Difference between Adsorbent and Absorbent

By Delta Adsorbents on 11/26/2013

Adsorbent, absorbent... potato, potahto, right? While the two words look and sound very similar and are sometimes even used interchangeably, adsorbent and absorbent refers to two different types of processes. If you have confused these terms before, don't feel too bad--adsorbent and absorbent are just one of those tricky pairs in the English language that are often confused for one another. To help clear up this confusion, let's take a look at this handy guide to the difference between adsorbent and absorbent.

AdsorbentSorbead Adsorbent

Adsorption a process by which a liquid, gas or dissolved solid adheres itself to the surface of an adsorbent material. Adsorption does not actually involve taking in, or absorbing, the liquid, gas or dissolved solid into the material. One of the most common examples of an adsorbent is silica gel. Silica gel is an adsorbent which is often used to protect certain items from moisture damage. Medications, food, or other potentially delicate items which need to be protected from moisture damage are often packaged with silica gel in order to keep them safe from water damage. The silica gel inside these packages will protect the medication or other items by allowing any water which creeps inside to become adsorbed onto the silica gel.
Another common adsorbent is activated carbon, which is frequently used in various purification processes. These include water purification, gas purification, gold purification, sewage treatment and purification, as well as air filtering and purification--activated carbon is commonly used in gas masks, respirators, and other air filters.


Absorption refers to a process by which a liquid or gas is taking into an absorbent material and absorbed, or dissolved, uniformly inside of it. Absorption, unlike adsorption, actually involves taking in the liquid or gas and not just adhering it to the surface. A common, everyday example of absorption occurs when water, juice or another liquid is spilled on a hard surface, such as a kitchen counter. Because the kitchen counter is not an absorbent, the liquid is not taken into the material of the table. However, paper napkins or towels can be placed on top of the spilled liquid—because these materials are absorbent, the liquid will be taken into the towels and taken from the counter. The most common type of absorbents includes household items like bathroom towels, paper napkins and paper towels, and other fabrics.
An adsorbent is a material which will allow a liquid, gas or dissolved solid to adhere to its surface. An absorbent is a material which will take in the liquid or gas uniformly. Absorption occurs when the liquid or gas is being taken into the absorbent material, while adsorption occurs when a liquid, gas or dissolved solid is adhered to the surface of the adsorbent.


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