Wikijunior:The Elements/Sulfur

Shows the position of Sulfur on the periodic chart.
Sulfur's symbol on the Periodic Table

Sulfur is a common non metallic element with the chemical symbol S and atomic number 16.

A sulfur crystal is bright yellow.

What does it look, feel, taste, or smell like?


It is bright yellow and forms large crystals. In its native (pure) form it is both odorless and tasteless, but many substances containing sulfur have a distinct odor. The scent of rotten eggs, burnt matches, and skunks are all caused by sulfurous compounds.

How was it discovered?


Sulfur was discovered early in human history. References in the Bible associated the element with the devil and hell. The Bible refers to it as brimstone.

Where did its name come from?


The word sulfur has old roots. It comes from the ancient Latin word for sulfur, sulpur, which later changed to sulphur, perhaps under the influence of the Arabic word for yellow, sufra.

Where is it found?

Sulfur melts to a bloodred liquid and burns with a faint blue flame which you can see if you look very closely.

In nature, it can be found as the pure element or combined with other elements as different minerals. Sulfur can be found in areas where there are volcanoes. It is also found in meteorites and hot springs. Sulfur is mined from the ground and can be found throughout the world. A compound of sulfur (hydrogen sulfide or H2S, in which sulfur is combined with hydrogen) is also a common component of oil and natural gas, especially now that most sulfur-free oil and gas has been used up. A large amount of the element is made from H2S by oil refineries.

Sulfur ready to be loaded on ships.

Did You Know?

  • Sulfur burns with a blue flame.
  • The name sulfur is also sometimes spelled sulphur.
  • Sulfur boils at 832°F and melts at 239°F.
  • Although solid sulfur is bright yellow, molten sulfur is blood red.

What are its uses?


Sulfur is used to make matches and gunpowder. It is also used to make fertilizers to help plants grow, and to make sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is used to keep dried fruit from discoloring. It is an essential element for life.

Is it dangerous?


When mixed together with other elements, like hydrogen or oxygen, it can cause lung scarring and breathing problems. Sulfuric acid is a strong acid that can cause burns on unprotected skin. Hydrogen sulfide, called "stinkdamp" by miners due to its offensive smell, is a very dangerous gas. Sulfur is an important part of gunpowder. Gunpowder is explosive and is very dangerous if handled incorrectly.