Ionic vs Covalent Bonds: Chemical Combat

tug-o-war, competition, tug of war

If you want to stick a couple of atoms together you would probably use one of two chemical bonding choices – ionic or covalent bonding. But which bond is the best bond? James Bond? That’s silly he’s not an atom at all! Now back to the chemistry!


All atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons have a positive charge, neutrons have a neutral charge, and electrons have a negative charge.

Atoms have an equal amount protons and neutrons so that their charge balances out. They also have shells that hold the electrons in orbit around the protons and neutrons in the center. Each shell can only hold a certain number of electrons, and the shells fill in order from the interior shell outwards. The outermost shell is called the valence shell, and the electrons in this shell are called valence electrons. If this shell does not reach full capacity, it likes to bond with other atoms in order to stabilize.

There are two common ways atoms like to bond. Let’s check them out!

Covalent Bonds

h2, hydrogen
Image: wikipedia

The motto of atoms that like to form covalent bonds in “sharing is caring!” These atoms resolve the issue of their unfilled outer shells by sharing electrons with other atoms that also need to fill their shells.

For example, hydrogen atoms have 1 electron each, and need 2 for a stable valence shell. 2 hydrogen atoms can bond together by sharing their electrons, thus creating a stable valence shell between them with 2 electrons (H2).

Covelent bonding leads to the formation of molecules, or formations of atoms that share electrons. The shared electrons will spend time circulating between the valence shells of the bonded atoms.

Covalent bonds form between nonmetals.

Ionic Bonds

sodium chloride, nacl

Atoms that create ionic bonds are a little less friendly than covalent bonders – rather than sharing they like to pluck electrons off other atoms and keep them for themselves! Rude!

Let’s take a look at sodium chloride (NaCl) – also known as table salt!

Sodium has 1 valence electron, while chlorine has 7 valence electrons. Both atoms need 8 electrons to fill their valence shells, but rather than share them Chlorine just plucks away Sodium’s electron and tries to take off with it!

However, joke’s on chlorine! Stealing sodium’s electron turns chlorine into an ion with a negative charge, since it now has one more electron than it has protons. Sodium also becomes an ion, but with a positive charge from loosing an electron. As we all know, opposites attract, and sodium and chlorine become bonded to each other anyway, but this time due to their opposing charges rather than through shared electrons.

Rather than becoming molecules, atoms that bond ionically create an ionic lattice – a structured, repeating pattern in which the ions are held in formation based on their charges against one another.

Ionic bonding occurs between metals and nonmetals.

Choose your favorite!

So which will it be – friendly covalent bonding, or fiesty ionic bonding? Pick your favorite and let the competition begin! The fun starts April 12th at 11 AM ET. We’ll see you there!


  • Starting Lineup – top 3 players on each team, who earn 75% of their score in bonus points
  • All Other Players – earn 50% of their score in bonus points
  • Winning Team – 20,000 additional points
  • Each Team’s MVP – 5,000 additional points

Art by Elena Daly