What is the Difference Between Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction

The main difference between distillation and liquid-liquid extraction is that distillation separates components based on differences in their boiling points, while liquid-liquid extraction relies on differences in solubility.

Distillation and liquid-liquid extraction are separation techniques in chemistry. Both methods find applications in various industries for purifying substances, isolating specific compounds, and achieving selective separations.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Distillation  
      – Definition, Features, Applications
2. What is Liquid-Liquid Extraction
      – Definition, Features, Applications
3. Similarities Between Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Distillation, Liquid Liquid Extraction

Difference Between Distillation and Liquid Liquid Extraction - Comparison Summary

What is Distillation

Distillation is a fundamental separation technique in chemistry, exploiting differences in boiling points to purify liquids. Distillation involves heating a mixture to vaporize its components and then condensing those vapors back into liquid form. This process is particularly effective for separating liquids with distinct boiling points.

During distillation, a mixture is heated in a container called a still. The component with the lowest boiling point vaporizes first, forming a vapor rich in that substance. As the vapor travels through a cooling system, known as a condenser, it reverts to liquid form and collects in a separate container. This condensed liquid, known as the distillate, is enriched in the lower boiling point component.

Simple distillation is suitable for separating components with a significant difference in boiling points. Fractional distillation, on the other hand, is employed when the boiling points are closer. In fractional distillation, a column filled with packing material provides multiple vaporization-condensation cycles, enhancing the separation efficiency.

Compare Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction

Figure 1: Fractional Distillation

Chemists widely use distillation in various applications, from the production of pure solvents to the refining of petroleum. Its versatility and efficiency make distillation a cornerstone in laboratory settings and industrial processes, contributing significantly to the advancement of chemical science and technology. For example, distillation is used in water purification, the production of alcoholic beverages, and the extraction of essential oils.

What is Liquid-Liquid Extraction

Liquid-liquid extraction, also known as solvent extraction or partitioning, is a separation technique based on the distribution of a solute between two immiscible liquid phases. This method is widely employed in chemistry and chemical engineering for the purification and isolation of substances from complex mixtures.

The process involves two main phases: the feed phase (containing the solute to be extracted) and the extracting phase (solvent). The choice of solvent is crucial, as it should be immiscible with the feed phase and have a high affinity for the solute of interest. Common solvents include organic compounds like dichloromethane or ethyl acetate.

Distillation vs Liquid-Liquid Extraction

The extraction is governed by the principle of partitioning, where the solute distributes itself between the two phases based on their relative affinities. The distribution coefficient (Kd) represents the ratio of solute concentrations in the extracting and feed phases and is a key parameter in liquid-liquid extraction.

Several factors influence the efficiency of liquid-liquid extraction, including the choice of solvent, temperature, agitation, and the ratio of solvent to feed. Temperature affects solubility and phase separation, while agitation enhances mass transfer between phases.

The process finds applications in various fields, such as pharmaceuticals, environmental analysis, and petrochemical industries. It is commonly used for the extraction of organic compounds, metals, and other substances from mixtures.

Understanding the chemistry of liquid-liquid extraction involves considering the intermolecular forces between solute, solvent, and the two phases. In fact, the goal is to optimize conditions to achieve selective and efficient separation, making this technique a versatile tool in chemical processes.

Similarities Between Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction

  • Both processes rely on establishing equilibrium between phases.
  • Moreover, both processes may involve multiple stages or steps to enhance separation efficiency.

Difference Between Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction


Distillation relies on the differences in boiling points of components in a liquid mixture, while liquid-liquid extraction is based on the partitioning of components between two immiscible liquid phases.


Distillation requires a liquid mixture with components having distinct boiling points, while liquid-liquid extraction requires a mixture of components that can be partitioned between two liquid phases.

Separation Principle

While distillation separates components based on differences in volatility, liquid-liquid extraction separates components based on their solubility in different liquid phases.


Distillation requires a distillation apparatus, typically consisting of a boiling flask, a condenser, and a collection flask. Meanwhile, liquid-liquid extraction involves two immiscible liquids and a separating funnel or other equipment to facilitate the distribution of solutes between the phases.

FAQ: Distillation and Liquid-Liquid Extraction

What are the two types of liquid extraction?

Liquid-liquid extraction and solid-liquid extraction are the two types of liquid extraction

Why use liquid-liquid extraction?

Liquid-liquid extraction is used to separate components from a mixture based on their differential solubilities in two immiscible liquids. It is employed to selectively isolate, purify, or recover specific substances from a solution

Which is better, distillation or extraction?

Distillation is effective for separating components with different boiling points, while liquid-liquid extraction is valuable for isolating substances based on their solubilities in two immiscible liquids. The choice between them depends on the nature of the mixture and the desired outcome of the separation process.


The main difference between distillation and liquid-liquid extraction is that distillation relies on differences in boiling points and involves a phase change, liquid-liquid extraction is based on solubility differences in two immiscible liquid phases, both operating entirely in the liquid state.


1. “Liquid–liquid extraction.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.
2. “Distillation.” Byju’s.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Continuous separation of oil& water mixture” By Kompala – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Fractional distillation lab apparatus” By Original: Theresa Knott (talk · contribs)Derivative work: John Kershaw (talk · contribs) – File: Fractional distillation lab apparatus.png (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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