|IUPAC name||Dimercury dichloride|
|Other names||Mercurous chloride; calomel|
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|Molar mass||472.09 g/mol|
|Density||7.150 g/cm3, solid|
|Main hazards||Harmful, dangerous for the environment|
|S-phrases||, , |
|Except where noted otherwise, data are given for|
materials in their standard state
(at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox disclaimer and references
Mercury(I) chloride is the chemical compound with the formula Hg2Cl2. Also known as calomel or mercurous chloride, this dense white or yellowish-white, odorless solid is the principal example of a mercury(I) compound. It is a component of reference electrodes in electrochemistry.
The name calomel is thought to come from the Greek καλος beautiful, and μελας black. This name (somewhat surprising for a white compound) is probably due to its characteristic disproportionation reaction with ammonia, which gives a spectacular black coloration due to the finely dispersed metallic mercury formed. It is also referred to as the mineral horn quicksilver or horn mercury. Calomel was used as a medicine internally for laxation and disinfection before the 20th century .
Mercury is unique among the group 12 metals for its ability to form the M-M bond so readily. Hg2Cl2 is a linear molecule. The crystal structure is shown below:
Preparation and reactions
Mercurous chloride forms by the reaction of elemental mercury and mercuric chloride:
- Hg + HgCl2 → Hg2Cl2
- 2HCl + Hg2(NO3)2 → Hg2Cl2 + 2HNO3
- Hg2Cl2 + 2NH3 → Hg + Hg(NH2)Cl + NH4Cl
Mercurous chloride is employed extensively in electrochemistry, taking advantage of the ease of its oxidation and reduction reactions. The calomel electrode is a reference electrode, especially in older publications. Over the past 50 years, it has been superseded by the silver/silver chloride (Ag/AgCl) electrode. Although the mercury electrodes have been widely abandoned due to the dangerous nature of mercury, many chemists believe they are still more accurate and are not dangerous as long as they are handled properly. The differences in experimental potentials vary little from literature values. Other electrodes can vary by 70 to 100 millivolts.
Mercurous chloride decomposes into mercury(II) chloride and elemental mercury upon exposure to UV light.
- Hg2Cl2 → HgCl2 + Hg
The formation of Hg can be used to calculate the number of photons in the light beam, by the technique of actinometry. By utilizing a light reaction in the presence of mercury(II) chloride and ammonium oxalate mercurous chloride is produced.
- 2HgCl2 + (NH4)2C2O4 + Light → Hg2Cl2(s) + 2[NH4+][Cl−] + 2CO2
This particular reaction was invented by J.M. Eder (hence the name Eder reaction) in 1880 and reinvestigated by W. E. Rosevaere in 1929 
Related mercury(I) compounds
Mercurous chloride is toxic, although due to its low solubility in water it is generally less dangerous than its mercuric chloride counterpart. It was used in medicine as a diuretic and purgative (laxative), e.g. from the early 1830s through the 1860s as a purgative in the U.S. These medicinal uses were discontinued.
It has also found uses in cosmetics as soaps and skin lightening creams, but these preparations are now illegal to manufacture or import in many countries including U.S., Canada, Japan and Europe. A study of workers involved in the production of these preparations, showed that the sodium salt of 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid (DMPS) was effective in lowering the body burden of mercury and in decreasing the urinary mercury concentration to normal levels.
- Housecroft, Catherine E., Sharpe, Alan G.: Inorganic Chemistry 2nd edition. Pearson/Prentice Hall, NY 2001, pp 696-697
- Skoog, Douglas A., F. James Holler and Timothy A. Nieman; Principles of Instrumental Analysis; 5th Edition;Saunders College Pub., PE. 1998, pp 253-271
- THE X-RAY PHOTOCHEMICAL REACTION BETWEEN POTASSIUM OXALATE AND MERCURIC CHLORIDE W. E. Roseveare J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 1930; 52(7) pp 2612 - 2619; doi:10.1021/ja01370a005
- D. Gonzalez-Ramirez, M. Zuniga-Charles, A. Narro-Juarez, Y. Molina-Recio, K. M. Hurlbut, R. C. Dart and H. V. Aposhian (1998). "DMPS (2,3-Dimercaptopropane-1-sulfonate, Dimaval) Decreases the Body Burden of Mercury in Humans Exposed to Mercurous Chloride" (free full text). Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapy. 287 (1): 8–12.
- International Chemical Safety Card 0984
- National Pollutant Inventory - Mercury and compounds Fact Sheet
- NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards