You are on page 1of 2


Combustion or burning is a complex sequence of chemical reactions between a fuel and an

oxidant accompanied by the production of heat or both heat and light in the form of either a glow
or flames.
What Is a Combustion Reaction?
A combustion reaction is a major class of chemical reactions. Combustion usually occurs when a
hydrocarbon reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. In the more general
sense,combustion involves a reaction between any combustible material and an oxidizer to form
an oxidized product. Combustion is an exothermic reaction, so it releases heat, but sometimes the
reaction proceeds so slowly that a temperature change is not noticeable.
Good signs that you are dealing with a combustion reaction include the presence of oxygen as a
reactant and carbon dioxide, water and heat as products. Inorganic combustion reactions might
not form all of the products, but are recognizable by the reaction of oxygen.
General Form of a Combustion Reaction
hydrocarbon + oxygen carbon dioxide + water

Examples of Combustion Reactions

Here are several examples of balanced equations for combustion reactions. Remember, the
easiest way to recognize a combustion reaction is that the products always contain carbon
dioxide and water. In these examples, oxygen gas is present as a reactant, but trickier examples
of the reaction exist where the oxygen comes from another reactant.

combustion of methane
CH4(g) + 2 O2(g) CO2(g) + 2 H2O(g)

burning of naphthalene
C10H8 + 12 O2 10 CO2 + 4 H2O

combustion of ethane
2 C2H6 + 7 O2 4 CO2 + 6 H2O

combustion of butane (commonly found in lighters)

2C4H10(g) +13O2(g) 8CO2(g) +10H2O(g)

combustion of methanol (also known as wood alcohol)

2CH3OH(g) + 3O2(g) 2CO2(g) + 4H2O(g)

combustion of propane (used in gas grills and fireplaces)

2C3H8(g) + 7O2(g) 6CO2(g) + 8H2O(g)

Complete Versus Incomplete Combustion

Combustion, like all chemical reactions, does not always proceed with 100% efficiency. It is
prone to limiting reactants that same as other processes. So, there are two types of combustion
you are likely to encounter:

Complete Combustion - Also called "clean combustion", clean combustion is oxidation

of a hydrocarbon the produces only carbon dioxide and water. An example of clean combustion
is burning of candle wax, where the heat from the wick vaporizes wax (a hydrocarbon), which
reacts with oxygen in air to release carbon dioxide and water. Ideally, all the wax burns so
nothing remains once the candle is consumed. The water vapor and carbon dioxide dissipate into

Incomplete Combustion - Also called "dirty combustion", incomplete combustion is

hydrocarbon oxidation that produces carbon monoxide and/or carbon (soot) in addition to carbon
dioxide. An example of incomplete combustion would be burning coal, where a lot of soot and
carbon monoxide is released. Many of the fossil fuels burning incompletely, releasing waste