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Periodic table groups

Reactions of alkali metals

All alkali metals react vigorously with cold water. In each reaction, hydrogen gas is given off and the metal hydroxide is produced. The speed and violence of the reaction increases as you go down the group. This shows that the reactivity of the alkali metals increases as you go down group 1.


When lithium is added to water, it floats. It fizzes steadily and becomes smaller, until it eventually disappears.

lithium + water → lithium hydroxide + hydrogen

2Li(s) + 2H2O(l) → 2LiOH(aq) + H2(g)


When sodium is added to water, it melts to form a ball that moves around on the surface. It fizzes rapidly, and the hydrogen produced may burn with an orange flame before the sodium disappears.

sodium + water → sodium hydroxide + hydrogen

2Na(s) + 2H2O(l) → 2NaOH(aq) + H2(g)


When potassium is added to water, the metal melts and floats. It moves around very quickly on the surface of the water. The hydrogen ignites instantly. The metal is also set on fire, with sparks and a lilac flame. There is sometimes a small explosion at the end of the reaction.

potassium + water → potassium hydroxide + hydrogen

2K(s) + 2H2O(l) → 2KOH(aq) + H2(g)

Strong alkalis

The hydroxides formed in all of these reactions dissolve in water to form alkaline solutions. These solutions turn universal indicator purple, showing they are strongly alkaline. Strong alkalis are corrosive, so care must be taken when they are used, for example, by using goggles and gloves.

Why does the reactivity increase down the group? – Higher tier

All alkali metals have one electron in the outer shell. In a reaction, this electron is lost and the alkali metal forms a +1 ion. As you go down group 1, the number of electron shells increases – lithium has two, sodium has three etc. Therefore, the outermost electron gets further from the nucleus. The attraction from the positive nucleus to the negative electron is less. This makes it easier to remove the electron and makes the atom more reactive.

Back to Groups in the periodic table index

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