Chemical Composition

The Seasons
The Seasons

Chemical composition has more than one meaning. If you’re discussing a substance with one component, such as water, the chemical composition means the type and arrangement of elements and molecules within the substance.

If you’re discussing a substance with more than one component, chemical composition refers to the components within the substance and their ratios – basically a recipe of ingredients.

Fun Facts

  • The chemical composition of pure substances – or elements – is recorded using the empirical formula. For example, water is written as H20 – two atoms of hydrogen, one atom of oxygen.
  • Honey contains about 82 percent carbohydrates, or sugars, such as fructose, glucose, and sucrose. Honey contains protein, amino acids and vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Chewing gum’s chemical composition includes sugar or artificial sweeteners, softening agents, such as glycerin or vegetable oil, flavorings, and gum base. Originally, gum bases were made from tree resins. Today, most of them are made in a lab. The recipes for these gum bases are top secret.
  • Ever wonder what’s in your shampoo? Shampoos are made in laboratories by cosmetic chemists. They contain mostly water. Surfactants, such as sodium lauryl sulfates, are made from fatty acids found naturally in coconut oil or soybean oil. Surfactants trap oil in your hair so it can be rinsed away. Shampoos also contain foaming agents, thickeners, conditioners, and preservatives.


Component: a part or ingredient of a substance

Resin: a thick, waxy substance

Surfactant: a substance capable of isolating oil

Q and A

Question: How do manufacturers invent new products?

Answer: Manufacturers use chemists to develop new products with specific characteristics. For example, a shampoo manufacturer might ask a cosmetic chemist to develop a new shampoo that makes hair extra shiny and soft. The chemist knows which ingredients produce those characteristics and experiments in a lab to get the chemical composition just right.

Learn More

Visit the Science Channel to watch videos of how common products are made.

Head over to PBS for more videos about common household products, such as crayons, fortune cookies, and tennis shoes.