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Is iron the same as ferrous sulfate: Difference Between Iron and Ferrous Sulfate

Difference Between Iron and Ferrous Sulfate

The key difference between iron and ferrous sulfate is that iron is a chemical element whereas ferrous sulfate is a chemical compound containing iron.

Iron is a chemical element that falls under the category of metals. It is one of the major elements that make up the earth. We also need iron as a nutrient in our body. Low levels of iron can lead to iron deficiency. Moreover, this chemical element has +2 and +3 as the most stable and common oxidation states. Therefore, it can form various chemical compounds in these forms. Ferrous sulfate is one such compound.


1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Iron 
3. What is Ferrous Sulfate
4. Side by Side Comparison – Iron vs Ferrous Sulfate in Tabular Form
5. Summary

What is Iron?

Iron is a chemical element having the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal. It is very common on earth, both in the outer and inner core. Moreover, it has a lustrous metallic appearance and occurs at solid-state under standard temperature and pressure. Also, it has high melting and boiling points; 1538 °C and 2862 °C, respectively. Further, the most stable and common oxidation states of iron are +2 and +3. The +2 state is ferrous while +3 is ferric. It is a ferromagnetic metal, and its thermal and electrical conductivity are also high.

Figure 01: Molten Raw Iron

There are many uses of iron – mainly as a basic metal for alloy production, as a structural material for constructions, as a supplement for iron deficiency anaemia, etc.

What is Ferrous Sulfate?

Ferrous sulfate is a type of iron supplement which denotes a range of salts with the chemical formula FeSO4.xH2O. It is useful to prevent low levels of iron in the blood. Most commonly, it occurs in the heptahydrate form. It has a blue-green appearance. In addition to medicinal applications, it has industrial uses as well.

Figure 02: A Sample of Ferrous Sulfate Heptahydrate

When considering the production of this compound, it forms as a byproduct during the finishing of steel, prior to plating or coating. Here, the steel sheet is passed through pickling baths of sulfuric where the ferrous sulfate formation occurs. Moreover, this compound can form in large amounts during the production of titanium dioxide from ilmenite using the sulfate process.

As a medication, physicians often recommend ferrous sulfate for iron deficiency, though it is not the best option. It is less absorbed and is toxic. Furthermore, it can cause a number of side effects such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, constipation, etc.

What is the Difference Between Iron and Ferrous Sulfate?

Ferrous sulfate is an ionic compound containing iron, sulfur and oxygen atoms. So, the key difference between iron and ferrous sulfate is that iron is a chemical element whereas ferrous sulfate is a chemical compound containing iron. When symbolizing each term, iron has the symbol Fe while the symbol for ferrous sulfate is FeSO4.

Furthermore, iron is useful as a structural material for construction purposes, as a supplement for iron deficiency, as a component in alloys, etc. while ferrous sulfate is useful as a supplement for iron deficiency, as a colourant in the manufacture of inks, as a soil amendment, etc.

The below infographic summarizes the difference between iron and ferrous sulfate.

Summary – Iron vs Ferrous Sulfate

Ferrous sulfate is basically an ionic compound containing iron, sulfur and oxygen atoms. Therefore, the key difference between iron and ferrous sulfate is that iron is a chemical element whereas ferrous sulfate is a chemical compound containing iron.


1. “Ferrous Sulfate Oral : Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing.” WebMD, WebMD, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Melted raw-iron” (CC BY-SA 3. 0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Iron(II)-sulfate-heptahydrate-sample” By Benjah-bmm27 – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

Iron | The Nutrition Source

Iron is an important mineral that helps maintain healthy blood. A lack of iron is called iron-deficiency anemia, which affects about 4-5 million Americans yearly. [1] It is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, causing extreme fatigue and lightheadedness. It affects all ages, with children, women who are pregnant or menstruating, and people receiving kidney dialysis among those at highest risk for this condition.

Iron is a major component of hemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of the body. Without enough iron, there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport oxygen, which leads to fatigue. Iron is also part of myoglobin, a protein that carries and stores oxygen specifically in muscle tissues. Iron is important for healthy brain development and growth in children, and for the normal production and function of various cells and hormones.

Iron from food comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme is found only in animal flesh like meat, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Non-heme iron is also found in animal flesh (as animals consume plant foods with non-heme iron) and fortified foods.

Iron is stored in the body as ferritin (in the liver, spleen, muscle tissue, and bone marrow) and is delivered throughout the body by transferrin (a protein in blood that binds to iron). A doctor may sometimes check blood levels of these two components if anemia is suspected.

Recommended Amounts

RDA:  The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 19-50 years is 8 mg daily for men, 18 mg for women, 27 mg for pregnancy, and 9 mg for lactation. [2] The higher amounts in women and pregnancy are due to blood loss through menstruation and because of the rapid growth of the fetus requiring extra blood circulation during pregnancy. Adolescents 14-18 years actively growing also need higher iron: 11 mg for boys, 15 mg for girls, 27 mg for pregnancy, and 10 mg for lactation. The RDA for women 51+ years drops to 8 mg with the assumption that cessation of menstruation has occurred with menopause. It may be noted that menopause occurs later for some women, so they should continue to follow the RDA for younger women until menopause is confirmed.

UL:  The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is the maximum daily intake unlikely to cause harmful effects on health. The UL for iron is 45 mg daily for all males and females ages 14+ years.  For younger ages, the UL is 40 mg.

Food Sources

Meats, poultry, and seafood are richest in heme iron. Fortified grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables contain non-heme iron. In the U.S. many breads, cereals, and infant formulas are fortified with iron.

Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron. Certain factors can improve or inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. Vitamin C and heme iron taken at the same meal can improve the absorption of non-heme iron. Bran fiber, large amounts of calcium particularly from supplements, and plant substances like phytates and tannins can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. [3]

Sources of heme iron:

  • Oysters, clams, mussels
  • Beef or chicken liver
  • Organ meats
  • Canned sardines
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Canned light tuna

Sources of non-heme iron: 

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans
  • Dark chocolate (at least 45%)
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Potato with skin
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Enriched rice or bread
What about iron supplements?

Iron is available in supplement form. Some cereals and multivitamin/mineral supplements are fortified with 100% of the RDA for women for iron (18 mg). Over-the-counter high-dosage iron supplements prescribed for those with iron-deficiency anemia or who are at high risk for it may contain 65 mg or more. Commonly reported side effects of using high-dosage iron supplements include constipation and nausea.

Confusion with iron supplements

There are several types of iron available as over-the-counter supplements, e.g., ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate. Confusion is also caused by two number amounts listed on the label, a higher number and a lower number. What is the difference among supplement forms and which number should you refer to for the right amount to take?

Elemental versus chemical form of iron. If two iron amounts are listed on the label, the larger number is the chemical compound form because iron is bound to salts (e.g., ferrous sulfate), whereas the smaller number refers only to the amount of iron in the compound, also called the elemental iron. Elemental iron is the more important number because this is the amount available for the body to absorb. However, a physician may not specify in a prescription if the iron amount is the chemical form or the elemental iron. For example, a ferrous sulfate iron supplement may list a total of 325 mg of ferrous sulfate on the front of the label but 65 mg of elemental iron in smaller print on the back. If a physician prescribed 65 mg of iron, would you take five pills to equal 325 mg, or just one pill, assuming the prescription referred to elemental iron?

Different types. All types of supplemental iron help to increase red blood cell production but vary in cost and amounts of elemental iron. Ferrous gluconate is usually sold in liquid form and some clinical studies have shown that it is better absorbed than ferrous sulfate tablets. However, ferrous gluconate contains less elemental iron than ferrous sulfate, so a greater dosage may be needed to correct a deficiency. It is also more expensive than ferrous sulfate. Newer slow-release forms of iron have been introduced, which may help reduce gastrointestinal side effects, but they are more expensive and usually contain less iron.

Any confusion with iron supplement types and amounts can be resolved by asking your doctor to specify both the elemental amount and the chemical compound amount. You can also ask a store pharmacist for assistance in interpreting a doctor’s prescription or to recommend an appropriate amount if you do not have a prescription.

Signs of Deficiency and Toxicity


An iron deficiency is seen most commonly in children, women who are menstruating or pregnant, and those eating a diet lacking in iron.

Iron deficiency occurs in stages. [4] The mild form begins with a decrease in stored iron, usually either from a low-iron diet or from excessive bleeding. If this does not resolve, the next stage is a greater depletion of iron stores and a drop in red blood cells. Eventually this leads to iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) where iron stores are used up and there is significant loss of total red blood cells. Typically, a doctor screens for anemia by first checking a complete blood count (including hemoglobin, hematocrit, and other factors that measure red blood cell volume and size). If this is below normal, ferritin and transferrin levels may be measured to determine if the type of anemia is IDA (there are other forms of anemia not caused specifically by an iron deficiency). All of these measures would decrease with IDA.

Signs of IDA:

  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion, loss of concentration
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Pale skin
  • Hair loss, brittle nails
  • Pica: cravings for dirt, clay, ice, or other non-food items

IDA is usually corrected with oral iron supplements of up to 150-200 mg of elemental iron daily. Those at high risk of IDA may be prescribed 60-100 mg daily. Blood levels should be rechecked periodically, and supplements discontinued or taken at a lower dosage if levels return to normal, as long-term high dosages can lead to constipation or other digestive upset.

Groups at risk for IDA:

  • Pregnant women—during pregnancy a woman produces much greater amounts of red blood cells for the fetus, increasing the need for additional dietary or supplemental iron. IDA during pregnancy can lead to premature birth or low birth weight so iron is routinely included in prenatal vitamins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all pregnant women begin taking 30 mg daily of supplemental iron. [3]
  • Menstruating women—women who experience heavy bleeding during menstruation (lasting longer than 7 days or soaking through tampons or pads once every hour) can develop IDA.
  • Children—infants and children have high iron needs due to their rapid growth.
  • Elderly—older ages are associated with a higher risk of poor nutrition and chronic inflammatory diseases that can lead to anemia. [1]
  • Vegetarians—those who eat a diet without heme iron from meats, fish, and poultry may develop IDA if they do not include adequate non-heme iron foods in the diet. Because non-heme iron is not well-absorbed, either greater quantities of these foods my be required or careful attention is needed in how they are eaten to improve absorption (consuming with vitamin C-rich foods while avoiding eating with calcium-rich foods, calcium supplements, or tea).
  • Endurance athletes—running can cause trace amounts of gastrointestinal bleeding and a condition called “foot-strike” hemolysis that breaks down red blood cells at a faster rate. Female endurance athletes who are also menstruating are at greatest risk for IDA. [4]
  • People with chronic kidney failure on dialysis—the kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) that signals the body to make red blood cells. Kidney failure reduces the production of EPO and therefore blood cells. In addition, there is some blood loss during hemodialysis.

What is anemia of chronic disease?

Anemia of chronic disease (AOCD) occurs not from a low iron intake but with conditions that cause inflammation in the body, such as infections, cancer, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, heart failure, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. The body may actually contain normal amounts of iron, but levels in the blood are very low. Inflammation changes the body’s immune function, preventing the body from being able to use available stored iron to make red blood cells and also causing blood cells to die out more quickly.

Treatment for AOCD focuses on treating the inflammatory condition. Increasing iron in the diet typically does not help. If the inflammation or condition improves, the anemia will usually decrease as well. In rare severe cases, a blood transfusion can be given to quickly boost the amount of hemoglobin in the blood.


Toxicity is rare because the body regulates iron absorption and will absorb less if iron stores are adequate. [2] Excessive iron occurs most often from taking high-dosage supplements when not needed or from having a genetic condition that stores too much iron.

Common signs:

  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

Some people have a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis that causes an excessive buildup of iron in the body. Treatments are given periodically to remove blood or excess iron in the blood. People with hemochromatosis are educated to follow a low-iron diet and to avoid iron and vitamin C supplements. If left untreated, iron can build up in certain organs so that there is a higher risk of developing conditions like liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, or heart disease. 

Did You Know?

It is possible to obtain enough iron in a vegetarian/vegan diet with careful planning. Try this easy dish that can boost iron levels by combining foods rich in non-heme iron and vitamin C:

  • In a large bowl, combine cooked beans or lentils with diced fresh tomatoes, raw baby spinach, pumpkin seeds or cashews, and raisins or dried chopped apricots. Drizzle with a simple lemon vinaigrette made from 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of honey (optional). Stir ingredients well and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes to incorporate the flavors.


Vitamins and Minerals


  1. Le CH. The prevalence of anemia and moderate-severe anemia in the US population (NHANES 2003-2012). PLoS One. 2016 Nov 15;11(11):e0166635.
  2. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc : a Report of the Panel on Micronutrients. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.
  3. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron Fact Sheet for Health Professionals https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 9/2/2019.
  4. Powers JM, Buchanan GR. Disorders of Iron Metabolism: New Diagnostic and Treatment Approaches to Iron Deficiency. Hematology/Oncology Clinics. 2019 Jun 1;33(3):393-408.

Last reviewed March 2023

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The difference between iron and ferrous sulfate

We use them in our lives in one way or another at some point. They exist in several forms, and there are also different types of elements.

Science Quiz

Test your knowledge on science-related topics

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What is the purpose of a choke in lamplight?

To reduce the current

To increase the current

To reduce the voltage for a short time

For a short-term increase in voltage

2 / 10

An atom is considered __________ when the number of protons and electrons is equal.




3 / 10

The bond between non-metals and non-metals is called ___________.

Ionic bond

Covalent bond

Non-metallic bond

4 / 10

The bond that occurs between metals and non-metals is called _______________.

Ionic bond

Covalent bond

Metal bond

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6 / 10

Chemical formula of water


9000 2 h3O



7 / 10

oxygenated blood from the heart to other parts of the body?



Both a and b)

Neither of these

8 / 10

Which of the following organisms breathes through the skin?





9 / 10

What is the scientific name of human?

Mangifera Indica

Tiger’s wound

Homo sapiens

human species

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Nitric oxide

Carbon monoxide

Sulfur dioxide

Hydrogen peroxide

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Key Findings

  1. Iron is a chemical element and a metal, and ferrous sulfate is a chemical compound containing iron.
  2. Iron is critical in construction and manufacturing, while ferrous sulfate is often used as a food additive and in water treatment.
  3. Ferrous sulfate is a source of bioavailable iron for the body, which helps prevent or treat iron deficiency anemia.

Iron vs Ferrous Sulfate

Iron is an essential chemical for the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. It is an essential mineral necessary for the growth and development of the body. Ferrous sulfate is an iron preparation for the prevention or treatment of anemia. It acts as an iron supplement to maintain regular blood iron levels.

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This is one of the most useful chemical elements. It falls in group 8 and period 4 on the periodic table and is part of the d-block.

There are several other names by which he is addressed. However, the IUPAC name for ferrous sulfate is iron II. sulfate.

Comparison chart

Comparison parameters Iron Ferrous sulfate
Meaning/definition The chemical element with the symbol “Fe” and atomic number 26 is known as iron. A chemical compound obtained from iron by introducing certain characteristics into it is called ferrous sulfate.
Type Chemical element Chemical compound
Uses It is used to make steel along with other additives. It is also used to make alloys, as well as pipes, valves, etc. It helps in the treatment of iron deficiency and is also used to prevent iron deficiency. It also generates red blood cells in the human body.
chemical properties Rusting, iron dissolves only in dilute acids. The melting point of iron is 1536 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of iron is 2861 degrees Celsius. Anhydrous ferrous sulfate has a boiling point of 680 degrees Celsius. Ferrous sulfate dissolves in water.
Physical properties Iron is malleable and ductile, it also has a luster, gray or silver color. Depending on their hydrated state, ferrous sulfate is available in colors such as turquoise and a mixture of blue and green. It is odorless and is in a solid state.

What is iron?

The chemical element with the symbol “Fe” and atomic number 26 is known as iron. It is abundantly available on Earth, and many places inside or outside the Earth contain iron in sufficient quantities.

It is considered the fourth most abundant element on planet Earth. It is one of the most useful chemical elements. It falls in group 8 and period 4 on the periodic table and is part of the d-block.

Foods such as leafy vegetables, chickpeas, fish, lentils, etc. are rich in iron, which helps the human body build strength and energy.

In addition, various tools are also made using iron. It is also used to make alloys, which are also very useful for various uses in various fields and fields.

What is ferrous sulfate?

A chemical compound obtained from iron by introducing certain characteristics into it is called ferrous sulfate. It is a chemical compound and also a hydrated version of iron.

Ferrous sulfate is the hydrated form of iron and has several uses, physical properties as well as chemical properties. There are several other names by which he is addressed.

The monohydrate form of ferrous sulfate is white-yellow in color with a crystalline structure. The heptahydrate form of ferrous sulfate is also blue-green in color with a crystalline structure.

Ferrous sulfate is widely used as a precursor of iron and other iron compounds. Widely used in medicine to treat iron deficiency. It is also used to avoid iron deficiency.

Main differences between iron and ferrous sulfate

  1. The properties of iron differ from those of ferrous sulfate.
  2. Iron dissolves only in dilute acids. On the other hand, ferrous sulfate dissolves in water.


  1. https://europepmc.org/article/med/32
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0032959295850031

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Difference Between Carbonyl Iron and Ferrous Sulfate

The main difference between carbonyl iron and ferrous sulfate is that carbonyl iron is less toxic and better tolerated than the iron component in ferrous sulfate.

As a rule, iron in our body comes in sufficient quantities with food from the diet. There are many foods that contain iron, such as mushrooms, berries, liver, etc. In the image below, see the amount of iron in 100 g of the product.

Sources of iron in foods

When iron is deficient in the body, iron supplements are often used.

The terms Iron Carbonyl and Ferrous Sulphate are used primarily in relation to drugs for iron deficiency. These are sources of iron that can be obtained as iron supplements. Carbonyl iron is considered to be more effective than the iron component derived from ferrous sulfate. This is due to differences in absorption, toxicity and tolerance between the two.

  1. Overview and main differences
  2. What is Carbonyl Iron?
  3. What is ferrous sulfate?
  4. What is the difference between Iron Carbonyl and Ferrous Sulphate?
  5. Conclusion
What is Carbonyl Iron?

Carbonyl iron is an iron medication and supplement that can be used to help prevent low iron levels in the blood. Maintaining iron levels in the body is important, as iron is an essential mineral in the body. Often, these drugs come in the form of tablets.

Carbonyl iron tablets

In addition, our body slowly absorbs this iron component. Thus, the digestive effect on iron in this preparation is minimal. Typically, when taking this drug, iron is absorbed from 10 to 150 times more than when taking a standard dose of ferrous sulfate. However, with all the benefits, there may be some side effects that may occur after taking these tablets, such as:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
  • Teeth discoloration
  • Dark stools
What is ferrous sulfate?

Ferrous sulfate is a type of iron supplement that contains a number of salts with the chemical formula FeSO 4 H 2 O. It can be used to prevent low iron levels in the blood. Most often it is produced in the form of a heptahydrate. Has a blue-green color. In addition to medicinal uses, there are also industrial uses for ferrous sulfate.

Ferrous sulphate

Ferrous sulphate is obtained as a by-product from pickling steel with dilute sulfuric acid (H 2 SO 4) before electroplating. Here, the steel sheet is passed through pickling baths with sulfuric acid, where ferrous sulfate is formed. In addition, this compound can be formed in large quantities during the production of titanium dioxide from ilmenite using the sulfate process.

Ferrous Sulphate Preparation

Doctors often recommend ferrous sulfate as a remedy for iron deficiency, although this is not the best option as it has less iron absorption and is more toxic. In addition, it can cause a number of side effects such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation, etc.

What is the difference between Carbonyl Iron and Ferrous Sulphate?

Carbonyl iron and ferrous sulfate are used as iron supplements. The main difference between carbonyl iron and ferrous sulfate is that carbonyl iron is less toxic and better tolerated than the iron component in ferrous sulfate.