Chemical Interaction Matrices Save Time and Money, and Help Ensure Safety

How many times have you been surprised by an unexpected chemical reaction in your laboratory or process? How much time and money did it take you to redesign your experiments or processes to avoid such unwanted reactions? Were you lucky there were no injuries or environmental consequences?

Often, surprise chemical reactions can be avoided, or eliminated, by making a chemical interaction matrix that considers potential consequences of mixing binary combinations of chemicals. Information on such mixings, however, is often difficult to find. Even when you do find it, such information can be conflicting. Whether two chemicals react, or react violently, may depend on temperature, concentrations, impurities, or a number of other factors that are not always readily understood or explained. In addition, chemicals may interact, not only with one another, but also with their environment, including containment vessels, air or water, and other utilities and structural containment materials.

Before setting up any laboratory experiment or designing any chemical process, it is a good idea to develop an interaction matrix for the materials that you will use. The matrix can be patterned after the example below.

Generic Chemical Interaction Matrix

 Chemical 1Chemical 2Chemical 3GlassRubberAirWaterHeatCentrifuge
Chemical 1xxxxxxxxx
Chemical 2 xxxxxxxx
Chemical 3  xxxxxxx
Glass   xxxxxx
Rubber    xxxxx
Air     xxxx
Water      xxx
Heat       xx
Centrifuge        x


To assist you in preparing your own interaction matrices, this DOE chemical safety web page includes, below, existing matrices prepared by various external organizations and agencies. Many of the chemicals listed in these matrices are in common use in DOE. In addition to the interaction matrices, we have included a list of reference materials for information on chemical interactions and incompatibilities. It should be mentioned that this DOE website assumes no responsibility for the accuracy or the use of this information, and that the inclusion of such links in no way constitutes endorsement of those sites nor endorsement of any products or services offered by those sites. We urge you to use all this information with caution and to examine the special conditions of your own experiments or processes in determining interaction consequences. When your experiments or processes are unique or will be operated outside of well understood bounds, you are urged to perform careful laboratory testing to develop the needed understanding of the chemical interactions for normal, transient, and accident conditions.

Information Sources on the Internet:

  • 46CFR150 - PART150 - COMPATIBILITY OF CARGOES (COC) , issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, includes a Cargo Compatibility Chart that covers an extensive list of chemicals and materials. Instructions on the use of the chart and exceptions to the chart are given in the COC text. In addition, an experimental procedure for evaluating binary chemical reactivity is provided.
  • The Office of Response and Restoration, National Ocean Service, NOAA, and the Chemical Emergency Prevention and Preparedness Office of the EPA have a Chemical Reactivity Worksheet to determine the reactivity of substances or mixtures of substances. It includes a database of reactivity information of about 4300 common hazardous chemicals and allows one to virtually "mix" chemicals.