Adsorption vs. Absorption – A Different Letter Can Make All the Difference 

by Arushi Gupta
Adsorption vs. absorption

Adsorption vs. absorption are two concepts that are often a subject of confusion for researchers. While both of them involve the attachment of molecules to a surface, there are fundamental differences between them. In this blog, we will explore the difference between adsorption and absorption, and provide examples to help you understand their usage.  

What is adsorption?

Adsorption is a surface phenomenon in which molecules or particles of a gas, liquid, or solid are attracted to and accumulate on the surface of a solid or liquid.  

What is absorption?

Absorption is a bulk phenomenon in which molecules of a gas or liquid are taken up by a solid or liquid. Unlike adsorption, absorption involves the penetration of molecules into the bulk of the adsorbent, rather than just accumulating on the surface. 

When to use adsorption vs. absorption

The choice of whether to use absorption or adsorption depends on the specific context and the properties of the materials involved. 

Absorption is typically used when a substance is taken up by the bulk of a material and distributed evenly throughout its volume. Absorption is often used in the context of liquid or gas absorption into a solid material, such as a sponge or a filter. Absorption can also refer to the uptake of substances by biological tissues or organs. 

Adsorption, on the other hand, is typically used when a substance is adhered to the surface of a material. Adsorption is often used in the context of solid-gas or solid-liquid interfaces, where a substance is adsorbed onto the surface of a solid material. Adsorption can also be used in the context of chemical reactions, where a reactant is adsorbed onto the surface of a catalyst material. 

Adsorption vs. absorption examples:

  • Activated carbon is a popular adsorbent used in air purification systems to remove harmful gases and pollutants. 
  • The process of chromatography relies on the adsorption of different molecules onto a stationary phase to separate them based on their chemical properties. 
  • In wastewater treatment, adsorption is used to remove heavy metals and other contaminants from the water by passing it through an adsorbent material. 
  • The human body absorbs nutrients from food in the digestive system to fuel the body’s functions. 
  • Solar cells work by absorbing light energy and converting it into electrical energy. 
  • Diapers are designed to absorb moisture to keep infants dry and comfortable. 


In summary, both the processes are important in various scientific and industrial applications, and understanding the differences between them is essential to use them correctly in your research.  

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