Why Is It Important to Calibrate a pH Meter and Its Electodes Against a Buffer?

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Accurate pH measurements cannot be accomplished with a pH meter unless the meter has been calibrated against standardized buffer. Without a proper calibration the meter has no way to determine the pH value of the solution you are testing.

Baiscs of a pH meter

The pH meter has a membrane that allows H+ ions to pass though, which allows a current to flow, creating a voltage. The voltage is measured by the meter and you tell it which standard buffer it is in. The pH meter then compares the voltage of your unknown solutions to that of the buffers to determine the pH of your solution.

Standardized Buffers

Standardized buffers are usually colored solutions that are guaranteed to be at a particular pH. They can usually be obtained from the manufacturer of the pH meter. These buffers are critical to the correct operation of a pH meter.

To maintain accuracy

To make a calibration curve at least three standards are needed. Without the standardized pH buffer to calibrate the meter the results will be inaccurate and useless.

To avoid drift

Most pH meters, and electrodes in general, are known to drift from their calibrated settings. It is important to calibrate your pH meter regularly to ensure that you continue to get accurate results. Drift cannot be avoided. Calibrate regularly to maintain accuracy.

To account for differences

Using standardized buffers when calibrating also helps to prevent differences among samples. Proper standards can avoid such problems as ionic strength difference and other membrane-related problems.


About the Author

Philip J. Carlson is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the department of chemistry at Iowa State University. He earned a B.S. degree (cum laude) with majors in chemistry and mathematics. Carlson also has a B.A. in evangelism and missions, and an A.S. degree in chemistry. He has published in a number of peer-reviewed journals and even has a pending patent.

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