Telling the difference between minerals and metals can be difficult.
Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Check out the information below to tell what a mineral and metal is.
You’ll also learn how to tell if a substance is a metal or mineral, or what metals and minerals are often confused for each other.
Mineral vs Metal: What’s The Difference (EXPLAINED)
What is a Mineral?
A mineral is a solid chemical compound with a specific chemical composition and crystal structure.
A mineral is a naturally occurring inorganic element.
To be a mineral, the element or compound must have an orderly internal structure.
It must also have a chemical composition that includes specific physical properties and a specific crystal form.
According to the geological definition, a mineral excludes compounds that are only present in living beings.
The four major characteristics of a mineral are:
- Substances are formed naturally with no help
- Solid substance that won’t drip, evaporate, or melt
- Aren’t carbon compounds
- Crystalline (distinct arrangement and recipe of atoms)
What is Metal?
Metal is any element with a positive electrical charge.
Typically, metal is a good conductor of heat.
When freshly prepared, fractured, or polished, metal usually has a shiny surface.
There are many different types of metal, but all are malleable or ductile.
Malleable means the metal can be hammered into thin sheets.
Ductile means the metal can be drawn into wires.
Metal can also be a chemical element, such as stainless steel, alloy, or iron.
Metal may also be a molecular compound, such as polymeric sulfur nitride.
Other common types of metals include aluminum, magnesium, bronze, and zinc.
Is Metal a Mineral?
Some metals are minerals and some are not.
This is true because minerals are naturally occurring inorganic solids.
Minerals also have a definite chemical composition.
The material also has an ordered atomic arrangement.
Minerals occur naturally and aren’t made by humans.
Minerals are inorganic.
So, metals that exist in nature are minerals.
For example, gold nuggets are minerals, but iron created in steel mills by humans isn’t a mineral.
How to Test a Material to See if it’s a Mineral
The way to determine whether a material is a mineral is to examine the material in question for characteristics of a mineral.
The six characteristics geologists use to identify a mineral are
- Crystal Forms
Geologists examine the crystal structure at the atomic level.
At this level, geologists determine crystal form, hardness, and cleavage.
Next, geologists will look at the chemical composition to determine density and color.
Examples of common minerals include calcite, feldspar, quartz, olivine, mica, and amphibole.
How to Test if a Substance is Metal
The most important thing to determine when working with metal is what type of metal it is.
Below are some field tests that can be used to determine if a substance is a metal and the probability of what type of metal it is, or at least a category.
There are seven tests that can help determine whether a substance is metal, including:
- surface appearance
- spark test
- chip test
- magnet test
- torch test
- chemical test
- hardness test
When conducting these tests, it’s important to realize not all metal is magnetic.
But, determining whether the metal is magnetic or not, can help shorten down the list of what type of metal it is.
Some metals are also easily identifiable by their color.
The spark test is an easy way to tell the difference between iron and steel.
With a spark test, it’s also possible to narrow down the carbon content of steel.
What Mineral is Often Confused as a Metal?
Pyrite, also called fool’s gold, is most often confused as a mineral or metal.
Other minerals often mistaken for metals include chalcopyrite and weathered mica.
Chalcopyrite and weathered mica, is that these materials will crumble, turn to powder, or flake when poked with metal.
Gold will indent or gouge but won’t disintegrate.
Another fast way to tell the difference is to scrape the substance on unglazed porcelain.
If it is pyrite or chalcopyrite, it will leave a greenish to blackish mark.
Mica will leave a black streak.
Gold nuggets, which are minerals, won’t do either.
With the information above, you are ready to tell the difference between metals and minerals.
You are also equipped with what you need to test a mineral or metal.
And can tell the difference between a material that is often confused with something else.