Sulfur (S): Properties & Uses

Sulfur Element

Sulfur (North American English) and Sulphur (British English) is one of the elements with dual spellings; although, both spellings are equally used, the IUPAC has accepted “Sulfur” in its nomenclature. It is a chemical element with symbol ‘S’ belongs to group 16 in the periodic table with atomic number 16. Also classified as non-metal, it is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. It is usually not found in its native form on earth but, found in the form of sulfide and sulfate minerals. Sulfur is also known as brimstone that means “burning stone.”


Sulfur Properties

Physical Properties

Physical Appearance

Sulfur is solid at room temperature and possesses a soft bright yellow appearance. At high temperatures, above 200°C, sulfur melts down and molten sulfur assumes a dark red colour.

Sulfur Physical Properties

Sulfur Crystals

Melting and Boiling point

The melting point of sulfur is 115.21°C and its boiling point is 444.6°C.

Allotropes of Sulfur

When an element possesses different structural forms and exhibits different physical and chemical properties, this property of an element is known as allotropes. Sulfur is one of the elements which possesses a larger number of allotropes. There are 30 known allotropes of sulfur. The most common allotrope of Sulfur is octasulfur  { S }_{ 8 }. It possesses a crown-shaped rhombohedral crystal structure. The stable allotropes of sulfur are excellent electrical insulators.


Chemical Properties

Flame Colour

With the formation of sulfur dioxide, the sulfur burns with the flame which is bluish in colour. It has a suffocating and irritating odour.


Sulfur is not soluble in polar solvents such as water but soluble in polar solvents such as benzene and toluene. Also, it is soluble in carbon disulfide to a lesser extent.

Reactivity of Sulfur

Sulfur is one of the most reactive element. It reacts with almost every element in the periodic table except noble gases. It combines with itself to form sulfides and also combines with other elements, for example, it is a part of many organic compounds such as mercaptans (thiols) and its compounds.


The stable isotopes of sulfur are { 32 }_{ S }, { 33 }_{ S }, { 34 }_{ S }, { 36 }_{ S }; although, it possess 23 known isotopes. Its isotope ratio can be treated as an environmental tracer and it is used to study the distribution of sulfur from coal mining and combustion processes.

Sulfur Isotopes

Natural Occurrence

In many types of meteorites, sulfur is present usually in the form of sulfides. Elemental sulfur is found in volcanic regions in many parts of the world, especially along the Pacific Ring of Fire and can be found near hot springs.

32S is created inside the massive stars by the fusion of one nucleus of silicon plus one nucleus of helium. Sulfur, usually as sulfide, is present in many types of meteorites. Elemental sulfur can be found near hot springs and volcanic regions in many parts of the world, especially along the Pacific Ring of Fire; such volcanic deposits are currently mined in Indonesia, Chile, and Japan. Historically Sicily was a major source of sulfur in the first industrial revolution. Naturally occurring sulfur compounds include sulfide minerals such as galena (lead sulfide) and sulfate minerals such as gypsum (calcium sulfate).

Mining of Sulfur


1) Manufacture of Sulphuric Acid

Sulfur is one of the main ingredients for the manufacturing of one of the world’s most used chemicals, sulphuric acid, which in turn goes into fertilizers, lead batteries and also used to refine oils and in processing oils.

Manufacture of Sulphuric Acid with Sulfur

2) Medicines

If you have bronchitis and coughing all time then doctors will advise you sulfa-drugs. Creams made with sulfur are used to treat infections and also used to treat certain medical problems. Antiallergic: Doctors advise MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) to allergic people. It has the ability to form a natural block against allergen without any side-effects.

Sulpha based drugs

3) Used as a fire element

Black powder is a mixture of 3 main components: nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. Elemental sulfur acts as fuel in gunpowder, matches and fireworks. In fact, it increases the rate of combustion of such mixtures because it lowers the temperature required to ignite the mixture.

4) Cosmetics

Sulfur is used as an ingredient which put into cosmetic or skincare products; resulting in a glowing and healthy skin because sulfur creates bonds in connective tissues and increases its strength and flexibility. It is also used as the main ingredient in antidandruff shampoos.


5) As a smelling gas in LPG

Ethanethiol is an organosulphur compound which is added to odourless gaseous products such as LPG to help warn of gas leaks. At these concentrations, ethanethiol is not harmful.

6) As a preservative

Sulfur dioxide used as a preservative for dried apricots and other dried fruits, owing to its antimicrobial properties and ability to prevent oxidations. As a preservative, it maintains the colourful appearance of the fruits and prevents rotting.

Sulfur as preservative

7) As a bleaching agent

Bleaching agents are compounds that are used to remove the colour from substances such as textiles. Sulfur dioxide is a good reductant. In the presence of water, it is able to decolourize the substance. Mainly, it is a useful reducing bleach for papers and delicate materials such as clothes. This bleaching effect normally does not last very long. Oxygen present in the air, oxidizes the reduced dyes, restoring the colour. The bleaching action of sulfur dioxide is due to its reduction property.

Bleaching agent

8) As a refrigerant

Sulfur dioxide being easily condensed and possessing high heat of evaporation is used as a refrigerant in home refrigerators, prior to the development of chlorofluorocarbons.

9) Epsom salt as a household chemical

Magnesium salt, also known as Epsom salt, is a household chemical with many traditional uses, including bath salts. The main external use is the formulation as bath salt, especially for foot baths to soothe sore feet. Such baths have also been claimed to soothe and hasten recovery of muscle pain, soreness or injury; however these claims  have not been scientifically confirmed. The main use of this salt is cosmetics, it prevents temporary skin wrinkling caused by prolonged immersion in plain water.

Epsom salt uses

10) In Vulcanization of rubber

Vulcanization is a chemical process that converts natural rubber into cross-linked polymers. The most common vulcanization agent is sulfur. When heated with rubber it forms bridges between individual polymer molecules. In fact, unvulcanized rubber has poor mechanical properties and not very durable, whereas vulcanized rubber has improved mechanical properties.

11) Mineral hot water springs as a tourist destination

Mineral springs are naturally occurring springs that produce water containing minerals or other dissolved substances that alter its taste or give it purported therapeutic values. Salts of sulfur compounds and various  gases are among the substances that are dissolved in such water springs during its passage underground. For example, Manikaran (in Himachal Pradesh) is known for sulfur hot water springs. An experimental geothermal energy plant has also been set up here.

Manikaran Sahib hot springs

Cooking food in hot water springs of Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara

Food is cooked in these springs and bathing here is known as a balm for arthritis, though it’s not scientifically proven.

Tattapani (Shimla in Himachal Pradesh) hot springs known as one of the most famous hot water springs in India. Tattapani pure sulfur springs can cure many ailments especially bone and joint diseases.

Tattapani hot spring bath

Tattapani pure Sulfur Springs

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