Inert matter: concept, characteristics, examples

In everyday life, it is easy to specify what inert matter is: everything that does not move, breathe, feed or interact with its environment. It is only there thanks to its mass and the volume it occupies. For example, stones, a chair, bricks, sand, or a piece of metal.

Lego blocks could be considered an example of inert matter in both biology and chemistry

Consider some Lego blocks. They are inert, because they are not alive and no metabolic process takes place inside them. But what about its chemical reactivity? If the plastics of these legos were indigestible to acids or any corrosive substance, then they could also be classified as inert materials.

Characteristics of inert materials

Inert matter can be analyzed from two angles: biological or chemical. Therefore, it is necessary to consider characteristics that are frequently fulfilled for each of the two sciences separately.

– Biological inert matter

Velociraptor fossil. Fossils are biological inert matter

Inert matter, from a biological point of view, must meet some of the following characteristics.

It is not assimilable

It is not digestible or assimilable by conventional organisms. However, there are bacteria that can overcome these limitations, that is, they are capable of degrading practically any object, and which is the subject of intense research.

Does not establish symbiosis

Inert matter does not establish symbiosis. This means that it does not interact at the cellular level with any type of microorganism, since it does not have cells, not even dead cells.

It remains indifferent to its environment, be it aquatic, vegetal or terrestrial, without giving nutritional sustenance, but simply serving as a “refuge” for various creatures.

Does not have a life

Although it may seem logical, this characteristic is essential to biologically distinguish inert matter from living matter. In fact, it is the first thing that comes to mind and that we use daily to differentiate the living from the inert or dead.

As inert matter does not have life, it is to be expected that it does not move or move of its own free will, does not reason or have perceptions, does not feed, etc. That is, it is an inanimate object or element, be it of natural or artificial origin.

– Chemical inert matter

Noble gases, chemical inert matter

Regarding what is understood by inert matter from the point of view of chemistry, its characteristics have little or nothing to do with those mentioned above. However, there are examples, such as indestructible Lego blocks, or Teflon in pans, which are inert both biologically and chemically.

Does not react under normal conditions

Inert matter must not react at room temperature or atmospheric pressure. This characteristic can remain valid even in a range of moderately higher temperatures and pressures.

Has very strong links

The above feature is conclusive. But by itself it does not offer further explanations. A substance may or may not react due to various reasons subject to its chemical properties, including the strength or stability of its bonds. The stronger or more difficult to break your bonds, the more inert the matter will be.

As its bonds are strong, it is to be expected that corrosive substances cannot destroy or degrade this material.

Doesn’t need electrons

Many substances react with the purpose of gaining electrons and acquiring some energy stability. Inert matter, however, does not need to gain electrons, so it does not participate in chemical reactions. This characteristic occurs essentially in the famous noble gases.

Reacts very slowly

Inert matter is also one that reacts slowly due to kinetic factors. Its molecules have certain geometries and structures that make it impossible to react in an appreciable or profitable way.

Examples of inert matter

Stones, example of inert matter

Finally, mention will be made of some examples of inert matter.

Objects and materials

All objects that we see around us will be considered inert matter as long as it is not alive or intimately (or cellularly) linked to a life form. Among them we have the following:

-Musical instruments

-Wood chairs



-Stainless steel cutlery



-Light bulbs



-Can opener






The shells of turtles themselves, for example, are inert matter, but as they are part of the physiognomy of these reptiles, they are considered living matter (as long as the turtle is alive).


Nitrogen gas, N 2 , is considered a member of inert gases. When we breathe nitrogen our body does not assimilate it, since it is not very reactive, so we exhale it without any metabolic change having taken place. Nitrogen, however, reacts during electrical storms, or directly when heated on some metals.

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastics are biologically inert materials, because although they can be digested by microorganisms, they still do not have a life of their own.

However, chemically they are not entirely inert, since they may dissolve in certain solvents or corrosive substances; Unless they are very resistant, which means that once they are disposed of in water sources, they will take hundreds of years to degrade.


Fossils are considered inert matter because they are dead creatures trapped in rock strata for millions of years.

Noble gases

Among the noble gases we have helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon. All of them, especially neon, react with great difficulty and little or no chemical compounds are known to them . These gases are used to create precisely inert atmospheres, under which reactions take place that in other conditions could not be carried out.

Noble gases, along with nitrogen and carbon monoxide, are the least reactive gases in all of nature.

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