How to Write Net Ionic Equations

net ionic equations

Core Concepts

In this tutorial, you will learn how to write net ionic equations. In addition, you will learn how they are useful for understanding which ions in the solution are active in a reaction and which are spectator ions.

Topics Covered in Other Articles


  • Complete ionic equation: a molecular equation that separates the molecules into their ion forms.
  • Net ionic equation: a molecular equation that depicts the ions or molecules that experience a change within a reaction.
  • Spectator ion: ions in a reaction that do not undergo any change.
  • Aqueous solution: a solution in which the solvent is water.

What is a net ionic equation?

The definition of a net ionic equation is an equation that depicts only the molecules or ions that are actively involved in the reaction or those that undergo a change. In this equation, the spectator ions are not present.

Why do we use net ionic equations?

As described above, we use net ionic equations to emphasize the molecules that undergo a change in the reaction. It makes it easy to see the active molecules in a reaction, since they are the only ones present in the equation!

Writing net ionic equations

The first step to writing a net ionic equation is balancing the chemical equation present. Let’s use the reaction between sodium chloride and silver nitrate as an example.

net ionic equation example

Next, we write the chemical equation as a complete ionic equation. This means that we separate each molecule into its ion form. (Note that only aqueous compounds can be separated.) If the compound is a solid or liquid, it must stay in its molecule form. The complete ionic equation for the reaction above would be as follows:

balancing net ionic equations

Finally, we can use the complete ionic equation to write the net ionic equation. First, we identify the spectator ions. When looking at the complete ionic equation, the spectator ions will have the same charge and state of matter in the reactants and products. In this reaction, the sodium ion and the nitrate ion do not change. As a result, these are considered spectator ions. In order to write the net ionic equation, we simply need to remove the spectator ions.

how to write net ionic equations

After removing the spectator ions, we are left with the net ionic equation!

net ionic equation work

We can repeat this process for any reaction and obtain the net ionic equation.

Net ionic equation examples

Here are some examples of other chemical reactions and what their net ionic equation looks like.

Example 1:
Complete ionic equation:

reaction to net ionic reaction

Net ionic equation:

net ionic reaction

Example 2:
Complete ionic equation:

how to write net ionic equation

Net ionic equation:

net ionic equation steps

Example 3:
Complete ionic equation:

what is net ionic equation

Net ionic equation:

examples of net ionic equations

Awesome Home Experiment

To understand a net ionic equation even better, you can perform this fun, safe and simple home chemistry experiment. And you probably have everything you need! Watch the video, and please subscribe to our YouTube channel – lots more amazing videos are on the way!

The net equation for the reaction in the video is Mg+2 + CO3-2 -> MgCO3(s)

Further reading

One thought on “How to Write Net Ionic Equations

  1. Caroline says:

    This was super helpful and really well written. Thank you!

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