An oxidizing agent (also known as an oxidant, oxidizer, electron recipient, or electron acceptor) is a substance in a redox chemical reaction that gains or "accepts"/"receives" an electron from a reducing agent (called the reductant, reducer, or electron donor). In other words, an oxidizer is any substance that oxidizes another substance. The oxidation state, which describes the degree of loss of electrons, of the oxidizer decreases while that of the reductant increases; this is expressed by saying that oxidizers "undergo reduction" and "are reduced" while reducers "undergo oxidation" and "are oxidized". Common oxidizing agents are oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and the halogens.
In one sense, an oxidizing agent is a chemical species that undergoes a chemical reaction in which it gains one or more electrons. In that sense, it is one component in an oxidation–reduction (redox) reaction. In the second sense, an oxidizing agent is a chemical species that transfers electronegative atoms, usually oxygen, to a substrate. Combustion, many explosives, and organic redox reactions involve atom-transfer reactions.
Electron acceptors participate in electron-transfer reactions. In this context, the oxidizing agent is called an electron acceptor and the reducing agent is called an electron donor. A classic oxidizing agent is the ferrocenium ion Fe(C
2, which accepts an electron to form Fe(C5H5)2. One of the strongest acceptors commercially available is "Magic blue", the radical cation derived from N(C6H4-4-Br)3.
Extensive tabulations of ranking the electron accepting properties of various reagents (redox potentials) are available, see Standard electrode potential (data page).
In more common usage, an oxidizing agent transfers oxygen atoms to a substrate. In this context, the oxidizing agent can be called an oxygenation reagent or oxygen-atom transfer (OAT) agent. Examples include MnO−
4 (permanganate), CrO2−
4 (chromate), OsO4 (osmium tetroxide), and especially ClO−
4 (perchlorate). Notice that these species are all oxides.
In some cases, these oxides can also serve as electron acceptors, as illustrated by the conversion of MnO−
4 to MnO2−
See also: HAZMAT Class 5 Oxidizing agents and organic peroxides
The dangerous goods definition of an oxidizing agent is a substance that can cause or contribute to the combustion of other material. By this definition some materials that are classified as oxidizing agents by analytical chemists are not classified as oxidizing agents in a dangerous materials sense. An example is potassium dichromate, which does not pass the dangerous goods test of an oxidizing agent.
The U.S. Department of Transportation defines oxidizing agents specifically. There are two definitions for oxidizing agents governed under DOT regulations. These two are Class 5; Division 5.1(a)1 and Class 5; Division 5.1(a)2. Division 5.1 "means a material that may, generally by yielding oxygen, cause or enhance the combustion of other materials." Division 5.(a)1 of the DOT code applies to solid oxidizers "if, when tested in accordance with the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria (IBR, see § 171.7 of this subchapter), its mean burning time is less than or equal to the burning time of a 3:7 potassium bromate/cellulose mixture." 5.1(a)2 of the DOT code applies to liquid oxidizers "if, when tested in accordance with the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, it spontaneously ignites or its mean time for a pressure rise from 690 kPa to 2070 kPa gauge is less than the time of a 1:1 nitric acid (65 percent)/cellulose mixture."
|O2 oxygen||Various, including the oxides H2O and CO2|
|O3 ozone||Various, including ketones, aldehydes, and H2O; see ozonolysis|
|I2 iodine||I−, I−|
|ClO− hypochlorite||Cl−, H2O|
|HNO3 nitric acid||NO nitric oxide|
NO2 nitrogen dioxide
|SO2 sulfur dioxide||S sulfur|
(Claus process, ultramarine production, more commonly reducing agent)
CrO3 chromium trioxide
|Mn2+ (acidic) or|
4 ruthenium tetroxide
4 osmium tetroxide
|in organic lab scale synthesis|
|H2O2, other peroxides||Various, including oxides and H2O|
|Tl(III) thallic compounds||Tl(I) thallous compounds, in organic lab scale synthesis|