Positive Ions Vs Negative Ions: What’s the difference?

So, what’s the difference between a positive ion and a negative ion? What impact do they have on humans?


An ion is an atom or group of atoms that have either a positive or negative charge. A positive ion, or cation, has lost an electron, making it positively charged. A negative ion or anion has gained an electron, making it more negatively charged. 

Before you can understand the difference between positive and negative ions, you must understand what ions are.

For a body to be an ion, it must either be a small particle, an atom, or a molecule possessing an electric charge. Conventionally, in a normal circumstance of any chemical reaction, every atom’s nucleus has a neutral charge. However, this is not the state they stay in forever. 

Any exchange of electrons results in charge either being added, shared, or lost. They together administer the chemistry of the elements. Thus, in the formation of a compound, atoms lose or gain electrons, thereby forming electrically charged particles called ions. 

An atom may exhibit a varied color from the neutral atoms in an ionic state, which leads to light absorption. This usually happens in metal ions which also give the color of gemstones. 

To get the net electric charge on an ion, one must subtract the number of protons in an ion to the number of electrons because the electric charge on the proton remains equal in magnitude to the charge on an electron.

What Are The Different Kinds Of Ions?

After a brief time is spent sharing, losing, and gaining electrons, the ions that emerge are of two kinds: cations, the positively charged ions, and anions, the negatively charged ions. 

Generally, the periodic table is referred to when predicting an atom’s charge (positive or negative). Atoms belonging to the primary metal group leave enough electrons to attain the same number of electrons possessed by the preceding noble gas. 

On the contrary, atoms belonging to the non-metal group gain enough electrons to achieve the same number of electrons held by the next noble gas in the periodic table. These tables help determine the charges too. 

What Does The Periodic Table Tell Of The Ions?

Positive and Negative Ions

There exists in chemistry a figure comprising the distribution of chemical elements organized according to their atomic numbers. This tabular array is called the periodic table. 

While the table is used to understand the nature of the elements, it can also be used to decipher the nature of ions. 

Cations with a positive charge equal to the group number is achieved by the main group elements when one moves from far left to right of the periodic table. Thus, elements from group 1 form a +1 charge, those from group 2 form a +2 charge, and so on. 

Similarly, when one moves from far-right to left of the table, anions with a negative charge are formed. These charges are equal to the number of groups shifted left from the noble gas. Thus, an element of group 17 develops a -1 charge, those from group 16 develop a -2 charge, and so on. 

But there remains a drawback concerning the predictive value while moving toward the center of the periodic table. Some transition metals and their likes often exhibit variable charges, unaffected by their location in the table.

What Are The Differences Between Positive And Negative Ions? 

Ions in their normal state remain ubiquitous in nature, often responsible for varied phenomena ranging from the presence of the earth’s ionosphere to the sun’s luminescence. 

The main difference between an anion and cation rests on their charges: negative and positive, respectively. The former is formed when an atom gains electrons (surplus of electrons) and the latter by losing electrons (surplus of protons). 

Some more differences between cations and anions include:

  • Cations are thus acidic in nature, and the anions are alkaline. 
  • The ionization nature of anions is endothermic, while those of cations are exothermic. 
  • During electrolysis, the positive ion is connected to the anode and the negative ion to the cathode. 

Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Silver, Zinc, Aluminium are examples of monoatomic cations. Oxygen, Sulphur, Nitrogen, Chlorine are some monoatomic anions. Check our in-depth article about the negative ground.

Are negative ions harmful to humans?

In short, no, in fact, negative ions are very healthy! Researchers claim that human exposure to a negative-ion-rich environment leads to a rather positive effect. This has much to do with the chemical reactions that occur with our bodily tissues. 

In nature, one comes across spaces full of negative or positive ions. The presence of negative ions solely in the environment is in abundance. 

They are found in the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, in the air as remnants of the electricity discharged after a thunderstorm or when lightning strikes, in places where water collides, and as products of the plants’ natural growth. 

This phenomenon is termed negative ionization, and research indicates that exposure to Negative Air Ions can reduce the symptoms of depression for some people, promote antimicrobial activity, and produce an activating influence on body systems and cognitive performance. 

Claims have also been made about seasonal depression setting in due to the lack of exposure to NAIs.

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Written By Tim M

I’m on a journey to learn all I can about electronics - and I’m sharing everything. If you like my content, check out my Honda CX500 Restoration Project

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