What is the Difference Between Metal and Heavy Metal

Metals and heavy metals are both important materials in various applications, but they have different properties and characteristics. Proper handling and awareness of the difference between metal and heavy metal are important for safety and sustainability.

What is the difference between metal and heavy metal? Metals are a class of elements characterized by their ability to conduct electricity, typically with a metallic luster, malleability, and ductility, whereas heavy metals are a class of metals having high atomic numbers and a high density.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is a Metal 
      – Definition, Properties
2. What is a Heavy Metal
      – Definition, Properties 
3. Similarities Between Metal and Heavy Metal
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Metal and Heavy Metal
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Metal and Heavy Metal
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Metal, Heavy Metal

Difference Between Metal and Heavy Metal - Comparison Summary

What is a Metal

Metals have loosely bound outer electrons, often referred to as a “sea of electrons.” This structure gives metals some unique properties. The sea of electrons allows them to move freely within the metal, making metals excellent conductors of electricity. This is why copper wires are used to transmit electricity and electronics to our homes. Those free-flowing electrons also efficiently transfer heat, making metals good conductors of thermal energy. Pots and pans made of metals like aluminum heat up quickly and distribute heat evenly for cooking.

The loose electron arrangement allows metal atoms to slide past each other easily. This makes metals malleable, meaning they can be hammered into thin sheets, and ductile, meaning they can be drawn into wires. Metals also exhibit a shine. This is due to the reflection of light by the surface of the metal.

Metals are typically solids at room temperature (exception – mercury). The strength of metals is high and they are durable. Metals are rarely found in their pure form in nature. They are usually combined with other elements in minerals called ores.  We can extract these metals through various processes.

Moreover, the reactivity of metals varies greatly. For example, alkali metals like sodium are highly reactive, while noble metals like gold are much more resistant to corrosion.


Metals can be found in the periodic table. Alkali metals and alkaline earth metals reside in the leftmost columns, known for their high reactivity. Transition metals occupy a large central block and are known for their diverse properties and ability to form colored compounds. Lanthanides and actinides are special groups of metals with unique electron configurations.

What are Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are a class of metals having a high atomic number and a high density. Some examples of heavy metals are mercury, lead, and arsenic. Some heavy metals, like iron, play a significant role in life. Iron is essential for oxygen transport in the blood. Zinc and copper are required in minor amounts for various biological processes.

Heavy metals also have many industrial applications. They are used in everything from electronics and catalysts to construction materials and pigments. Their unique properties make them valuable in the industry.

Heavy Metal

Though there are many positive uses of heavy metals, some of them are poisonous and can cause significant damage to the environment and life. For example, heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium are highly poisonous, can accumulate in food chains, and cause various health defects. Exposure to these metals can happen through food, water, air, and products containing heavy metals.

Ongoing research focuses on developing methods to remove heavy metals from waste streams and contaminated sites. Additionally, scientists are exploring ways to replace toxic heavy metals with less harmful alternatives in various applications.

Similarities Between Metal and Heavy Metal

  1. Both metals and heavy metals exhibit metallic bonding.
  2. Metals and heavy metals tend to lose electrons relatively easily (low ionization energy), forming positive ions (cations).

Difference Between Metal and Heavy Metal


  • Metals are a class of elements that have high electrical and thermal conductivity, are generally malleable and ductile, and often have a shiny appearance. Heavy metals, on the other hand, are a subset of metals characterized by their high atomic weight and high density.


  • Metals include a variety of elements such as aluminum, iron, copper, and gold. Heavy metals include elements such as mercury, lead, and cadmium.


  • Heavy metals are denser than light metals.


  • Heavy metals tend to bioaccumulate more readily than lighter metals.


  • Heavy metals are generally more toxic than lighter metals and can cause harm to living organisms and the environment.


  • Heavy metals tend to be less reactive than lighter metals.


In conclusion, there is a distinct difference between metal and heavy metal in terms of their properties and uses, although both have similar metallic bonding and the ability to lose electrons. Metals are known for their conductivity, malleability, and ductility and are important for many industrial and biological functions. Heavy metals, however, have higher density and toxicity, which can present environmental and health hazards, although they also have some useful applications.

FAQ: Metal and Heavy Metal

1. Why metals are called heavy metals?

Metals are called heavy metals when they have high atomic weights and high densities compared to other metals. Typically, elements with atomic numbers greater than 20 and densities above 5 g/cm³ are considered heavy metals.

2. Why is gold heavy?

Gold is called a heavy metal because of its high density, which comes from the fact that each of its atoms is individually very heavy. The closely packed arrangement of gold atoms in its crystal structure also adds to its significant density.

3. How do you identify heavy metals?

Heavy metals can be identified using techniques such as atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), and X-ray fluorescence (XRF). Colorimetric tests and electrochemical methods like anodic stripping voltammetry can also detect heavy metals in samples.

4. Is gold stronger than steel?

In terms of hardness and resistance to scratching, steel is generally stronger than 18K gold. Steel is often much harder and more durable than gold, which means it is less likely to deform or scratch under normal circumstances.

5. How do you know if you have heavy metals in your body?

You can find out if you have heavy metals in your body through medical tests. A healthcare provider can order a heavy metal blood test, urine test, or hair analysis to measure the levels of heavy metals like lead, mercury, or cadmium in your body. Symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, headache, memory problems, or digestive issues may also suggest heavy metal exposure,


1. “Metal Chemistry.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
2. “Heavy Metal.” Science Direct.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Periodic-Table-Metals” By CHEM1902 Main Group Chemistry –  (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Cadmium-crystal bar” By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) – Own work (FAL) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.

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