top of page

Retention of Acidic, Basic, and Neutral Compounds in Ion Pair Chromatography


In the realm of reverse-phase liquid chromatography, the retention of polar compounds has always presented a unique challenge. This technique relies on hydrophobic or nonpolar principles, where less polar compounds enjoy extended retention times while their more polar counterparts rush through the system. But what if we told you that there's a way to overturn this rule? Welcome to an exploration of Ion Pair Chromatography.

Today we're diving into the intricacies of retaining polar compounds—acids, bases, and neutrals—in Ion Pair Chromatography. This method transforms a typically nonpolar reverse-phase stationary phase into a polar one, and it involves the use of ion-pair reagents in the mobile phase. Let's unveil how Ion Pair Chromatography defies convention to master the retention of these challenging compounds.

The Impact of Ion Pairing on Polar Compounds:

In the first scenario, we'll explore the effects of an ion-pair reagent carrying a positive charge. Common examples include ammonium or tetra-alkyl ammonium ions. In this case, the column's stationary phase acquires a positive charge, thanks to the ion-pair reagent in the mobile phase.

Now, consider three different compounds: acidic, basic, and neutral. The acidic compound carries a negative charge when ionized, the basic compound gets protonated and turns into BH+, and the neutral compound remains uncharged.

Retention of Acidic Compounds:

As we know, opposite charges attract. The negative charge on the acidic compound is drawn to the positively charged stationary phase. This attraction results in the acidic compound spending more time interacting with the stationary phase, leading to increased retention time.

Retention of Basic Compounds:

On the flip side, when the ion-pair reagent carries a positive charge, the basic compound gets repelled. Similar charges—positive to positive—tend to repel each other. Consequently, the basic compound's interaction with the stationary phase is minimized, reducing its retention time.

Retention of Neutral Compounds:

Neutral compounds won't engage in ionic interactions with either the stationary phase or the ion-pair agent. However, the increased occupancy of the stationary phase by the positively charged ion-pair reagent reduces the available C8 or C18 chains for the neutral compound to interact with. This decrease in interaction translates to a reduction in the retention time of neutral compounds.

Negative Ion-Pair Reagents:

Now, let's switch our focus to ion-pair reagents carrying a negative charge. Examples include alkyl sulfates or alkyl sulphonates.

Retention of Acidic Compounds:

In this case, the negatively charged ion-pair reagent repels the negatively charged acidic compound, leading to reduced interaction. Consequently, the retention time of acidic compounds decreases.

Retention of Basic Compounds:

Conversely, the negatively charged ion-pair agent attracts the positively charged basic compound, fostering an interaction. This interaction leads to the increased retention of basic compounds.

Retention of Neutral Compounds:

Neutral compounds, having no charge, do not engage in ionic interactions with the negatively charged ion-pair agent. However, the reduction in available C8 or C18 chains on the stationary phase results in a diminished interaction, thereby decreasing the retention time of neutral compounds.


Ion Pair Chromatography provides an intriguing solution to the challenge of retaining polar compounds in reverse-phase liquid chromatography. We can achieve remarkable results by modifying the stationary phase and introducing ion-pair reagents with different charges.

To summarize, in the presence of positively charged ion-pair reagents, ionized acidic compounds experience increased retention, while ionized basic compounds exhibit reduced retention. Neutral compounds see a marginal reduction in retention time. In contrast, negatively charged ion-pair reagents lead to reduced retention for ionized acidic compounds, increased retention for ionized basic compounds, and a marginal reduction in retention time for neutrals.

This article should serve as a valuable guide for chromatographers looking to master the art of retaining polar compounds in Ion Pair Chromatography. Thank you for joining us on this enlightening journey.


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page