by convention.

Mass Percentage

Earlier in this chapter, we introduced percent composition as a measure of the relative amount of a given element in a compound. Percentages are also commonly used to express the composition of mixtures, including solutions. The mass percentage of a solution component is defined as the ratio of the component’s mass to the solution’s mass, expressed as a percentage:

mass percentage=mass of componentmass of solution×100%mass percentage=mass of componentmass of solution×100%

We are generally most interested in the mass percentages of solutes, but it is also possible to compute the mass percentage of solvent.

Mass percentage is also referred to by similar names such as percent mass, percent weight, weight/weight percent, and other variations on this theme. The most common symbol for mass percentage is simply the percent sign, %, although more detailed symbols are often used including %mass, %weight, and (w/w)%. Use of these more detailed symbols can prevent confusion of mass percentages with other types of percentages, such as volume percentages (to be discussed later in this section).

Mass percentages are popular concentration units for consumer products. The label of a typical liquid bleach bottle ([link]) cites the concentration of its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), as being 7.4%. A 100.0-g sample of bleach would therefore contain 7.4 g of NaOCl.

Liquid bleach is an aqueous solution of sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl). This brand has a concentration of 7.4% NaOCl by mass.
The sides of two cylindrical containers are shown. Each container’s label is partially visible. The left container’s label reads “Bleach.” The right label contains more information about the product including the phrase, “Contains: Sodium hypochlorite 7.4 %.”

Calculation of Percent by Mass A 5.0-g sample of spinal fluid contains 3.75 mg (0.00375 g) of glucose. What is the percent by mass of glucose in spinal fluid?

Solution The spinal fluid sample contains roughly 4 mg of glucose in 5000 mg of fluid, so the mass fraction of glucose should be a bit less than one part in 1000, or about 0.1%. Substituting the given masses into the equation defining mass percentage yields:

%glucose=3.75mg glucose×1g1000mg5.0g spinal fluid=0.075%%glucose=3.75mg glucose×1g1000mg5.0g spinal fluid=0.075%

The computed mass percentage agrees with our rough estimate (it’s a bit less than 0.1%).

Note that while any mass unit may be used to compute a mass percentage (mg, g, kg, oz, and so on), the same unit must be used for both the solute and the solution so that the mass units cancel, yielding a dimensionless ratio. In this case, we converted the units of solute in the numerator from mg to g to match the units in the denominator. We could just as easily have converted the denominator from g to mg instead. As long as identical mass units are used for both solute and solution, the computed mass percentage will be correct.

Check Your Learning A bottle of a tile cleanser contains 135 g of HCl and 775 g of water. What is the percent by mass of HCl in this cleanser?



Calculations using Mass Percentage “Concentrated” hydrochloric acid is an aqueous solution of 37.2% HCl that is commonly used as a laboratory reagent. The density of this solution is 1.19 g/mL. What mass of HCl is contained in 0.500 L of this solution?

Solution The HCl concentration is near 40%, so a 100-g portion of this solution would contain about 40 g of HCl. Since the solution density isn’t greatly different from that of water (1 g/mL), a reasonable estimate of the HCl mass in 500 g (0.5 L) of the solution is about five times greater than that in a 100 g portion, or 5 ×× 40 = 200 g. In order to derive the mass of solute in a solution from its mass percentage, we need to know the corresponding mass of the solution. Using the solution density given, we can convert the solution’s volume to mass, and then use the given mass percentage to calculate the solute mass. This mathematical approach is outlined in this flowchart:

A diagram of three boxes connected by a right-facing arrow in between each is shown. The box on the left contains the phrase, “Volume of solution ( m L ),” the middle box reads, “Mass of solution ( g ),” while the one on the right contains the phrase, “Mass of H C l ( g ).” There is a phrase under the left arrow that says, “Multiply by density ( g / m L )” and under the right arrow it states, “Multiply by mass percent as ratio ( g H C l / g solution ).”

For proper unit cancellation, the 0.500-L volume is converted into 500 mL, and the mass percentage is expressed as a ratio, 37.2 g HCl/g solution:

500 mL solution(1.19g solutionmL solution)(37.2g HCl100g solution)=221g HCl500 mL solution(1.19g solutionmL solution)(37.2g HCl100g solution)=221g HCl

This mass of HCl is consistent with our rough estimate of approximately 200 g.

Check Your Learning What volume of concentrated HCl solution contains 125 g of HCl?


282 mL

Volume Percentage

Liquid volumes over a wide range of magnitudes are conveniently measured using common and relatively inexpensive laboratory equipment. The concentration of a solution formed by dissolving a liquid solute in a liquid solvent is therefore often expressed as a volume percentage, %vol or (v/v)%:

volume percentage=volume solutevolume solution×100%volume percentage=volume solutevolume solution×100%

Calculations using Volume Percentage Rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) is usually sold as a 70%vol aqueous solution. If the density of isopropyl alcohol is 0.785 g/mL, how many grams of isopropyl alcohol are present in a 355 mL bottle of rubbing alcohol?

Solution Per the definition of volume percentage, the isopropanol volume is 70% of the total solution volume. Multiplying the isopropanol volume by its density yields the requested mass:

(355mL solution)(70mL isopropyl alcohol100mL solution)(0.785g isopropyl alcohol1mL isopropyl alcohol)=195g isopropyl alchol(355mL solution)(70mL isopropyl alcohol100mL solution)(0.785g isopropyl alcohol1mL isopropyl alcohol)=195g isopropyl alchol

Check Your Learning Wine is approximately 12% ethanol (CH3CH2OH) by volume. Ethanol has a molar mass of 46.06 g/mol and a density 0.789 g/mL. How many moles of ethanol are present in a 750-mL bottle of wine?


1.5 mol ethanol

Mass-Volume Percentage

“Mixed” percentage units, derived from the mass of solute and the volume of solution, are popular for certain biochemical and medical applications. A mass-volume percent is a ratio of a solute’s mass to the solution’s volume expressed as a percentage. The specific units used for solute mass and solution volume may vary, depending on the solution. For example, physiological saline solution, used to prepare intravenous fluids, has a concentration of 0.9% mass/volume (m/v), indicating that the composition is 0.9 g of solute per 100 mL of solution. The concentration of glucose in blood (commonly referred to as “blood sugar”) is also typically expressed in terms of a mass-volume ratio. Though not expressed explicitly as a percentage, its concentration is usually given in milligrams of glucose per deciliter (100 mL) of blood ([link]).

“Mixed” mass-volume units are commonly encountered in medical settings. (a) The NaCl concentration of physiological saline is 0.9% (m/v). (b) This device measures glucose levels in a sample of blood. The normal range for glucose concentration in blood (fasting) is around 70–100 mg/dL. (credit a: modification of work by “The National Guard”/Flickr; credit b: modification of work by Biswarup Ganguly)
Two pictures are shown labeled a and b. Picture a depicts a clear, colorless solution in a plastic bag being held in a person’s hand. Picture b shows a person’s hand holding a detection meter with a digital readout screen while another hand holds someone’s finger up to the end of the meter. The meter is pressed to the drop of blood that is at the end of the person’s finger.

Parts per Million and Parts per Billion

Very low solute concentrations are often expressed using appropriately small units such as parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb). Like percentage (“part per hundred”) units, ppm and ppb may be defined in terms of masses, volumes, or mixed mass-volume units. There are also ppm and ppb units defined with respect to numbers of atoms and molecules.

The mass-based definitions of ppm and ppb are given here:

ppm=mass solutemass solution×106ppmppb=mass solutemass solution×109ppbppm=mass solutemass solution×106ppmppb=mass solutemass solution×109ppb

Both ppm and ppb are convenient units for reporting the concentrations of pollutants and other trace contaminants in water. Concentrations of these contaminants are typically very low in treated and natural waters, and their levels cannot exceed relatively low concentration thresholds without causing adverse effects on health and wildlife. For example, the EPA has identified the maximum safe level of fluoride ion in tap water to be 4 ppm. Inline water filters are designed to reduce the concentration of fluoride and several other trace-level contaminants in tap water ([link]).

(a) In some areas, trace-level concentrations of contaminants can render unfiltered tap water unsafe for drinking and cooking. (b) Inline water filters reduce the concentration of solutes in tap water. (credit a: modification of work by Jenn Durfey; credit b: modification of work by “vastateparkstaff”/Wikimedia commons)
Two pictures are shown labeled a and b. Picture a is a close-up shot of water coming out of a faucet. Picture b shows a machine with the words, “Filtered Water Dispenser.” This machine appears to be inside a refrigerator.

Calculation of Parts per Million and Parts per Billion Concentrations According to the EPA, when the concentration of lead in tap water reaches 15 ppb, certain remedial actions must be taken. What is this concentration in ppm? At this concentration, what mass of lead (μg) would be contained in a typical glass of water (300 mL)?

Solution The definitions of the ppm and ppb units may be used to convert the given concentration from ppb to ppm. Comparing these two unit definitions shows that ppm is 1000 times greater than ppb (1 ppm = 103 ppb). Thus:


The definition of the ppb unit may be used to calculate the requested mass if the mass of the solution is provided. However, only the volume of solution (300 mL) is given, so we must use the density to derive the corresponding mass. We can assume the density of tap water to be roughly the same as that of pure water (~1.00 g/mL), since the concentrations of any dissolved substances should not be very large. Rearranging the equation defining the ppb unit and substituting the given quantities yields:

ppb=mass solutemass solution×109ppbmass solute=ppb×mass solution109ppbmass solute=15ppb×300mL×1.00gmL109ppb=4.5×10−6gppb=mass solutemass solution×109ppbmass solute=ppb×mass solution109ppbmass solute=15ppb×300mL×1.00gmL109ppb=4.5×10−6g

Finally, convert this mass to the requested unit of micrograms:


Check Your Learning A 50.0-g sample of industrial wastewater was determined to contain 0.48 mg of mercury. Express the mercury concentration of the wastewater in ppm and ppb units.


9.6 ppm, 9600 ppb

Section Summary

In addition to molarity, a number of other solution concentration units are used in various applications. Percentage concentrations based on the solution components’ masses, volumes, or both are useful for expressing relatively high concentrations, whereas lower concentrations are conveniently expressed using ppm or ppb units. These units are popular in environmental, medical, and other fields where mole-based units such as molarity are not as commonly used.

Consider this question: What mass of a concentrated solution of nitric acid (68.0% HNO3 by mass) is needed to prepare 400.0 g of a 10.0% solution of HNO3 by mass?

(a) Outline the steps necessary to answer the question.

(b) Answer the question.

(a) The dilution equation can be used, appropriately modified to accommodate mass-based concentration units:


This equation can be rearranged to isolate mass1 and the given quantities substituted into this equation.

(b) 58.8 g

What mass of a 4.00% NaOH solution by mass contains 15.0 g of NaOH?

What mass of solid NaOH (97.0% NaOH by mass) is required to prepare 1.00 L of a 10.0% solution of NaOH by mass? The density of the 10.0% solution is 1.109 g/mL.

114 g

What mass of HCl is contained in 45.0 mL of an aqueous HCl solution that has a density of 1.19 g cm–3 and contains 37.21% HCl by mass?

The hardness of water (hardness count) is usually expressed in parts per million (by mass) of CaCO3, which is equivalent to milligrams of CaCO3 per liter of water. What is the molar concentration of Ca2+ ions in a water sample with a hardness count of 175 mg CaCO3/L?

1.75 ×× 10−3 M

The level of mercury in a stream was suspected to be above the minimum considered safe (1 part per billion by weight). An analysis indicated that the concentration was 0.68 parts per billion. Assume a density of 1.0 g/mL and calculate the molarity of mercury in the stream.

In Canada and the United Kingdom, devices that measure blood glucose levels provide a reading in millimoles per liter. If a measurement of 5.3 mM is observed, what is the concentration of glucose (C6H12O6) in mg/dL?

95 mg/dL

A throat spray is 1.40% by mass phenol, C6H5OH, in water. If the solution has a density of 0.9956 g/mL, calculate the molarity of the solution.

Copper(I) iodide (CuI) is often added to table salt as a dietary source of iodine. How many moles of CuI are contained in 1.00 lb (454 g) of table salt containing 0.0100% CuI by mass?

2.38 ×× 10−4 mol

A cough syrup contains 5.0% ethyl alcohol, C2H5OH, by mass. If the density of the solution is 0.9928 g/mL, determine the molarity of the alcohol in the cough syrup.

D5W is a solution used as an intravenous fluid. It is a 5.0% by mass solution of dextrose (C6H12O6) in water. If the density of D5W is 1.029 g/mL, calculate the molarity of dextrose in the solution.

0.29 mol

Find the molarity of a 40.0% by mass aqueous solution of sulfuric acid, H2SO4, for which the density is 1.3057 g/mL.

Key Equations


mass percentage
ratio of solute-to-solution mass expressed as a percentage
mass-volume percent
ratio of solute mass to solution volume, expressed as a percentage
parts per billion (ppb)
ratio of solute-to-solution mass multiplied by 109
parts per million (ppm)
ratio of solute-to-solution mass multiplied by 106
volume percentage
ratio of solute-to-solution volume expressed as a percentage

This page was adapted from the textbook made available by OpenStax College under a Creative Commons License 4.0 International. Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/latest/

The pdf study guides on this site are licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 International License. Please note that this only applies to the pdf format study guides. Some of the figures available under creative commons can be found here: ccimages

© 2009-2016 Anthony D'Onofrio, PhD