Written by 11:25 am Uncategorized

Why Should a Magnesium Ribbon be Cleaned Before Burning in Air?

Magnesium is a highly reactive metal that readily reacts with oxygen in the air to form magnesium oxide. When a magnesium ribbon is burned in air, it undergoes a vigorous exothermic reaction, producing a bright white light and a white powdery residue. However, before burning, it is crucial to clean the magnesium ribbon to ensure a successful and efficient reaction. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the necessity of cleaning magnesium ribbon before burning it in air.

The Reactivity of Magnesium

Magnesium is an alkaline earth metal with the atomic number 12 and a molar mass of 24.31 g/mol. It is known for its high reactivity, which is attributed to its electronic configuration. Magnesium has two valence electrons in its outermost shell, making it highly prone to losing these electrons and forming a stable 2+ cation.

When magnesium reacts with oxygen in the air, it undergoes a combustion reaction, resulting in the formation of magnesium oxide (MgO). This reaction can be represented by the following equation:

2Mg + O2 → 2MgO

The Importance of Cleaning Magnesium Ribbon

Before burning a magnesium ribbon, it is essential to clean its surface thoroughly. This cleaning process removes any impurities or oxide layers that may hinder the reaction. Here are some key reasons why cleaning magnesium ribbon is crucial:

1. Removal of Oxide Layers

Magnesium readily reacts with oxygen in the air to form a thin layer of magnesium oxide on its surface. This oxide layer acts as a barrier, preventing further reaction between the magnesium and oxygen. Therefore, cleaning the magnesium ribbon removes this oxide layer, allowing for a more efficient reaction.

2. Enhanced Surface Area

Cleaning the magnesium ribbon also helps increase its surface area. A larger surface area facilitates a greater contact between the magnesium and oxygen molecules, leading to a faster and more vigorous reaction. By removing any dirt or impurities, the surface of the magnesium ribbon becomes more exposed, maximizing the chances of successful combustion.

3. Improved Reaction Rate

By cleaning the magnesium ribbon, the reaction rate is significantly improved. The removal of oxide layers and impurities ensures that the magnesium is in direct contact with oxygen, allowing for a faster reaction. This increased reaction rate results in a more intense and visually appealing combustion.

4. Safety Precautions

Cleaning the magnesium ribbon before burning it also serves as a safety precaution. Impurities or contaminants on the surface of the ribbon can potentially lead to unexpected reactions or explosions. By thoroughly cleaning the ribbon, any potential hazards are minimized, ensuring a safer experimental environment.

Methods for Cleaning Magnesium Ribbon

There are several methods for cleaning magnesium ribbon before burning it in air. These methods aim to remove any oxide layers or impurities, ensuring a clean and reactive surface. Here are some commonly used techniques:

1. Sandpaper

One of the simplest and most effective methods for cleaning magnesium ribbon is by using sandpaper. Gently rubbing the ribbon with fine-grit sandpaper removes any oxide layers or impurities, leaving behind a clean surface ready for combustion. It is important to handle the ribbon with care during this process to avoid any damage or breakage.

2. Dilute Acid

Another method involves using a dilute acid solution, such as hydrochloric acid (HCl) or sulfuric acid (H2SO4). The acid reacts with the oxide layer on the magnesium ribbon, dissolving it and leaving a clean surface. However, caution must be exercised when handling acids, as they can be corrosive and harmful.

3. Mechanical Cleaning

In some cases, mechanical cleaning methods may be employed to remove stubborn impurities or oxide layers. This can include using a wire brush or a polishing cloth to scrub the surface of the magnesium ribbon. Mechanical cleaning should be done gently to avoid damaging the ribbon.


Q1: Can I burn magnesium ribbon without cleaning it?

A1: It is not recommended to burn magnesium ribbon without cleaning it. The presence of oxide layers and impurities can hinder the reaction, resulting in a less efficient combustion.

Q2: What happens if I don’t clean the magnesium ribbon?

A2: If the magnesium ribbon is not cleaned, the oxide layer on its surface will act as a barrier, preventing direct contact between the magnesium and oxygen. This will lead to a slower and less intense reaction.

Q3: Can I use other cleaning agents instead of sandpaper or acid?

A3: While sandpaper and acid are commonly used methods, other cleaning agents such as solvents or detergents may also be effective. However, it is important to ensure that the cleaning agent does not react with magnesium or leave behind any residue that could interfere with the combustion.

Q4: How should I handle the cleaned magnesium ribbon?

A4: After cleaning the magnesium ribbon, it should be handled with care to avoid recontamination. It is advisable to use clean gloves or tweezers when transferring the ribbon to the combustion apparatus.

Q5: Can I reuse the cleaned magnesium ribbon?

A5: Yes, cleaned magnesium ribbon can be reused for multiple experiments. However, it is important to inspect the ribbon for any signs of damage or contamination before each use.


In conclusion, cleaning magnesium ribbon before burning it in air is essential for a successful and efficient combustion reaction. The removal of oxide layers and impurities ensures a clean and reactive surface, leading to a faster reaction rate and a more visually appealing combustion. Cleaning methods such as sandpaper, dilute acid, or mechanical cleaning can be employed to achieve a clean magnesium ribbon. By following these cleaning procedures, researchers and students can conduct experiments safely and obtain accurate results. Remember, a clean magnesium ribbon paves the way for a dazzling display of chemistry in action.

Visited 7 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window