Separatory funnel

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Two funnels: A - Cone, or Pear shaped, B - cylindrical.
Separatory funnel demonstrating the separation of oil and colored water. The top has mistakenly been left on, the flow of liquid will soon stop.

A separatory funnel, also known as separation funnel, separating funnel, or colloquially sep funnel, is a piece of laboratory glassware used in liquid-liquid extractions to separate (partition) the components of a mixture into two immiscible solvent phases of different densities[1] Typically, one of the phases will be aqueous, and the other a non-polar lipophilic organic solvent such as ether, MTBE, dichloromethane, chloroform, or ethyl acetate. All of these solvents form a clear delineation between the two liquids.[2] The two layers formed are usually known as the organic and aqueous phases.[3] Most organic solvents float on top of an aqueous phase, though important exceptions are most halogenated solvents.[4] The organic solvent used for the extraction must not react with the substance to be extracted or with water. It should also have a low boiling point so it can be easily removed from the product.[5]


A separating funnel takes the shape of a cone with a hemispherical end. It has a stopper at the top and stopcock (tap), at the bottom. Separating funnels used in laboratories are typically made from borosilicate glass and their stopcocks are made from glass or PTFE. Typical sizes are between 30 mL and 3 L. In industrial chemistry they can be much bigger and for much larger volumes centrifuges are used. The sloping sides are designed to facilitate the identification of the layers. The stopcock-controlled outlet is designed to drain the liquid out of the funnel. On top of the funnel there is a standard taper joint which fits with a ground glass or Teflon stopper.[6]

To use a separatory funnel, the two phases and the mixture to be separated in solution are added through the top with the stopcock at the bottom closed. The funnel is then closed and shaken gently by inverting the funnel multiple times; if the two solutions are mixed together too vigorously emulsions will form. The funnel is then inverted and the tap carefully opened to release excess vapor pressure. The separating funnel is set aside to allow for the complete separation of the phases. The top and the bottom tap are then opened and the lower phase is released by gravitation. The top must be opened while releasing the lower phase to allow pressure equalization between the inside of the funnel and the atmosphere. When the bottom layer has been removed, the stopcock is closed and the upper layer is poured out through the top into another container.

Before using the separatory funnel, make sure it is placed safely in a ring stand. Also place an Erlenmeyer flask below the separatory funnel to ensure that any drops which may leak out of the funnel are caught in the flask. Finally, it is of vital importance to make sure that the stopcock is tightly closed.[7]


Emulsions can be formed while liquids are being mixed in the separatory funnel. This can occur when small droplets are suspended in an aqueous solution. If an emulsion is formed, try to slowly swirl the solution in the separatory funnel. If the emulsion is not eliminated, then try adding a small amount of saturated aqueous sodium chloride solution.[8]


See also[edit]

  • Dropping funnels are similar in shape and design, and may be used as separatory funnels. They have standard taper ground glass joints at the stem.
  • Partition coefficient is a measure of the distribution of an analyte between the two phases in a separation.


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