Formulas for Determining Specific Gravity

Pycnometer. (Wikpedia/Slashme)

Specific gravity is the density of a substance relative to the density of water. For example, since the density of water at 4 degrees Celsius and 1 atmosphere is 1.000g/cm^3, specific gravity using this as the reference substance is equal to its density in grams per cubic centimeter (to four significant figures). Since specific gravity is a ratio, it does not have units; it is dimensionless.

The term "relative density" is a generalization of specific gravity, not confined to using water as the reference substance.

Specification of Pressure and Temperature

Note that both the reference and the object substance need their pressure and temperature to be specified. Calculations to three significant figures can be affected by a different of 15 degrees. For example, the density of water at 1 atm and 4 degrees Celsius is 0.999973 g/cm^3, while at 20 degrees Celsius, it is 0.998203 g/cm^3.

Specific Weight

Specific gravity is not to be confused with specific weight, which is the weight of a substance per unit volume. In other words, it is the density of a substance times the gravitational acceleration. It has units, like density and unlike the dimensionless specific gravity.


One significance of specific gravity is to determine buoyancy. If specific gravity is above 1, then the subject substance will sink in the reference substance. If the specific gravity is less than 1, it will rise until it displaces a volume of water of mass equal to its own. (Archimedes' principle states that a submerged object is acted on by a buoyant force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.)

A Historical Misconception

This is not to say that a dense substance like iron cannot float on water. A rounded hollow iron bowl can float on water because it displaces enough water that the buoyant force of the surrounding water equals its own weight. Therefore, ships need not be made of substances with specific gravity less than 1, like wood.


A pycnometer is used to measure the specific gravity of a fluid. It has a capillary tube in the stopper, to remove the effect of surface tension on the volume measurement. In fact, since both water and the subject substance are measured in the same pycnometer, volume never need be known, which also improves accuracy.

Related Articles

What Is Specific Gravity?
Why Is Salt Water Heavier Than Tap Water?
How to Calculate Buoy Floatation in the Water
Hydrometer Calibration Procedures
How Can the Study of Density Be Used in the Real World?
How do I Convert M3 into Kilograms?
What Is the Density of CO2?
How to Calculate Buoyant Force
Difference Between Density & Mass
Facts About Density
Third Grade Science for the Measurement of Density
Explanation of the Difference Between Viscosity & Buoyancy
How to Convert Specific Gravity to Pounds Per Gallon
Ways to Determine Density
How to Solve for Volume
General Properties of Density
How to Calculate Density From Viscosity
Volume Vs. Weight of Water

Dont Go!

We Have More Great Sciencing Articles!