In thermodynamics, the specific volume of a substance (symbol: ν, nu) is a mass-specific intrinsic property of the substance, defined as the quotient of the substance's volume (V) to its mass (m). It is the reciprocal of density ρ (rho) and it is also related to the molar volume and molar mass:

The standard unit of specific volume is cubic meters per kilogram (m3/kg), but other units include ft3/lb, ft3/slug, or mL/g.[1]

Specific volume for an ideal gas is related to the molar gas constant (R) and the gas's temperature (T), pressure (P), and molar mass (M) as shown:

Since and


Specific volume is commonly applied to:

Imagine a variable-volume, airtight chamber containing a certain number of atoms of oxygen gas. Consider the following four examples:

Specific volume is a property of materials, defined as the number of cubic meters occupied by one kilogram of a particular substance. The standard unit is the meter cubed per kilogram (m3/kg or m3·kg−1).

Sometimes specific volume is expressed in terms of the number of cubic centimeters occupied by one gram of a substance. In this case, the unit is the centimeter cubed per gram (cm3/g or cm3·g−1). To convert m3/kg to cm3/g, multiply by 1000; conversely, multiply by 0.001.

Specific volume is inversely proportional to density. If the density of a substance doubles, its specific volume, as expressed in the same base units, is cut in half. If the density drops to 1/10 its former value, the specific volume, as expressed in the same base units, increases by a factor of 10.

The density of gases changes with even slight variations in temperature, while densities of liquid and solids, which are generally thought of as incompressible, will change very little. Specific volume is the inverse of the density of a substance; therefore, careful consideration must be taken account when dealing with situations that involve gases. Small changes in temperature will have a noticeable effect on specific volumes.

The average density of human blood is 1060 kg/m3. The specific volume that correlates to that density is 0.00094 m3/kg. Notice that the average specific volume of blood is almost identical to that of water: 0.00100 m3/kg.[2]

Application examples

If one sets out to determine the specific volume of an ideal gas, such as super heated steam, using the equation ν = RT/P, where pressure is 2500 lbf/in2, R is 0.596, temperature is 1960 °R. In that case, the specific volume would equal 0.4672 in3/lb. However, if the temperature is changed to 1160 °R, the specific volume of the super heated steam would have changed to 0.2765 in3/lb, which is a 59% overall change.

Knowing the specific volumes of two or more substances allows one to find useful information for certain applications. For a substance X with a specific volume of 0.657 cm3/g and a substance Y with a specific volume 0.374 cm3/g, the density of each substance can be found by taking the inverse of the specific volume; therefore, substance X has a density of 1.522 g/cm3 and substance Y has a density of 2.673 g/cm3. With this information, the specific gravities of each substance relative to one another can be found. The specific gravity of substance X with respect to Y is 0.569, while the specific gravity of Y with respect to X is 1.756. Therefore, substance X will not sink if placed on Y.[3]

Specific volume of solutions

The specific volume of a non-ideal solution is the sum of the partial specific volumes of the components:

M is the molar mass of the mixture.

Table of common specific volumes

The table below displays densities and specific volumes for various common substances that may be useful. The values were recorded at standard temperature and pressure, which is defined as air at 0 °C (273.15 K, 32 °F) and 1 atm (101.325 kN/m2, 101.325 kPa, 14.7 psia, 0 psig, 30 in Hg, 760 torr).[4]

Substance name Density Specific volume[dubious ]
(kg/m3) (m3/kg)
Air 1.225 0.816
Ice 916.7 0.00109
Water (liquid) 1000 0.00100
Salt Water 1030 0.00097
Mercury 13546 0.00007
R-22* 3.66 0.273
Ammonia 0.769 1.30
Carbon dioxide 1.977 0.506
Chlorine 2.994 0.334
Hydrogen 0.0899 11.12
Methane 0.717 1.39
Nitrogen 1.25 0.799
Steam* 0.804 1.24

* values not taken at standard temperature and pressure


  1. ^ Moran, Michael (7 December 2010). Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-49590-2.
  2. ^ Silverthorn, Dee (2010). Human Physiology. Pearson. ISBN 978-0-321-55980-7.
  3. ^ Walker, Jearl (6 April 2007). Fundamentals of Physics. Halliday. ISBN 978-0-470-04472-8.
  4. ^ "Engineering Tool Box". Retrieved April 14, 2013.