Oxidizing and reducing agents are key terms used in describing the reactants in redox reactions that transfer electrons between reactants to form products. This page discusses what defines an oxidizing or reducing agent, how to determine an oxidizing and reducing agent in a wgc2010.orgical reaction, and the importance of this concept in real world applications.

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Oxidizing and Reducing Agents

An oxidizing agent, or oxidant, gains electrons and is reduced in a wgc2010.orgical reaction. Also known as the electron acceptor, the oxidizing agent is normally in one of its higher possible oxidation states because it will gain electrons and be reduced. Examples of oxidizing agents include halogens, potassium nitrate, and nitric acid.

A reducing agent, or reductant, loses electrons and is oxidized in a wgc2010.orgical reaction. A reducing agent is typically in one of its lower possible oxidation states, and is known as the electron donor. A reducing agent is oxidized, because it loses electrons in the redox reaction. Examples of reducing agents include the earth metals, formic acid, and sulfite compounds.

Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A reducing agent reduces other substances and loses electrons; therefore, its oxidation state increases. An oxidizing agent oxidizes other substances and gains electrons; therefore, its oxidation state decreases.

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To help eliminate confusion, there is a mnemonic device to help determine oxidizing and reducing agents.


Oxidation Is Loss and Reduction Is Gain of electrons

Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Commons oxidizing and reducing agents Common oxidizing agents Common reducing agents
\(\ce{O2}\) \(\ce{H2}\)
\(\ce{O3}\) \(\ce{CO}\)
\(\ce{F2}\) \(\ce{Fe}\)
\(\ce{Br2}\) \(\ce{Zn}\)
\(\ce{H2SO4}\) \(\ce{Li}\)
Halogens (they favor gaining an electron to obtain a noble gas configuration) Alkali metals (they favor losing an electron to obtain a noble gas configuration)

Oxidation States: 0 -1