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How to Identify Mineral Properties

Rocks are the foundation upon which we build our homes upon; they are the driving force behind many job industries and have an infinite capacity to be resourceful. Minerals found within these rocks dictate how they can best be used. Some of the best examples where mineral identification is employed are in the mining industry, where locating halite leads to salt mining or finding precipitate minerals assists in locating silver and gold deposits. Not limited to industrial use, identifying minerals is used for historical reconstruction, geology, anthropology, and civil engineering related jobs. This is an introduction for students in an introductory-level geology class whereby you will be guided through the steps of identifying mineral properties. Identifying properties of minerals will require observations and tests, the results of which should be descriptively written in your lab notebook. Your collected data can then be used to identify a mineral with the aid of Mineralogical Society of Americas site [1]: Bowman et al. has published a Physical Geology Lab Manual to explain introductory material. Influenced by their work, lets familiarize ourselves with important terms you will encounter [2]. These terms are general words used in entry level physical geology classes to describe a rock and its properties. Luster is the way light reflects off a surface. There is metallic and non-metallic luster. Hardness is the minerals resistance to scratching or abrasion, measured by MOHLS scale via the hardness kit. Cleavage is a planar surface on the face of a mineral, directly related to its atomic structure. Cleavage planes can range from perfect (smooth) to poor (ragged). A mineral without cleavage is identified as fractured. Color is another important but non-definitive property that may vary due to chemical impurities. Streak is the residual color of the mark a mineral leaves when scratched against a porcelain plate. Given the materials and instructions in this manual, you are now ready to begin the first process of mineral identification.

Mineral Hardness Kit Ultraviolet Lamp Rock Hammer (optional) Lab Notebook Dilute 5-10% HCl
5-10% Hydrochloric acid may cause serious or permanent health injuries [3]. It will not burn and is stable under standard temperatures and pressures [3]. High temperatures may induce instability [3]. Acid is corrosive. Avoid prolonged contact to skin [3]. Wash immediately [3].

Graphic Indications
Familiarize yourself with the importance of the various symbols used in this instructional guide. Symbol indicates the use of a tool from materials list. Symbol indicates need to record data in your lab notebook. Warning symbol indicates potential hazard that may result in injury. Symbol references website for additional assistance. Symbol indicates helpful hints.

Step 1: Obtain your mineral hand sample.

Step 2: Observe and name the color.

Step 3: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Step 1: Observe and determine whether your hand sample has metallic or non-metallic luster.

Step 2: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Mineral on the left exhibits metallic luster. Mineral on the right exhibits non-metallic luster.

Step 1: Retrieve porcelain plate from hardness kit.

Step 2: Scratch the mineral across unglazed porcelain.

For minerals with a metallic luster, this is an important identification tool.

Step 3: Note streak color.

Step 4: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Cleavage & Fracture

Step 1: If necessary, hammer your mineral, exposing a fresh surface for observation.

Step 2: Observe and note the number of cleavage planes found on your mineral hand sample.

Step 3: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Recall, cleavage is determined by visible planes on minerals surface [4].

MOHLs hardness scale implements minerals of various hardness (H) levels beginning with H = 1 and increasing to H = 10 [2]. Test hardness by beginning with the mineral of lowest hardness and gradually increasing as necessary. Once an abrasion is made, the mineral is said to have a hardness level less than the mineral that scratched it.

Step 1: From your hardness kit, retrieve the softest mineral with hardness 1 to scratch a fresh surface of your hand sample.

Step 2: Rub away any residual powder and search for scratches.

MOHLs Hardness Kit

Step 3: If there are no visible scratches on the minerals surface, repeat steps 1 and 2 with a mineral of increased hardness. Repeat until visible scratches are present,

Step 4: If mineral with n-hardness scratched your hand sample; your hand samples hardness is equal to n-1.

Step 5: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Special Properties
Certain minerals possess additional properties that make them unique. These key identifiers are referred to as special properties which include heft, fizzing, fluorescence, and magnetism [2]. Heft is an informal measurement of a minerals density. This test helps to distinguish similar looking minerals with different densities, such as magnetite and iilmenite. Fizzing is the effervescent reaction of a mineral when exposed to dilute hydrochloric acid. The HCl acid test is highly diagnostic for carbonate minerals such as calcite and aragonite. Fluorescence is the ability for certain minerals to fluoresce under black light. These minerals crystalline structure reflect light under different wavelengths. Depending on the fluorescent color, minerals can be easily identified. A common mineral identified by its fluorescence is fluorite. Magnetism is a property found in a few rocks such as magnetite, magnemite, iron-nickel, and iilmenite. Magnetism sets similar looking, non-metallic minerals apart from the magnetic. You will now be guided through the steps of identifying special properties of minerals.

Special Properties
Step 1: Informally weigh mineral with hand.

Step 2: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Step 1:

Obtain a bottle of dilute 5-10% hydrochloric acid.

Potential hazard. Keep away from eyes, mouth, and prolonged skin exposure.

Step 2:

Pour 2-3 drops of acid on the face of the mineral.

Step 3:

Observe whether mineral effervesces with acid. Wipe mineral clean with a paper towel.

Step 4:

Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Step 1: Place the mineral under an ultraviolet lamp.

Step 2:

Note which ultraviolet wavelength is used, short-wave or long-wave. Note whether mineral fluoresces.

Step 3:

Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Include the fluorescent color of your mineral if pertinent.

Step 1: Take your magnet from your hardness kit.

Step 2: Approach your mineral with your magnet.

Step 3: Observe and feel if there is a magnetic attraction between your hand sample and the magnet.

Step 4: Write your observations in your lab notebook.

Describe the magnetic pull using words such as no magnetism, weak, or strong pull.


Mineral identification requires familiarity, a skill that can only be obtained by practicing the identification of mineral properties. This manual guided you through various tests and observations pertaining to both common and special mineral properties. You can now proceed to identify an unknown mineral with the use of reference books or online sources. We recommend Mineralogical Society of Americas site that allows you to locate common, accessible minerals using your written observations [1]. These tools will not only guide you through identification of mineral properties in introductory geology classes, but may help ignite an interest and pursuit in the field of geology. Welcome to Earth science! Mineralogical Society of Americas site:


Works Cited [1] A. Plante, D. Peck, D. Von Bargen. Mineral identification key [Online]. Available: [2] K.W. Bowman, W. Henderson, P. Butcher, S. Wareham, J.R. Knott, Physical geology lab manual, 3rd Ed., Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2011, pp. 3-6. [3] (2013). NFPA Rating Explanation Guide [Online]. Available: [4] G. Rocha, Minerals cleavage and fracture, [Online]. Available: