The metallic members of group 14 are tin, lead, and flerovium. Carbon is a typical nonmetal. The remaining elements of the group, silicon and germanium, are examples of semimetals or metalloids. Tin and lead form the stable divalent cations, Sn2+ and Pb2+, with oxidation states two below the group oxidation state of 4+. The stability of this oxidation state is a consequence of the inert pair effect. Tin and lead also form covalent compounds with a formal 4+-oxidation state. For example, SnCl4 and PbCl4 are low-boiling covalent liquids.
Tin reacts readily with nonmetals and acids to form tin(II) compounds (indicating that it is more easily oxidized than hydrogen) and with nonmetals to form either tin(II) or tin(IV) compounds (shown in the figure below), depending on the stoichiometry and reaction conditions. Lead is less reactive. It is only slightly easier to oxidize than hydrogen, and oxidation normally requires a hot concentrated acid.
Many of these elements exist as allotropes. Allotropes are two or more forms of the same element in the same physical state with different chemical and physical properties. There are two common allotropes of tin. These allotropes are grey (brittle) tin and white tin. As with other allotropes, the difference between these forms of tin is in the arrangement of the atoms.
White tin is stable above 13.2 °C and is malleable like other metals. At low temperatures, gray tin is the more stable form. Gray tin is brittle and tends to break down to a powder. Consequently, articles made of tin will disintegrate in cold weather, particularly if the cold spell is lengthy. The change progresses slowly from the spot of origin, and the gray tin that is first formed catalyzes further change. In a way, this effect is similar to the spread of an infection in a plant or animal body, leading people to call this process tin disease or tin pest.
The principal use of tin is in the coating of steel to form tin plate-sheet iron, which constitutes the tin in tin cans. Important tin alloys are bronze (Cu and Sn) and solder (Sn and Pb). Lead is important in the lead storage batteries in automobiles.