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Karl Fischer Titration

Karl Fischer titration is a widely utilized analytical method specifically designed to determine the moisture content in various substances. This titration technique relies on a chemical reaction between iodine and sulfur dioxide with water, a reaction integral in quantifying moisture levels accurately. [1-4]

German chemist Karl Fischer developed this method for quantitative chemical analysis in 1935.


The chemical reaction between iodine and sulfur dioxide in the presence of water occurs in a two-step process. Initially, sulfur dioxide reacts with iodine in the presence of a base, forming an intermediate known as hypoiodous acid. Subsequently, this intermediate reacts with water present in the sample to produce hydrogen iodide and sulfuric acid. [1]

The equation representing this reaction is as follows:

I2 + SO2 + 2 H2O → 2 HI + H2SO4

The crux of this titration lies in quantifying the iodine consumed in this reaction, directly proportional to the amount of water in the sample. This iodine consumption is typically determined using a titrant, a standardized iodine solution, with the endpoint marked by a color change indicative of the iodine’s complete reaction with water. The volume of titrant consumed correlates precisely with the water content in the sample.


There are two types of Karl Fischer titration: volumetric and coulometric titrations. [3]

Volumetric titration relies on carefully measuring the volume of a Karl Fischer reagent – a solution containing iodine, sulfur dioxide, a base, and a solvent – that reacts with water in the sample. The reaction between the Karl Fischer reagent and water leads to a color change, which is detected by an indicator, marking the endpoint of the titration. By accurately measuring the volume of the Karl Fischer reagent required to reach this endpoint, chemists can calculate the moisture concentration in the sample.

Coulometric titration measures the quantity of electricity passed through the solution during titration. This electricity breaks down the iodine from the Karl Fischer reagent, which then reacts with water present in the sample. The amount of electricity used directly correlates with the moisture content, allowing for accurate and sensitive measurements, particularly in samples with low moisture levels.

Karl Fischer Titration

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The step-by-step methodology begins with preparing the Karl Fischer reagent (titrant), ensuring precise concentrations and proper handling. The titration vessel is charged with the solvent and Karl Fischer reagent, and the system is conditioned to ensure stability. A small quantity of sample, accurately weighed or measured, is introduced into the vessel using a glass syringe or pipette. In the case of coulometric titration, the titration cell is assembled, and the titration process is initiated. [3]

The titration proceeds by slowly adding the Karl Fischer reagent to the sample solution and stirring continuously. The titrant reacts with the water in the sample, and the endpoint is determined by a change in the electrical conductivity (for coulometric titration) or a color change indicated by an indicator solution (for volumetric titration). The volume or amount of titrant consumed is measured precisely, allowing the sample’s moisture content calculation. This stepwise procedure ensures accurate and reliable moisture determination across various types of samples.


Karl Fischer titration finds extensive applications across diverse industries where precise determination of moisture content is pivotal. [3]

In pharmaceuticals, this technique ensures the quality and stability of drugs by accurately measuring water content, which can significantly impact a drug’s efficacy and shelf life. Controlling moisture levels in the food and beverage industry is crucial to maintaining product quality and preventing spoilage. Karl Fischer titration assists in assessing moisture content in ingredients, beverages, and processed foods, ensuring compliance with regulatory standards and preserving product integrity.

Moreover, Karl Fischer titration is vital in determining water content in the petrochemical industry, where moisture can detrimentally affect the quality of fuels and oils. It aids in evaluating the purity of fuels, lubricants, and other petroleum-based products, ensuring their performance and longevity. Additionally, in materials science and manufacturing, this technique is indispensable for assessing moisture levels in materials like polymers, chemicals, and construction materials. Controlling moisture content is critical in these sectors as it impacts the material’s strength, durability, and overall quality.