How do I prepare a phosphate buffer solution with a specific pH?

I am a science fair student at Shaker Heights Middle School. I need to make a phosphate buffer solution for my expariment. I am testing the effects of growth hormones on green plant life, and the buffer is to be absorbed by a sponge to aid the hormones in working. I would appreciate any assistance that you can give me. The solution needs to be a .001 M phosphate buffer with a pH of 6.1.
B. Peterson 1/13/98

Recipes for preparing phosphate buffer solutions can be found in many texts and handbooks. For example, the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics recommends preparing a pH 6.10 buffer by adding 6.8 mL of 0.1 M NaOH to 50 mL of 0.1 M KH2PO4. You can then dilute the buffer 1:100 for your needs.

Here is an abbreviated phosphate buffer table taken from Clark's Determination of Hydrogen Ions:

Clark and Lubs standard buffer solutions. Add the indicated number of mL of 0.2 M NaOH to 50 mL 0f 0.2 M KH2PO4 and dilute to 200 mL. Taken from Determination of Hydrogen Ions, William and Wilkins, Baltimore, 1928.
pH mL NaOH pH mL NaOH
5.8 3.72 7.0 29.63
6.0 5.70 7.2 35.00
6.2 8.60 7.4 39.50
6.4 12.60 7.6 42.80
6.6 17.80 7.8 45.20
6.8 23.65 8.0 46.80

Be sure you're using the correct phosphate. There are several potassium phosphates which can NOT be used interchangeably in buffer solutions! You want KH2PO4.

Formula Systematic name Other names
KH2PO4 potassium dihydrogen phosphate acid potassium phosphate
monobasic potassium phosphate
monopotassium phosphate
potassium biphosphate
K2HPO4 potassium hydrogen phosphate dipotassium phosphate
dibasic potassium phosphate
K3PO4 potassium phosphate tripotassium phosphate
tribasic potassium phosphate

If you can't find such a recipe, follow this procedure:

  1. Use the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation to compute the ratio of the base form to acid form at the desired pH. The Henderson-Hasselbalch equation is

    pH = pKa + log (CA-

    where CA- is the concentration of base form, CHA is the concentration of acid form, and pKa is - log Ka, with Ka being the acid dissociation constant. For your buffer, pH = 6.10, pKa = 7.20, and so log CA-/CHA = -1.1 and CA-/CHA = 0.0794.
  2. Prepare a rough buffer using the calculated ratio as a guide. You could mix about 8 mL of 0.1 M K2HPO4 with 100 mL of 0.1 M KH2PO4, or you could neutralize the KH2PO4 solution with enough NaOH to obtain the desired ratio.
  3. Adjust the pH to the desired value by adding acid or base. The Henderson-Hasselbalch equation isn't accurate for concentrated solutions, and the tabulated values of Ka contain experimental error and sometimes apply to experimental conditions different than those in your buffer. You'll have to use a pH meter to guide you to the correct pH.


CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (CRC Press)
This quintessential handbook contains data for about 2500 inorganic compounds and 12000 organic compounds. Relevant physical properties listed include crystal structure, color, solubility, melting points, boiling points, heats of formation, heats of vaporization, heats of fusion, entropies, heat capacities, critical pressure and temperature, vapor pressure, and optical properties. (Book/CDROM; no Web access). (12/12/98)

Determination of Hydrogen Ions, William and Wilkins, Baltimore, 1928.

Author: Fred Senese

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