Forgot Password?   Create Account

What's the Difference Between Sulfide, Sulfate, and Sulfite?
Monday, January 6, 2020

It's no secret that testing water for unsafe levels of chemicals is crucial.

Most of us have heard the terms 'sulfide,' 'sulfate,' and 'sulfite.' But, not everyone knows the differences between them (or how to define them).

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.


Sulfides come in three categories: organic, inorganic, and phosphine.

Organic sulfides are compounds that are formed when sulfur bonds to two organic groups.

Inorganic sulfides are compounds that contain a negatively-charged sulfide ion. Salts are a good example of this.

Phosphine sulfide compounds are formed when sulfur bonds with an organic phosphine. The substances that are typically created include mercury, silver, zinc, and copper.


This chemical is seen far more commonly due to its wide variety of uses.

For example, sulfates are frequently found in cleaning products that are used to remove oils and grease from surfaces. These include products meant for walls and flooring as well as soaps and shampoos.

Different variants are used for different purposes. Zinc sulfate is used to treat and preserve wood, while sodium sulfate is used during the manufacture of paper and glass.

Sulfate occasionally becomes a water contaminant under the right conditions. Hazardous waste and decaying organic material can seep through the soil and cause sulfates to contaminate groundwater.


Sulfites are most frequently used as a preservative for food and wine due to the antioxidant qualities that they have.

While there are individuals who may disapprove of using preservatives in these products, consuming sulfites is harmless as long as your body has the necessary enzymes to digest them properly.

You'll often have symptoms if your body is having trouble breaking down these compounds. This condition is medically referred to as a sulfite allergy and can involve:

  • The development of rashes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • General weakness

It's important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these.

Testing For These Compounds

If only trace amounts of sulfates, sulfides, or sulfites are found, there likely won't be any detrimental effects.

As these levels increase, though, the risk for health complications rises.

While heavy amounts of these compounds can affect the smell, color, and taste of water, there's a gray area where their presence isn't noticeable but they still affect the individual who's exposed to them.

A long-term high concentration of these compounds can also cause damage to concrete structures in collection systems and treatment facilities, resulting in further complications.

This is what makes testing so important, especially within industrial regions.

You can find out more about testing here.

Final Thoughts

With the above information about sulfide, sulfate, and sulfite in mind, you’ll be well on your way to

Want to learn more about the ideal pH level of water? This article has plenty of useful information.

View All Recent Posts