Difference between Organic and Inorganic Compounds

By: | Updated: Dec-12, 2017
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Organic and inorganic compounds were once believed to be attributed to living things and non-living things, respectively. Despite this, both still comprise the basis of the chemistry of all things and are still used to categorize compounds into two basic groups.

Summary Table

Organic Compound Inorganic Compound
Generally contains carbon and hydrogen atoms Does not usually contain carbon or hydrogen atoms
Nucleic acid in DNA, fatty acids, and lipids in cells Water, salt, metal, carbon dioxide, and iron oxide
Some are characteristically complex and of high molecular mass Less complex


Alcoholic drinks as examples of an organic compound
Alcohol is a common organic compound

An organic compound is a chemical compound composed of mainly of carbon atoms bonded to another atom, usually hydrogen, nitrogen, or oxygen. It was once widely held that organic compounds could only come from living things. However, Friedrich Wöhler, a German chemist, was able to prove that organic compounds can be obtained from inorganic sources.

There are two types of organic compounds: natural and synthetic organic compounds. Natural compounds come from plants and animals. Although natural compounds can also be created in a laboratory, it is easier and more cost-effective to simply obtain them in nature. The most common natural compounds are carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins, and antibiotics such as Amoxicillin and Penicillin.

Synthetic compounds are organic compounds that can be artificially produced in a laboratory. In some cases, this is accomplished by using something natural and causing a small change in its molecules, such as synthesizing glycerin from vegetable oils. However, synthesizing other compounds usually involves lengthy and complex reactions.

glass of water
Water is an inorganic compound

An inorganic compound is a chemical compound that is not characterized by carbon atoms; thus, it is not carbon-based. This serves as a general classification as there are some inorganic compounds that contain carbon atoms. In addition, there are carbon-based compounds that are traditionally known as inorganic.

Inorganic compounds are typically very simple as these chemical compounds are not characterized by the complex molecular bonds present in carbon. A common example of a simple inorganic compound is water. It contains hydrogen, which is an important atom in numerous organic compounds. Carbon dioxide is also an inorganic compound even though it has a carbon atom. It is still considered an inorganic compound due to the weak bond of carbon in CO2, or carbon dioxide. Iron oxide is a main oxide of iron and is known as an inorganic compound because of the absence of any carbon or hydrocarbon atom. It occurs naturally as hematite, a main source of iron for manufacturing steel. It is commonly known as rust, and it shares several similarities with its naturally occurring counterpart.

Organic vs Inorganic Compounds

So what’s the difference between organic and inorganic compounds? Although there are no universally accepted guidelines for categorizing chemical compounds, a few general differences exist that are generally accepted by the scientific community.

Organic compounds and inorganic compounds are mainly divided by the presence (or absence) of carbon. Organic compounds are composed of carbon atoms, usually bonded with a hydrogen atom. Inorganic compounds do not have both. However, there are inorganic compounds that do have carbon, such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Both are considered inorganic by scientists because of their low carbon content which is not strong enough to form bonds with other molecules.

Organic compounds make up nucleic acid in DNA and fatty acids and lipids in cells of living things. Enzymes and protein that build cells in the body are organic compounds as well. Inorganic compounds include metals, salts, and several elemental compounds.


Here’s a video discussing organic compounds and inorganic compounds.

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