Select Page
Oven method for sample preparation in Karl Fischer titration

Oven method for sample preparation in Karl Fischer titration

Maybe you have experienced one of the following situations in the laboratory. You need to determine the water content of a sample using Karl Fischer titration and you realize one or more of these issues:

  • The sample does not dissolve in the KF reagent. No solubilizer helps, the sample is still not dissolving, and the results are far from reproducible.
  • The sample reacts with the KF reagent. The titration does not stop, and there is no endpoint detected.
  • The sample contaminates the titration cell and the electrode(s). Even if you replace the reagent after every measurement, the obtained results are out of specification.

There is a way to solve the above-mentioned problems. Trust me—it’s fantastic!!

The solution is the oven method or gas extraction technique.

What is Karl Fischer titration? Download our free Monograph to learn more from the experts.

What is the oven method?

The oven method is a sample preparation technique used in Karl Fischer titration to analyze samples…

For more help, take a look at our frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration under the section «Sample Handling» here on our website:

The principle is very simple.

The sample is weighed into a headspace vial and closed with a septum cap. When placed in an oven, the water evaporates and a carrier gas (usually air or nitrogen) dried with a molecular sieve transports the released water into the titration cell, where the determination of the water content takes place. The water is separated from the sample matrix, avoiding side reactions and contamination.

The temperature of the oven is chosen according to the temperature stability of the sample. This leads to the question to which temperature the sample should be heated. What is the optimal oven temperature?

Finding the optimal oven temperature

Using a suitable oven temperature to analyze a sample is crucial to obtain the correct results. The oven temperature should be as high as possible, within reason. This guarantees a fast and complete release of the water and subsequently, short titration times. However, you should avoid choosing a temperature that is too high. Decomposition of the sample usually leads to the formation of unwanted substances that can falsify the water content. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, I recommend choosing an oven temperature 20 °C below the decomposition temperature of the sample.

But what can you do if you have no idea at which temperature your sample should be analyzed? No worries! There are several ways to find the optimal oven temperature.

One possibility is to search in the literature. The more information on temperature stability of the sample you find, the better off you will be. If you are able to find a decomposition temperature, it will help immensely to define the optimal oven temperature. Maybe you are lucky and someone else has already analyzed the same sample; then you may also find a recommended oven temperature. A good start is reading our free Application Bulletin AB-280, which lists several substances.

Are you searching for Karl Fischer titration oven applications? Look no further – the Metrohm Application Finder contains several applications you can download for free! Check them out here:

If literature research does not reveal a suitable oven temperature, you must determine it yourself. How this is done depends upon the type of instrument you are using.

Some instruments offer you the possibility to run a so-called temperature gradient or temperature ramp. The sample is heated at a constant rate (e.g., 0.5 °C or 2 °C per minute) in a defined temperature range (e.g., 50 to 250 °C). At the same time, the released water is determined. In the end, the software will display a curve, showing you the released water as a function of the temperature. The following graph shows an example of such a temperature gradient curve.

The blue line corresponds to the determined water content, whereas the orange line indicates the drift value. An increasing drift signals the release of water, but it can also be a sign for decomposition, especially if the drift no longer decreases to a low level. In this graph, the drift peak at 50 °C corresponds to the blank value and free water. Between 120 and 200 °C, the drift value increases again, meaning the sample releases water. Then the drift decreases and remains low and stable up to 250 °C. There are no signs of decomposition up to 250 °C. As we do not know what would happen at temperatures above 250 °C, the optimal oven temperature for this sample is 230 °C (250 °C – 20 °C = 230 °C).

In case the instrument you use does not offer the option to run a temperature gradient, you can manually increase the temperature and measure the sample at different temperatures. In an Excel spreadsheet, you can display the curve (released water against temperature). If there is a temperature range where you see reproducible water contents, then you have found the optimal oven temperature.

Here is an example of a sample which started to decompose at temperatures above 106 °C (left sample vial) and thus is turning brown. An optimal temperature would therefore be 85 °C.

Sample analysis with a KF oven – step by step

After you have found the optimal oven temperature, water content determination in the sample can begin.

  • First, I recommend to run a system preparation. This means running a determination, but with an empty sample vial. During this preparation step, all tubes in the system are purged with dried carrier gas, and any traces of water are removed.
  • Next, you need to determine the blank value. The sample vials and the caps contain some residual moisture. With the blank determination, the amount of water contained in an empty sample vial is determined. The mean value of e.g. 3 blank value determinations is then subtracted from the water content obtained for the samples.
  • Finally, you can analyze the samples.

Please keep in mind that the same parameters for the system preparation, the blank value determination, and the sample determination must be used. This is of importance if you want to measure a check standard before and/or after the sample analysis or sample series. If the optimal oven temperature for the standard is different from the one for the sample, I recommend that you determine a blank value for the standard as well.

Checking an oven system

There are special, solid water standards available to check the performance of an oven system. These water standards are perfect to inspect the complete oven system and to ensure that the evaporated water reaches the titration cell and is determined there. Such standards include a certificate stating the water content.

Using the certified value, you can calculate the recovery when determining the water content of the standard with the oven. If the recovery value is between 97–103%, everything is fine. However, if the recovery is outside this range, the oven system should be checked for leaks or water deposits. It might be that only the molecular sieve needs to be exchanged. Possibly, the reagent is exhausted and needs to be replaced.

There are other reasons which explain recovery values which are too high or too low. The reason must be found, as incorrect recovery values also mean that the determined sample water content is wrong. Have a look at our free Application Bulletin 280 for detailed information on troubleshooting an oven system.


The oven method is a simple and convenient way to analyze difficult samples. Side reactions are reduced to a minimum. The titration cell and the reagent are not contaminated with sample. In case you have to analyze a large series of samples, automation of the oven method is possible. Have a look at the available instruments for the oven method on our website!

Want to learn more

about Karl Fischer titration

Watch our free webinars here!

Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 2

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 2

Since I started working at Metrohm more than 15 years ago, I have received many questions about Karl Fischer titration. Some of those questions have been asked repeatedly from several people in different locations around the world. Therefore, I have chosen 20 of the most frequent questions received over the years concerning Karl Fischer equipment and arranged them into three categories: instrument preparation and handling, titration troubleshooting, and the oven technique. Part 1 covered instrument preparation and handling, and Part 2 will now focus on titration troubleshooting and the KF oven technique.

Summary of questions in the FAQ (click to go directly to each question):

Titration troubleshooting

1.  If the drift value is 0, does this mean that the titration cell is over-titrated?

A drift of zero can be a sign that the cell might be over-titrated. In combination with the mV signal (lower than end-point criteria) and the color of the working medium (darker yellow than usual), it is a clear indicator for over-titration. However, volumetric titrations sometimes exhibit a zero drift for a short time without being over-titrated. If you have a real excess of iodine in the titration cell, the result of the next determination will most likely be erroneous. Therefore, over-titration should be avoided. There are various possible reasons for over-titration, like the sample itself (e.g., oxidizing agents which generate iodine from the working medium), the electrode (coating or invisible depositions on the Pt pins/rings), the reagent, and method parameters (e.g., the titration is rate too high), to name just a few.

2.  Should I discard the Karl Fischer reagent immediately if it turns brown?

Different factors can cause over-titration, however, the reagent is not always the reason behind this issue. The indicator electrode can also be the reason for overshooting the endpoint. In this case, regular cleaning of the electrode can prevent over-titration (see also questions 7 to 9 from Part 1 in this series on cleaning).

A low stirring speed also increases the risk of over-titration, so make sure the solution is well mixed. Depending on the type of reagent, the parameters of the titration need to be adjusted. Especially if you use two-component reagents, I recommend decreasing the speed of the titrant addition to avoid over-titration. Over-titration has an influence on the result, especially if the degree of over-titration changes from one determination to the next. So over-titration should always be avoided to guarantee correct results.

3.  What is drift correction, and when should I use it?

I recommend using the drift correction in coulometric KF titration only. You can also use it in volumetric titration, but here the drift level is normally not as stable as for coulometric titrations. This can result in variations in the results. A stabilization time can reduce such an effect. However, compared to the absolute water amounts in volumetry, the influence of drift is usually negligible.

4.  My results are negative. What does a negative water content mean?

Negative values do occur if you have a high start drift and a sample with a very low water content. In this case, the value for drift correction can be higher than the absolute water content of the sample, resulting in a negative water content.

If possible, use a larger sample size to increase the amount of water added to the titration cell with the sample. Furthermore, you should try to reduce the drift value in general. Perhaps the molecular sieve or the septum need to be replaced. You can also use a stabilizing time to make sure the drift is stable before analyzing the sample.

Karl Fischer oven

5.  My samples are not soluble. What can I do?

In case the sample does not dissolve in KF reagents and additional solvents do not increase the solubility of the sample, then gas extraction or the oven technique could be the perfect solution.

The sample is weighed in a headspace vial and closed with a septum cap. Then the vial is placed in the oven and heated to a predefined temperature, leading the sample to release its water. At the same time, a double hollow needle pierces through the septum. A dry carrier gas, usually nitrogen or dried air, flows into the sample vial. Taking the water of the sample with it, the carrier gas flows into the titration cell where the water content determination takes place.

6.  Can all types of samples be analyzed with the oven method?

Many samples can be analyzed with the oven. Whether an application actually works for a sample strongly depends on the sample itself. Of course, there are samples that are not suitable for the oven method, e.g., samples that decompose before releasing the water or that release their water at higher temperatures than the maximum oven temperature.

7.  How do I find the optimal oven temperature for water extraction?

Depending on the instrument used, you can run a temperature gradient of 2 °C/min. This means it is possible to heat a sample from 50 to 250 °C within 100 minutes. The software will then display a curve of water release against temperature (see graph).

From such a curve, the optimal temperature can be determined. Different peaks may show blank, adherent water, different kinds of bound water, or even decomposition of the sample.

This example curve shows the water release of a sample as it has been heated between 130 and 200 °C. At higher temperatures, the drift decreases to a stable and low level.

Generally, you should choose a temperature after the last water release peak (where the drift returns to the base level) but approximately 20 °C below decomposition temperature. Decomposition can be recognized by increasing drift, smoke, or a color change of the sample. In this example, there are no signs of decomposition up to an oven temperature of 250 °C. Therefore, the optimal oven temperature for this sample is 230 °C (250 °C – 20 °C).

In case the instrument you use does not offer the option to run a temperature gradient, you can manually increase the temperature and measure the sample at different temperatures. In an Excel spreadsheet, you can display the curve plotting released water against temperature. If there is a plateau (i.e., a temperature range where you find reproducible water contents), you have found the optimal oven temperature.

8.  What is the highest possible water content that can be measured with a Karl Fischer oven?

Very often, the oven is used in combination with a coulometric titrator. The coulometric titration cell used in an oven system is filled with 150 mL of reagent. Theoretically, this amount of reagent allows for the determination of 1500 mg of water. However, this amount is too high to be determined in one titration and it would lead to very long titration times and negative effects on the results. We recommend that the water content of a single sample (in a vial) should not be higher than 10 mg, ideally around 1000–2000 µg water. For samples with water contents in the higher percentage range, you should consider the combination with a volumetric titrator.

9.  What is the maximum sample size that can be used with the oven? If I use too much sample, will the needle be blocked?

The standard vial for the oven method has a volume of approximately 9 mL. However, we do not recommend filling the vial completely. Do not fill more than 5–6 mL of sample in a vial. We offer the possibility to customize our oven systems, allowing you to use your own vials. Please contact your local Metrohm agency for more information on customized oven systems.

For liquid samples, we recommend using a long needle to lead the gas through the sample. Solid samples and especially samples that melt during analysis require a short needle. The tip of the needle is positioned above the sample material to avoid needle blockage.

Additionally, you should use a «relative blank value», i.e., taking only the remaining air volume into account for blank subtraction. You can find more information about the relative blank and how to calculate it in Application Note AN-K-048.

10.  What is the detection limit of the oven method, and how much sample is required to analyze a sample with 10 ppm (mg/L) water content?

We recommend having at least 50 µg of water in the sample, if analyzed with coulometry. However, if conditions are absolutely perfect (i.e., very low and stable drift plus perfect blank determination), it is possible to determine even lower water contents, down to 20 µg of absolute water. For a sample with a water content of < 10 ppm (mg/L), this would correspond to a sample size of at least 2 g.

11.  How do I verify an oven method?

For the verification of an oven system, you can use a certified water standard for oven systems. With such a standard, you can check the reproducibility and the recovery. There are a few types of standards available for different temperature ranges.

I hope this collected information helps you to answer some of your most burning KF questions. If you have further unanswered questions, do not hesitate to contact your local Metrohm distributor or check out our selection of webinars.

Automate thermal sample preparation

It’s easy with an oven sample changer from Metrohm!

Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 1

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 1

Since I started working at Metrohm more than 15 years ago, I have received many questions about Karl Fischer titration. Some of those questions have been asked repeatedly from several people in different locations around the world. Therefore, I have chosen 20 of the most frequent questions received over the years concerning Karl Fischer equipment and arranged them into three categories: instrument preparation and handling, titration troubleshooting, and the oven technique. Part 1 will cover instrument preparation and handling, and Part 2 will cover the other two topics.

Summary of questions in the FAQ (click to go directly to each question):

Instrument preparation and handling

1.  How can I check if the electrode is working correctly?

I recommend carrying out a volumetric or coulometric Karl Fischer titration using a certified water standard as sample. In volumetry, you can carry out a threefold titer determination followed by a determination of a different standard. Then, you can calculate the recovery of the water content determination of the standard.

To check a coulometric system, carry out a threefold determination with a certified water standard and calculate the recovery. If the recovery is between 97–103%, this indicated that the system, including the electrode, is working fine.

The color of the working medium is an additional indicator as to whether the indication is working properly.

Pale yellow is perfect, whereas dark yellow or even pale brown suggests indication problems. If this happens, then the indicator electrode should be cleaned.

Check out questions 7 and 8 for tips on the cleaning of the indicator electrode.

2.  How long can an electrode be stored in KF reagent?

Karl Fischer electrodes are made from glass and platinum. Therefore, the KF reagent does not affect the electrode. It can be stored in reagent as long as you want.

3.  Can the molecular sieve be dried and reused, or should it be replaced?

The molecular sieve can of course be dried and reused. I recommend drying it for at least 24 hours at a temperature between 200–300 °C. Afterwards, let it cool down in a desiccator and then transfer it into a glass bottle with an airtight seal for storage. 

4.  How long does conditioning normally take?

Conditioning of a freshly filled titration vessel normally takes around 2–4 minutes for volumetry, depending on the reaction speed (type of reagent), and around 15–30 minutes for coulometry. In combination with an oven, it might take a bit longer to reach a stable drift owing to the constant gas flow. I recommend stabilizing the entire oven system for at least 1 hour before the first titration.

Between single measurements in the same working medium, conditioning takes approximately 1–2 minutes. Take care that the original drift level is reached again.

5.  When conditioning, many bubbles form in the coulometric titration cell with a very high drift, also when using fresh reagent. What could be the reason for this effect?

At the anode, the generator electrode produces iodine from the iodide-containing reagent. The bubbles you see at the cathode are the result of the reduction of H+ ions to hydrogen gas.

After opening the titration cell or after filling it with fresh reagent, the conditioning step removes any moisture brought into the system, avoiding a bias in the water content determination of the sample. Removing the water results in an increased drift level. During conditioning, the aforementioned H2 is generated. The gas bubbles are therefore completely normal and not a cause for concern. Generally, the following rule applies: The more moisture present in the titration vessel, the higher the drift value will be, and the more hydrogen will form.

6.  What is the best frequency to clean the Karl Fischer equipment?

There is no strict rule as to when you should clean the KF equipment. The cleaning intervals strongly depend on the type and the amount of sample added to the titration cell. Poor solubility and contamination of the indicator electrode (deposition layer on its surface) or memory effects due to large amounts of sample can be good reasons for cleaning the equipment.

The drift can be a good indicator as well. In case you observe higher and unstable drift values, I would recommend cleaning the titration cell or at least refilling the working medium.

7.  How do I clean the Karl Fischer equipment?

For a mounted titration vessel, it can be as simple as rinsing with alcohol. For an intense cleaning, the vessel should be removed from the titrator. Water, solvents like methanol, or cleaning agents are fine to clean the KF equipment. Even concentrated nitric acid can be used as an oxidizing agent, e.g. in case of contaminated indicator electrodes or coulometric generator electrodes.

All of these options are fine, but keep in mind that the last cleaning step should always be rinsing with alcohol followed by proper drying in a drying oven or with a hair dryer at max. 50 °C to remove as much adherent water as possible.

You should never use ketones (e.g., acetone) to clean Karl Fischer equipment, as they react with methanol. This reaction releases water. If there are still traces of ketones left in the titration cell after cleaning, they will react with the methanol in the KF reagent and might cause the drift to be too high to start any titration.

8.  Is it also possible to use a cleaning agent like «CIF» or toothpaste to clean the double Pt electrode?

Normally, rinsing with alcoholic solvents and polishing with paper tissue should be enough to clean the indicator electrode. You may also use detergents, toothpaste, or the polishing set offered by Metrohm! Just make sure that you rinse the electrode properly after the cleaning process to remove all traces of your chosen cleaning agent before using the electrode again.

Cleaning instructions can also be found in our video about metal and KF electrode maintenance:

9.  How do I clean a generator electrode with a diaphragm?

After removing the generator electrode from the titration vessel, dispose the catholyte solution, then rinse the electrode with water. Place the generator electrode upright (e.g., in an Erlenmeyer flask) and cover the connector with the protection cap to prevent corrosion. Fill the generator electrode with some milliliters of concentrated nitric acid, and let the acid flow through the diaphragm. Then fill the cathode compartment with water, and again allow the liquid to flow through the diaphragm. Repeat the rinsing step with water several times to make sure that all traces of nitric acid are washed out of the diaphragm.

Please note that the nitric acid treatment can be left out if the level of contamination does not require it.

Finally, pour some methanol into the generator electrode to remove the water. Repeat this step a few times to remove all traces of water. The last step is properly drying the electrode in a drying oven or with a hair dryer at max. 50 °C. After this cleaning procedure, the electrode is as good as new and can be used again for titrations.

Keep on the lookout for our next installment in this two-part series, or subscribe to the blog below so you’re sure not to miss it! In Part 2, I will cover the topics of KF titration troubleshooting and the Karl Fischer oven technique.

Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Best practice for electrodes in titration

Best practice for electrodes in titration

After my earlier blog post on the topic of «Avoiding the most common mistakes in pH measurement», I will now cover the subject of electrodes that are relevant for titration. Here you will not only find out how to select the right electrode for your application – but also how to clean and to maintain it, and most importantly, how you can assure that your electrode is still ok to be used.

The following topics will be covered (click to go directly to the topic):


How to select the right sensor

You might wonder what you need to consider when selecting a suitable sensor for your titration, as a huge variety of different sensors exist. The right sensor needs to be selected based on the type of titration that you want to carry out. For a redox titration, you will need a different sensor than for a complexometric titration.

Furthermore, the sensor selection is highly dependent on matrix, the sample volume, or possible interferences. If you are working in non-aqueous media, you must especially consider any electrostatic effects that might arise. Therefore, I recommend working with an electrode that offers an internal electrical shielding.

The sensor has to show a fast response time, and needs to be robust enough for the application, meaning it needs to be resistant to the chemicals used and the applied cleaning procedure.

Table 1. Overview of suggested sensors for various types of titration (click to enlarge).

For further guidelines regarding how to select the right electrode, either consult our online electrode finder or check out our flyer about «Electrodes in titration» which includes practical tips on care and maintenance.

Maintenance and cleaning

Proper cleaning between your titrations is a key factor for obtaining reliable results. The rinsing step has to assure that neither sample nor titrant contaminates the electrode, leading to carry-over and false results. Therefore, between titrations the electrode (as well as buret tip) has to be rinsed with a suitable solvent, such as deionized water, detergent solution, or any other solvent that removes remaining residues. For non-aqueous titrations, it is furthermore important to condition the glass membrane of the electrode in deionized water after each titration.

Furthermore, both the reference and measuring electrode require regular maintenance. For the reference electrode, it is very important that it is filled up to the opening with the correct (and uncontaminated) electrolyte. A daily check of the electrolyte level should be performed, and if necessary, the reference electrolyte should be topped up. Always refill the reference electrolyte level up to the filler opening. This assures a proper electrolyte outflow and reduced contamination of the electrolyte.

Figure 1. Always refill your electrolyte up to the filler opening for the best performance!

In addition to the regular refilling, the electrolyte should be replaced at least on a monthly basis to guarantee a clean electrolyte with the correct concentration (e.g., evaporation of water can increase the concentration of the electrolyte). Usage of old or contaminated electrolyte leads to an undesired change in the measured potential.

Also ensure that the diaphragm is clean, otherwise you might experience a blockage, leading to an unstable potential caused by the missing contact between electrolyte and sample. Figure 2 shows an example of a contaminated diaphragm. Table 2 suggests some possible cleaning agents to remove sticky substances from the diaphragm. After cleaning the diaphragm, always replace the electrolyte.

Figure 2. Close-up view of a dirty diaphragm.
Table 2. Common electrode contaminants and suggested cleaning agents for each situation. Contact your local Metrohm representative for further questions.

The measuring electrode needs a thorough cleaning at least weekly. Uncoated metal ring or ISE electrodes require regular polishing to maintain a quick response. Glass membranes or polymer membranes must not be polished or cleaned with abrasives. If the electrode is used in oily or sticky samples, degreasing or removing proteins might be necessary by using a suitable solvent.

Correct storage of your electrode

Another important point to consider is the right storage for your electrode. Incorrect storage reduces the lifetime of an electrode, and therefore it needs replacement more frequently. Unfortunately, there is not one single storage solution which covers all electrode types. The right storage solution highly depends upon the electrode type.

If it is a separate indicator or only a reference electrode, then it is much easier to determine the correct storage solution, as the perfect solution for only one part must be found. For combined electrodes, the situation is a bit more complicated. Combined electrodes contain a reference electrode and a measuring electrode that each have different preferences. Therefore, sometimes a compromise is necessary. The reference electrode prefers to be stored in reference electrolyte to remain ready to use, whereas an indicator glass membrane prefers deionized water. On the other hand, a metal indicator electrode prefers to be stored dry.

For combined pH electrodes with c(KCl) = 3 mol/L as reference electrolyte, a special storage solution was developed by Metrohm, which maintains the glass membrane as quickly as possible without impairing the performance of the reference system. All other pH electrodes are stored in their respective reference electrolyte (normally indicated on the head of the electrode, see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Different reference electrolytes for different electrode types.

Metal electrodes are also stored differently, depending on the type. Combined metal ring electrodes are stored in reference electrolyte to maintain the diaphragm properly, whereas Titrodes are stored in deionized water, as these electrodes contain a pH glass membrane that needs to be kept hydrated. Always fill the storage vessel of your electrode with approximately 12 mL of storage solution and exchange it regularly as it might be contaminated by sample or cleaning solution.

The table below shows typical storage conditions depending on the type of the electrode. 

Table 3. Storage conditions for various electrode types.

If you are not sure how to store your electrode correctly, check the information in the electrode flyer or on the Metrohm website.

Check your electrode

The easiest way to check the performance of your electrode is to monitor it during a standardized titration (e.g., titer determination) which is performed regularly (e.g., weekly) and where prerequisites such as sample size, concentration of titrant, and volume of added water are always very similar. Otherwise, you can also follow a procedure recommended by Metrohm. To check metal electrodes, you can find a test procedure in application bulletin AB-048, for surfactant electrodes in application bulletin AB-305 and for ion selective electrodes, a check procedure is given in the ISE manual.

As an example, I will explain the test procedure of a silver electrode a bit more in detail. Silver electrodes can easily be checked by a standardized titration using hydrochloric acid (c(HCl) = 0.1 mol/L) as sample, and silver nitrate (c(AgNO3) = 0.1 mol/L) as titrant. Perform a threefold determination with the recommended titration parameters and sample size.

The following parameters are evaluated and compared to optimal values:

  • added volume of titrant at equivalence point (EP)
  • time until equivalence point is reached
  • potential jump (potential difference) between the potential measured at 90% and 110% of the EP volume
Figure 4. Example testing procedure for evaluation of electrode performance.

If the evaluated data cannot meet the specified values, clean the electrode thoroughly and repeat the test. If no improvement is observed, the sensor must be replaced.

Further symptoms can indicate a necessary replacement: sluggish response, unstable or drifting signal, longer duration of titration, smaller potential jumps, and worse shape of the titration curve. In Figure 5 below,  two different titration curves for calcium and magnesium in water are shown using a combined Calcium ISE. In Figure 5, the upper curve is obtained with a new Ca-ISE; the titration is fast and you will obtain 2 equivalence points: one each for calcium and magnesium. In the lower curve, an old electrode was used. The titration takes much longer and the second equivalence point for magnesium cannot be recognized anymore due to the lack of sensitivity of the electrode.

Figure 5. Comparison of the response of a new ISE vs. an aged ISE.

To summarize

  • Select the right indication for your titration type.
  • The quality of the electrode highly influences the quality of your titration results.
  • Proper maintenance and storage can increase the lifetime of the electrode.
  • Check the electrode performance regularly or monitor the titration performance (duration, potential jump) over time to reduce downtime of your instrumentation.


If you would like to get some more information and practical tips on electrodes in titration, please check out our white paper on «Basics of potentiometry» or our webinar «Avoid titration mistakes through best practice sensor handling». 

On-demand Metrohm webinar

«Avoid titration mistakes through best practice sensor handling»

Post written by Dr. Sabrina Gschwind, Jr. PM Titration (Sensors) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

What to consider during back-titration

What to consider during back-titration

Titrations can be classified in various ways: by their chemical reaction (e.g., acid-base titration or redox titration), the indication method (e.g., potentiometric titration or photometric titration), and last but not least by their titration principle (direct titration or indirect titration). In this article, I want to elaborate on a specific titration principle – the back-titration – which is also called «residual titration». Learn more about when it is used and how you should calculate results when using the back-titration principle.

What is a back-titration?

In contrast to direct titrations, where analyte A directly reacts with titrant T, back-titrations are a subcategory of indirect titrations. Indirect titrations are used when, for example, no suitable sensor is available or the reaction is too slow for a practical direct titration.

During a back-titration, an exact volume of reagent B is added to the analyte A. Reagent B is usually a common titrant itself. The amount of reagent B is chosen in such a way that an excess remains after its interaction with analyte A. This excess is then titrated with titrant T. The amount of analyte A can then be determined from the difference between the added amount of reagent B and the remaining excess of reagent B.

As with any titration, both involved reactions must be quantitative, and stoichiometric factors involved for both reactions must be known.

Figure 1. Reaction principle of a back-titration: Reagent B is added in excess to analyte A. After a defined waiting period which allows for the reaction between A and B, the excess of reagent B is titrated with titrant T.

When are back-titrations used?

Back titrations are mainly used in the following cases:

  • if the analyte is volatile (e.g., NH3) or an insoluble salt (e.g., Li2CO3)
  • if the reaction between analyte A and titrant T is too slow for a practical direct titration
  • if weak acid – weak base reactions are involved
  • when no suitable indication method is available for a direct titration

Typical examples are complexometric titrations, for example aluminum with EDTA. This direct titration is only feasible at elevated temperatures. However, adding EDTA in excess to aluminum and back-titrating the residual EDTA with copper sulfate allows a titration at room temperature. This is not only true for aluminum, but for other metals as well.

Learn which metals can be titrated directly, and for which a back-titration is more feasible in our free monograph on complexometric titration.

Other examples include the saponification value and iodine value for edible fats and oils. For the saponification value, ethanolic KOH is added in excess to the fat or oil. After a determined refluxing time to saponify the oil or fat, the remaining excess is back-titrated with hydrochloric acid. The process is similar for the iodine value, where the remaining excess of iodine chloride (Wijs-solution) is back-titrated with sodium thiosulfate.

For more information on the analysis of edible fats and oils, take a look at our corresponding free Application Bulletin AB-141.

How is a back-titration performed?

A back titration is performed according to the following general principle:

  1. Add reagent B in excess to analyte A.
  2. Allow reagent B to react with analyte A. This might require a certain waiting time or even refluxing (e.g., saponification value).
  3. Titration of remaining excess of reagent B with titrant T.

For the first step, it is important to precisely add the volume of reagent B. Therefore, it is important to use a buret for this addition (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Example of a Titrator equipped with an additional buret for the addition of reagent B.

Furthermore, it is important that the exact molar amount of reagent B is known. This can be achieved in two ways. The first way is to carry out a blank determination in the same manner as the back-titration of the sample, however, omitting the sample. If reagent B is a common titrant (e.g., EDTA), it is also possible to carry out a standardization of reagent B before the back-titration.

In any case, as standardization of titrant T is required. This then gives us the following two general analysis procedures:

Back-titration with blank
  1. Titer determination of titrant T
  2. Blank determination (back-titration omitting sample)
  3. Back-titration of sample
Back-titration with standardizations
  1. Titer determination of titrant T
  2. Titer determination of reagent B
  3. Back-titration of sample

Be aware: since you are performing a back-titration, the blank volume will be larger than the equivalence point (EP) volume, unlike a blank in a direct titration. This is why the EP volume must be subtracted from the blank or the added volume of reagent B, respectively.

For more information on titrant standardization, please have a look at our blog entry on this topic.

How to calculate the result for a back-titration?

As with direct titrations, to calculate the result of a back-titration it is necessary to know the involved stoichiometric reactions, aside from the exact concentrations and the volumes. Depending on which analysis procedure described above is used, the calculation of the result is slightly different.

For a back-titration with a blank, use the following formula to obtain a result in mass-%:

VBlank:  Volume of the equivalence point from the blank determination in mL

VEP Volume at the equivalence point in mL

cTitrant:  Nominal titrant concentration in mol/L

fTitrant Titer factor of the titrant (unitless)

r:  Stoichiometric ratio (unitless)

MA Molecular weight of analyte A in g/mol

mSample Weight of sample in mg

100:  Conversion factor, to obtain the result in %

The stoichiometric ratio r considers both reactions, analyte A with reagent B and reagent B with titrant T. If the stoichiometric factor is always 1, such as for complexometric back-titrations or the saponification value, then the reaction ratio is also 1. However, if the stoichiometric factor for one reaction is not equal to 1, then the reaction ratio must be determined. The reaction ratio can be determined in the following manner:


  1. Reaction equation between A and B
  2. Reaction equation between B and T
  3. Multiplication of the two reaction quotients
Example 1

Reaction ratio: 

Example 2

Reaction ratio: 

Below is an actual example of lithium carbonate, which can be determined by back-titration using sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide.

The lithium carbonate reacts in a 1:1 ratio with sulfuric acid. To determine the excess sulfuric acid, two moles of sodium hydroxide are required per mole of sulfuric acid, resulting in a 1:2 ratio. This gives a stoichiometric ratio r of 0.5 for this titration.

 For a back-titration with a standardization of reagent B, use the following formula to obtain a result in mass-%:

VB Added volume of the reagent B in mL

cB:  Nominal concentration of reagent B in mol/L

fB:  Titer factor of reagent B (unitless)

VEP:  Volume at the equivalence point in mL

cT:  Nominal concentration of titrant T in mol/L

fT Titer factor of the titrant T (unitless)

sBT Stoichiometric factor between reagent B and titrant T

sAB:  Stoichiometric factor between analyte A and reagent B

MA:  Molecular weight of analyte A in g/mol

mSample:  Weight of sample in mg

100:  Conversion factor, to obtain the result in %

Modern titrators are capable of automatically calculating the results of back-titrations. All information concerning the used variables (e.g., blank value) are stored together with the result for full traceability.

To summarize:

Back-titrations are not so different from regular titrations, and the same general principles apply. The following points are necessary for a back-titration: 

  • Know the stoichiometric reactions between your analyte and reagent B, as well as between reagent B and titrant T.
  • Know the exact concentration of your titrant T.
  • Know the exact concentration of your reagent B, or carry out a blank determination.
  • Use appropriate titration parameters depending on your analysis.

If you want to learn more about how you can improve your titration, have a look at our blog entry “How to transfer manual titration to autotitration”, where you can find practical tips about how to improve your titrations.

If you are unsure how to determine the exact concentration of your titrant T or reagent B by standardization, then take a look at our blog entry “What to consider when standardizing titrant”.

Post written by Lucia Meier, Product Specialist Titration at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Titer determination in Karl Fischer titration

Titer determination in Karl Fischer titration

In a recent post, we have discussed the importance of titer determinations for potentiometric titrations.

Without a titer determination, you will not obtain correct results. The same applies for volumetric Karl Fischer (KF) titrations. In this blog post, I will cover the following topics (click to jump directly to each):

Why should I do titer determinations?

Why is a titer determination necessary? Well, the answer is quite simple. Without knowing the titer of a KF titrant, the water content of the sample cannot be calculated correctly. In Karl Fischer titration, the titer states how many mg of water can be titrated with one mL of titrant. Therefore, the KF titer has the unit «mg/mL».

You might say: “Now, ok, let’s determine the titer. That isn’t too much work and afterwards, I know the titer value and I don’t need to repeat the titer determination.

I agree this would be very nice. However, reality is somewhat different. You must carry out titer determinations on a regular basis. In closed bottles, KF titrants are very stable and the titer does not change appreciably. Once you open the bottle, the KF titrant starts to change significantly. Air will enter the bottle, and considering that 1 L of air contains several milligrams of water, you can imagine that this moisture has an influence on the titer. To prevent moist air from getting into the titrant, the bottle must be either tightly closed after use with the original cap, or should be protected with an absorber tube filled with a molecular sieve (0.3 nm).

Please be aware that temperature changes also have an influence on the titer. A temperature increase of the titrant by 1 °C leads to a titer decrease of approximately 0.1% due to volume expansion. Consider this, in case the temperature in your laboratory fluctuates during the working day.

Do not forget: if your titration system is stopped overnight, the reagent in the tubes and in the cylinder is affected and the titer is no longer equal to the titrant in the bottle. Therefore, I recommend first running a preparation step to flush all tubes before the first titration.

How often should I perform titer determinations?

This question is asked frequently, and unfortunately has no simple answer. In other words, I cannot recommend a single fixed interval for titer determinations. The frequency depends on various factors:

  • the type of reagent (two-component titrants are more stable than single-component titrants)
  • the tightness of the seals between the titration vessel and the titrant bottle
  • how accurate the water content in the sample must be determined

In the beginning, I would recommend performing a titer determination on a daily basis. After a few days, it will become apparent whether the titer remains stable or decreases. Then you can decide to adjust the interval between successive titer determinations.

What equipment do I need for a titer determination?

You need a fully equipped titrator for volumetric KF titration, as well as the KF reagents (titrant and solvent). Another prerequisite for accurate titer determinations is an analytical balance with a minimal resolution of 0.1 mg. Last but not least, you need a standard containing a known amount of water and some tools to add the standard to the titration vessel. These tools are discussed in the next section.

How to carry out a titer determination

Three different water standards are available for titer determinations. There are both liquid and solid standards available from various reagent suppliers. The third possibility is available in every laboratory: distilled water. Below, we will take a closer look at the individual handling of these three standards. For determination of appropriate sample sizes, you can download our free Application Bulletin AB-424, Titer determination in volumetric Karl Fischer titration.

1. Liquid water standard

For the addition of a liquid water standard, you need a syringe and a needle.

There are two possibilities to add liquid standard. One is to inject it with the tip of the needle placed above the reagent level. In this case, aspirate the last drop back into the syringe. Otherwise, it will be dropped off at the septum. The droplet is included in the sample weight, but the water content in the drop is not determined. This will lead to false results.

If the needle is long enough, you can immerse the tip in the reagent during the standard addition. In this case, there is no last droplet to consider, and you can pull the needle out of the titration vessel without any additional aspiration step.

Step-by-step – how to carry out a titer determination:

  1. Open the ampoule containing the standard as recommended by the manufacturer.
  2. Aspirate approximately 1 mL of the standard into the syringe.
  3. Remove the tip of the needle from the liquid and pull the plunger back to the maximum volume. Sway the syringe to rinse it with standard. Then eject the 1 mL of standard into the waste.
  4. Aspirate the remaining content of the ampoule into the needle.
  5. Remove any excess liquid from the outside of the needle with a paper tissue.
  6. Place the needle on a balance, and tare the balance.
  7. Then, start the determination and inject a suitable amount of standard through the septum into the titration vessel. Please take care that the standard is injected into the reagent and not at the electrode or the wall of the titration vessel. This leads to unreproducible results.
  8. After injecting the standard, place the syringe again on the balance.
  9. Enter the sample weight in the software.
2. Solid water standard

It is not possible to add the solid water standard with a syringe. For this, different tools are required. Here, examples are shown of a weighing boat and the Metrohm OMNIS spoon for paste.

Place the weighing boat on the balance, then tare the balance. Weigh in an appropriate amount of the solid standard, and tare the balance again. Start the titration, quickly remove the stopper with septum, add the solid standard and quickly replace the stopper. When adding the standard, take care that no standard sticks to the electrode or the walls of the titration vessel. In case that happens, gently swirl the titration vessel to wash down the standard. After the addition of the standard, place the weighing boat on the balance again and enter the sample weight in the software.

3. Pure water

Pure water can be added to the titration vessel either by weight or by volume.

For a titer determination with pure water, only a few drops are required. Such small volumes can be difficult to add precisely, and results strongly depend on the user. Moreover, addition by weight requires a balance capable of weighing a few milligrams. I personally prefer using water standards, and suggest that you use them as well.

By weight

Fill a small syringe (~1 mL) with water. Due to the very small amounts of pure water added for the titer determination, I recommend using a very thin needle to more accurately add small volumes. After filling the syringe, place it on a balance and tare the balance. Then start the titration, and inject an appropriate amount of water through the septum into the titration vessel. Aspirate the last droplet back into the syringe. Remove the needle, place the syringe on the balance again, and enter the sample weight in the software.

By volume

Fill a microliter syringe with an appropriate volume of water. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the syringe, as they will falsify the result. Begin the titration and inject the syringe contents through the septum into the titration vessel. Enter the added sample size in the software.

Acceptable results

During trainings, I am often asked if the obtained result is acceptable. I recommend carrying out a threefold titer determination. Ideally, the relative standard deviation of those three determinations is smaller than 0.3%.

How long can the reagent be used?

As long as you carry out regular titer determinations, the titer change will be considered in the calculation, and the results will be correct. Just keep in mind: the lower the titer, the larger the volume needed for the determination.

I hope I was able to convince you that titer determination is essential to obtain correct results in volumetric Karl Fischer titration, and that it is not that difficult to perform.

In case you still have unanswered questions, please download Metrohm Application Bulletin AB-424 to get additional information, tips, and tricks on performing titer determination.

Still have questions?

Check out our Application Bulletin: Titer determination in volumetric Karl Fischer titration.

Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.