Difference Between Sulfate and Sulfite

All of the matters in our environment are made up of small atoms or chemical elements. These atoms have different chemical properties. When an electron is gained from outside by an atom or a molecule.

It becomes a negative charge due to the electron’s negative property. Also, it lacks the positive charge ions that can neutralize it.

Then these atoms are converted into anions. Examples of such anions can be bromide (Br-), chloride (Cl-), fluoride (F-), iodide (I-), nitride (N3-), oxide (O2-), and sulfite (S2-), sulfate (SO 2− 4), etc.

Few elements have lots of similarities, such as sulfite and sulfate; both of the elements are similar in more than one way. The following article has all the information on these elements.

Sulfate vs Sulfite

The main difference between Sulfate and Sulfite is in their composition of oxygen atoms. Although both of the species have oxygen atoms, they do have a different number of oxygen atoms. Sulfate has more oxygen when compared to sulfite; it has 4 oxygen atoms along with sulfur, whereas sulfite only has 3 atoms of oxygen. Due to this, they also differ in terms of molar mass. Expect these differences. They are different in terms of solubility in water, geometry composition, the oxidation state of sulfur, and oxidation reactions.

Sulfate vs Sulfite

Sulfate is a species of sulfur and oxygen that has more oxygen atoms when compared to other species. This species is soluble in water.

It can be found more frequently and is a naturally occurring chemical compound. It cannot undergo oxidation reactions, and also it is tetrahedral in geometry.

Examples of Sulfate can be Magnesium Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Hydrogen Sulfate, Lead Sulfate, etc.

Sulfite is a naturally occurring chemical compound that can be found easily. It is an anion of sulfur and oxygen with three atoms of oxygen.

These chemical compounds are not soluble in water but can definitely undergo oxidation. It is mostly used in industries for food and packaging purposes due to all of its advantages.

It has Trigonal pyramidal geometry.

Comparison Table Between Sulfate and Sulfite

Parameters of ComparisonSulfateSulfite
Molar massHigh molar massLow molar mass
GeometryTetrahedralTrigonal pyramidal
Oxidation state of sulfur+6+4
Oxidation reactionCannot undergo itCan undergo it.

What is Sulfate?

Sulfate is a chemical compound that has all the following properties:

Physical properties:

  1. They are soluble in water; exceptions are there that soluble less in water.
  2. During reactions, white precipitation is formed.

Chemical properties:

  1. They can combine with metals.
  2. Sulfate has more electrons that are used for connecting with metals.

Following are some of the uses of sulfate:

  1. Magnesium sulfate is used for baths.
  2. It is used for metal salts preparation.
  3. They are used in foaming agents and detergents.
  4. The natural form is used for making plasters.
  5. Many sulfates are found in body lotions, soaps, toothpaste, shampoos, etc.
  6. Used for construction purposes.
  7. Found in substances that are used for grease removing process.
  8. They are used for the treatment of water.
  9. They are added to make cleaners work better.
  10. Copper sulfate is an algaecide.

Sulfate can be harmful to certain factors, such as natural sulfate can be harmful as they lead to acid rain by increasing the acidity in the atmosphere. And it can cause problems with skin and hair in humans too.

Following are some of the information and details related to the sulfate:

  • Chemical formula: SO42-Molar Mass: 96.06 g·mol-1
  • Boiling Point: 623.89 °C
  • Melting Point: 270.47 °C

What is Sulfite?

Sulfite is a chemical found that can be found easily and has several names. It is mostly found in edible substances that are completely safe.

Following is the detail of the Sulfite:

  • Chemical formula: SO₃²⁻
  • Molar Mass: 80.07g·mol-1

Sulfites can be easily found in food and drinks:

  • Frozen fruits.
  • Frozen vegetables.
  • Fruits or vegetable juice.
  • Syrups, jams, and other fruit-related preserves.
  • Dried fruits and vegetables.
  • Cereal, muesli, and cornstarch.
  • Peeled or pre-cut potatoes.
  • Tomato pastes.
  • Ketchup, pickles, and relishes.
  • Wine vinegar.
  • Lemon juice.
  • Wine, beer, cider.
  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine.

It is mostly found in food items as it has food preservative properties that are useful for containing the food for a long period. Sometimes sulfite may cause problems after consuming such as, people may feel asthmatic problems while reactions while consuming the sulfite.

He may find it difficult to breathe, therefore to avoid this allergy, food that may have sulfite should be avoided that can be done easily by checking the packaging of the item. And in case of extreme allergy, immediate help from the doctor should be taken.

Main Differences Between Sulfate and Sulfite

  1. The main difference between sulfate and sulfite is in their molar mass. The molar mass of sulfate is higher, i.e., 96g/mol, than the sulfite that has a molar mass of 80g/mol.
  2. They are different in terms of solubility in water; here, sulfate has the advantage of being a soluble species, whereas most of the sulfite is insoluble in water, making a disadvantage for it.
  3. Both of the species also differ in terms of geometry around sulfur, while in sulfate, the geometry is of the sulfur atom in tetrahedral, whereas the sulfite has Trigonal pyramidal geometry around the sulfur atom.
  4. They also have a different level of the oxidation state of the sulfur atom. In sulfate, the oxidation state is +6, whereas it is +4 in the case of Sulfite species.
  5. Not both of the species can undergo the oxidation reaction. Only sulfites can undergo the oxidations reaction. Sulfate is unable to undergo them.


Therefore, all the differences should be clear. Both of these species are used frequently in laboratories and industries for several purposes, such as for preserving the food and beverages from getting any bacterial infection.

Apart from all the above differences, it has several similarities too that includes, both of them are negatively charged, both of them have about -2 anions, both of them are a composition of an oxygen atom and sulfur atom, both of them show resonance, both of them can undergo reduction, etc.

These are species that have to study carefully as they have all the above similarities, and for a chemistry student, it is a basic topic to understand.


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.1995.10718500
  2. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/abs/10.1289/ehp.8564209
  3. https://www.jbc.org/content/234/7/1733.full.pdf
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049384800003388
  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10643389609388489
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0008884601005105
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