Elemental oxygen is a strong oxidizing agent. It reacts with most other elements and many compounds.
Reaction with Elements
Oxygen reacts directly at room temperature or at elevated temperatures with all other elements except the noble gases, the halogens, and few second- and third-row transition metals of low reactivity (those with higher reduction potentials than copper). Rust is an example of the reaction of oxygen with iron. The more active metals form peroxides or superoxides. Less active metals and the nonmetals give oxides. Two examples of these reactions are:
The oxides of halogens, at least one of the noble gases, and metals with higher reduction potentials than copper do not form by the direct action of the elements with oxygen.
Reaction with Compounds
Elemental oxygen also reacts with some compounds. If it is possible to oxidize any of the elements in a given compound, further oxidation by oxygen can occur. For example, hydrogen sulfide, H2S, contains sulfur with an oxidation state of 2−. Because the sulfur does not exhibit its maximum oxidation state, we would expect H2S to react with oxygen. It does, yielding water and sulfur dioxide. The reaction is:
It is also possible to oxidize oxides such as CO and P4O6 that contain an element with a lower oxidation state. The ease with which elemental oxygen picks up electrons is mirrored by the difficulty of removing electrons from oxygen in most oxides. Of the elements, only the very reactive fluorine can oxidize oxides to form oxygen gas.