Types of Chemical Reactions: Combustion

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12911

Explosions can be exciting to watch, scary, or even dangerous. Did you know that you are probably closer to little tiny explosions than you think? We won't "water" down the chemistry of combustion!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


If you have a gasoline-powered car, how does your car's engine work to move you around town?

Most cars have an internal combustion engine that uses fuel and oxygen to create a controlled explosion that provides power and energy to the rest of the car.

This process relies on the chemical reaction of combustion to work.

burning flames

Combustion is a special type of chemical reaction in which organic compounds are added to pure oxygen. The products for combustion reactions are always the same! The pattern for a combustion reaction is CxHy + O2 —> CO2 + H20. Remember that organic compounds contain both hydrogen and carbon, and may contain other elements like oxygen and nitrogen.

Combustion reactions usually involve some sort of flame or burning that occurs because pure oxygen is highly flammable!

Check out Pure Oxygen Whoosh Bottle, from Wonderstruck Ltd 2013, to see just how reactive pure oxygen can be:


There are some combustion reactions that involve metals like magnesium and zinc. In a metallic combustion, the reaction follows the pattern M + O2 —> MO. M stands for a metal, which is added to oxygen, to create a metallic oxide. Remember that you have to crisscross the charges! The charge on oxygen is –2.

An example of this is the combustion of zinc: Zn + O2 —> ZnO. This reaction can lead to rust on zinc metal substances.

zinc with rust

Combustion reactions are extremely helpful in daily life. They are used in cars and power generation. When combustion occurs with a metal, it can cause damage to structures and property. Combustion occurs when materials interact with pure oxygen. This reaction can lead to ignition and explosion of organic compounds or slow degradation of a metal.

List five places you come into contact with combustion reactions during your week.

Then, move on to the Got It? section, where you will read about the history of the application of combustion reactions.

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