Mastering Simple Paper Chromatography: Principles, Applications, and Procedure

Simple paper chromatography is a fundamental and widely used technique for separating and analyzing components in a mixture. It is a cost-effective and accessible method, making it particularly suitable for educational purposes and introductory experiments. Let’s explore the key components, steps, and principles of simple paper chromatography in detail:

Principle of Simple Paper Chromatography

The principle of simple paper chromatography is based on the differential affinity of components in a mixture to the stationary phase (the paper) and the mobile phase (the solvent). As the solvent moves through the paper via capillary action, it carries the sample components along, but each component interacts differently with the paper matrix, leading to separation based on their relative affinities.

Materials Required:

  1. Filter Paper: Porous paper serves as the stationary phase. It should be absorbent, and standard filter paper or chromatography paper is commonly used.
  2. Sample Solution: The mixture to be separated is dissolved in a suitable solvent. The choice of solvent depends on the nature of the components in the mixture.
  3. Spotting Device: A micropipette or capillary tube is used to apply a small spot of the sample onto the origin line on the paper.
  4. Developing Chamber: A container with a lid or a glass tank is used to house the paper during the chromatographic process. It should allow the solvent to saturate the air in the chamber.
  5. Solvent: The mobile phase, typically a liquid solvent, is chosen based on its polarity and compatibility with the sample. Common solvents include water, ethanol, or a mixture of both.
  6. Origin Line: A horizontal line is drawn near the bottom of the paper to mark the starting point of the sample application.

Procedure of Simple Paper Chromatography

  1. Spotting the Sample: Use a spotting device to apply a small and concentrated spot of the sample onto the origin line. The spot should be above the solvent level to prevent dissolution before the chromatography begins.
  2. Developing the Chromatogram: Place the paper in the developing chamber, ensuring that the solvent level is below the origin line. As the solvent travels up the paper, it carries the sample components with it.
  3. Observation and Recording: Monitor the movement of the solvent and the separation of components on the paper. Once the solvent front reaches the top of the paper, remove the paper from the chamber.
  4. Analysis and Calculation: Measure the distance traveled by each component from the origin line and the total distance traveled by the solvent (solvent front). Calculate the Rf value (retention factor) for each component using the formula: Rf=Distance traveled by solute/Distance traveled by solvent

Factors Affecting Simple Paper Chromatography

  1. Choice of Paper: The type and quality of paper can influence the separation. Papers with different porosities and thicknesses may yield different results.
  2. Solvent Selection: The solvent should have the right polarity to ensure proper separation of components. Different solvents may be tested to optimize the separation.
  3. Temperature and Humidity: Environmental conditions can affect the rate of solvent movement and, consequently, the separation pattern. Control over temperature and humidity is essential for reproducibility.

Applications of Simple Paper Chromatography

  1. Educational Purposes: It is widely used in classrooms to demonstrate the principles of chromatography and separation techniques.
  2. Food Coloring Analysis: Simple paper chromatography is often employed to analyze the composition of food coloring mixtures.
  3. Amino Acid Separation: In biochemistry, it is used for separating and identifying amino acids.
  4. Pharmaceutical Analysis: Simple paper chromatography can be used for the preliminary analysis of drug compounds.


Simple paper chromatography is a versatile and accessible technique that introduces the principles of chromatography to students and researchers alike. Its simplicity and effectiveness make it a valuable tool for preliminary analyses and educational demonstrations in various scientific disciplines.

Suksham Gupta

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