What is the Most Reactive Element? (And Why?)

The most reactive element is fluorine (F). 1 Fluorine belongs to the halogen group in the periodic table and is highly reactive due to its strong electronegativity and the presence of seven valence electrons. It readily reacts with almost all other elements, including noble gases, metals, and nonmetals. 2

Well, this was just a simple answer. But there are few more things to know about this topic which will make your concept super clear.

So let’s dive right into it.

Key Takeaways: What is the Most Reactive Element?

  • Fluorine is the most reactive element in the periodic table because it has the highest electronegativity, a small atomic size, and only needs one additional electron to achieve a stable electron configuration.
  • Fluorine forms very strong covalent bonds with other elements due to the overlap of atomic orbitals.
  • Fluorine forms stable compounds with many elements, including metals and non-metals.

Why is fluorine the most reactive element?

Fluorine is considered the most reactive element in the periodic table for several reasons:

  • Electronegativity: Fluorine has the highest electronegativity value among all the elements. 3 4 Electronegativity is a measure of an atom’s ability to attract electrons in a chemical bond. Fluorine’s high electronegativity means that it strongly attracts electrons, making it highly reactive in chemical reactions.
  • Small atomic size: Fluorine has a small atomic radius compared to other elements. 5 The small size allows fluorine atoms to approach other atoms closely, increasing the probability of a reaction occurring. It also results in a high electron density, making the outer electron shell more accessible for bonding.
  • Electron configuration: Fluorine has seven valence electrons in its outermost energy level. 6 It only needs one additional electron to achieve a stable electron configuration, which is a complete octet. Fluorine readily accepts electrons from other elements to achieve this stable configuration, making it highly reactive.
  • Fluorine’s high energy of bond formation: Fluorine forms very strong covalent bonds with other elements due to the overlap of atomic orbitals. These bonds have high bond dissociation energies, meaning a significant amount of energy is required to break them. The high energy of bond formation contributes to fluorine’s reactivity since it releases a substantial amount of energy when it reacts with other elements.
  • Stability of fluoride compounds: Fluorine forms stable compounds with many elements, including metals and non-metals. 7 8 Fluorides often have high melting and boiling points, which indicates the strength of the chemical bonds. This stability makes fluorine’s reactivity apparent, as it readily forms compounds with other elements.

Due to these factors, fluorine exhibits a strong tendency to react with other elements, often resulting in vigorous and exothermic reactions. Its reactivity makes it a useful element in various industrial applications, but it also requires caution due to its corrosive and toxic nature.

Some examples showing high reactivity of fluorine

Fluorine is highly reactive and readily forms compounds with various elements. Here are a few examples that demonstrate fluorine’s reactivity:

  • Reactivity with metals: Fluorine reacts vigorously with many metals, often resulting in the formation of metal fluorides. 9 For instance, when fluorine gas is passed over a heated metal such as iron (Fe), the reaction produces iron(III) fluoride (FeF3) or iron(II) fluoride (FeF2), depending on the reaction conditions. These reactions are highly exothermic and can even proceed explosively in some cases.
  • Reaction with hydrogen: Fluorine reacts explosively with hydrogen gas (H2) to form hydrogen fluoride (HF). This reaction is highly exothermic and requires careful handling due to its potential for violent reactivity. 10
  • Combustion reactions: Fluorine is a powerful oxidizing agent and can support combustion in the presence of flammable substances. For example, when fluorine reacts with sulfur (S), it produces sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), a compound widely used as an electrical insulator. This reaction releases a significant amount of energy and is highly exothermic.
  • Reaction with non-metals: Fluorine reacts readily with non-metals, including halogens such as chlorine (Cl), bromine (Br), and iodine (I). These reactions result in the formation of interhalogen compounds, such as chlorine trifluoride (ClF3) or bromine pentafluoride (BrF5), which are highly reactive and often used as powerful oxidizing agents or fluorinating agents.
  • Reactivity with organic compounds: Fluorine is frequently used in organic chemistry for introducing fluorine atoms into organic molecules. This process, known as fluorination, often requires the use of reactive fluorinating agents like elemental fluorine or fluorine-containing compounds. 11 12 The high reactivity of fluorine allows it to selectively substitute hydrogen atoms in organic compounds, leading to the synthesis of various fluorinated organic compounds with unique properties.

These examples illustrate the high reactivity of fluorine, showcasing its ability to readily form compounds with a wide range of elements and substances. However, it’s important to note that fluorine’s reactivity requires careful handling and precautions due to its corrosive and toxic nature.

Further reading

What is the Most Reactive Metal in the Periodic Table?
Why are alkali metals so reactive?
Why are Noble Gases Unreactive?
Are Alkaline Earth Metals Reactive?
Is Granite a Mineral? 

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  1. and Patrick Pröhm, S. R. (2019, September 6). Fluorine: The Most Reactive And Indispensable Chemical Element In Our Daily Lives – De Gruyter Conversations. De Gruyter Conversations. https://blog.degruyter.com/fluorine-the-most-reactive-and-indispensable-element-in-our-daily-lives/
  2. Chemistry of Fluorine (Z=9). (2013, October 2). Chemistry LibreTexts. https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Inorganic_Chemistry/Supplemental_Modules_and_Websites_(Inorganic_Chemistry)/Descriptive_Chemistry/Elements_Organized_by_Block/2_p-Block_Elements/Group_17%3A_The_Halogens/Z009_Chemistry_of_Fluorine_(Z9)
  3. Boudreaux, K. A. (n.d.). The Parts of the Periodic Table. The Parts of the Periodic Table. https://www.angelo.edu/faculty/kboudrea/periodic/trends_electronegativity.htm
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  7. Fluorine compounds – Wikipedia. (2011, July 26). Fluorine Compounds – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluorine_compounds
  8. Dehnen, S., Schafer, L. L., Lectka, T., & Togni, A. (2021, November 22). Fluorine: A Very Special Element and Its Very Special Impacts on Chemistry. The Journal of Organic Chemistry, 86(23), 16213–16219. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.joc.1c02745
  9. P. (n.d.). Fluorine. Fluorine | F2 | CID 24524 – PubChem. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/24524
  10. More Reactions of Halogens. (2019, July 12). Chemistry LibreTexts. https://chem.libretexts.org/Courses/Westminster_College/CHE_180_-_Inorganic_Chemistry/14%3A_Chapter_14_-_p-Block_Elements/14.5%3A_Group_17/Chemical_Properties_of_the_Halogens/More_Reactions_of_Halogens
  11. of Response and Restoration, US GOV, N. O. (n.d.). Fluorinated Organic Compounds | CAMEO Chemicals | NOAA. Fluorinated Organic Compounds | CAMEO Chemicals | NOAA. https://cameochemicals.noaa.gov/react/47
  12. Ni, C., & Hu, J. (2016). The unique fluorine effects in organic reactions: recent facts and insights into fluoroalkylations. Chemical Society Reviews, 45(20), 5441–5454. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6cs00351f

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