There are many examples of organic compounds in everyday life. Organic compounds contain carbon and hydrogen, often with oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and other elements. In contrast, inorganic compounds may contain carbon, but it is not bound to hydrogen. Here is a list of familiar products and some of the organic compounds they contain:
Products That Contain Organic Compounds
Most products include organic compounds. Exceptions (inorganic compounds) include water, air, glass, rocks, salts, and metals.
- Asphalt (petroleum hydrocarbons)
- Candles (wax, tallow)
- Coal (mixed hydrocarbons)
- Detergent (alkylbenzene sulfonates)
- Drugs (e.g., acetaminophen, caffeine, penicillin)
- Dyes (compounds from plants or petrochemicals)
- Enzymes (papain, catalase, amylase)
- Fabrics [cotton and linen (cellulose), wool (keratin), silk (sericin and fibroin), nylon, polyester, rayon)
- Food and many food additives (meat, vegetables, grains)
- Gasoline (mixed hydrocarbons)
- Leather (keratin)
- Lotion (oils, alcohol, fragrances, glycerol)
- Mothballs (naphthalene)
- Nail polish (nitrocellulose, butyl acetate)
- Nail polish remover (acetone, toluene)
- Natural gas (mostly methane)
- Paint (inorganic pigments in resins and organic solvents)
- Paper (cellulose)
- Perfume (alcohol, mixed hydrocarbons)
- Plastics (hydrocarbons)
- Rope (cellulose, nylon)
- Shampoo (sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, polyethylene glycol)
- Soap (fatty acid salt)
- Solvents (ethanol, toluene, butanol, xylene)
- Wood (cellulose)
Everyday life includes both inorganic and organic compounds. Here are some examples.
More Examples of Organic Compounds
Here are some more examples of familiar organic compounds.
- Cardboard (cellulose)
- Carpeting (keratin, acrylic)
- Feathers (keratin)
- Humans (numerous compounds)
- Pets (numerous compounds)
- Plants (numerous compounds)
- Skin (keratin)
- Sugar (sucrose, fructose)
- Vegetable oil (mixed lipids)
The four main classes of organic compounds are carbohydrates (sugars and starches), lipids (fatty acids, fats, and oils), proteins (amino acids, peptide, proteins, enzymes), and nucleic acids (RNA and DNA). Many organic compounds are polymers, which means they consist of many subunits bonded together.
How to Recognize Organic Compounds
Most compounds containing both carbon and hydrogen are organic compounds. Nearly all compounds obtained from plants or animals are organic. However, living organisms also contain some inorganic molecules, too (mainly water and skeletal components). Probably the easiest way to identify whether or not something is organic is to rule out whether it is inorganic. Did it come from a plant or animal? It’s likely organic. Was it made from petroleum? It’s probably organic. Does it only consists of metals, salts, or minerals? It’s probably inorganic.
- Borysov, Stanislav S.; Geilhufe, R. Matthias; Balatsky, Alexander V. (2017). “Organic materials database: An open-access online database for data mining”. PLOS ONE. 12 (2): e0171501. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171501.g004
- Seager, Spencer L.; Slabaugh, Michael R. (2004). Chemistry for Today: General, Organic, and Biochemistry. Thomson Brooks/Cole. ISBN 9780534399696.