Difference Between Combustion and Burning

Combustion vs Burning

Originally oxidation reactions were identified as the reactions in which oxygen gas participates. There, oxygen combines with another molecule to produce an oxide. In this reaction, oxygen undergoes reduction and the other substance undergoes oxidation. So basically oxidation reaction is adding oxygen to another substance. For example, in the following reaction, hydrogen undergoes oxidation and, therefore, oxygen atom has added to hydrogen forming water.

2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O

Another way to describe oxidation is as loss of hydrogen. There are some occasions where it is hard to describe oxidation as adding oxygen. For example, in the following reaction oxygen has added to both carbon and hydrogen. But only carbon has undergone oxidation. In this instance, oxidation can be described by saying it is the loss of hydrogen. As hydrogens have been removed from methane when producing carbon dioxide, the carbon there has been oxidized.

CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O

There are various types of oxidation reactions. Some are happening in the natural environment daily. For example, the cellular respiration, which produces energy inside every living organism’s cells, is also an oxidation reaction. Most of the elements are combining with atmospheric oxygen and form oxides. Mineral formation and metal rusting are results of this. Other than the natural phenomenon, there are man-involved oxidizing reactions too. Burning and combustion are some oxidizing reactions where humans are involved in.


Combustion or heating is a reaction where heat is produced by an exothermic reaction. Combustion is an oxidation reaction. For the reaction to take place, a fuel and an oxidant should be there. Substances undergoing the combustion are known as fuels. These can be hydrocarbons like petrol, diesel, methane, or hydrogen gas, etc. Usually the oxidizing agent is oxygen, but there can be other oxidants like fluorine too. In the reaction, the fuel is oxidized by the oxidant. So this is an oxidation reaction. When hydrocarbon fuels are used, the products after a complete combustion are usually carbon dioxide and water. In a complete combustion, few products will be formed, and it will produce the maximum energy output that the reactant can give. But for a complete combustion to take place, unlimited and constant oxygen supply and optimum temperature should be there.  Complete combustion is not always favored. Rather incomplete combustion takes place. If the combustion does not happen completely, carbon monoxide and other particles can be released into the atmosphere, which can cause much pollution.


This is also a type of combustion. If flames are arising as a result of the combustion process, then it is known as burning. When a flammable material and oxygen is reacted together, the material will burn. As a result, heat and light energy is produced.


What is the difference between Combustion and Burning?

• Burning is also a type of combustion.

• In burning, flames can be seen. But combustion is a reaction taking place without flames.

• Since most of the energy is converted to light energy in burning, the produced amount of heat can be lesser than in combustion.


  • Anees

    Nicely explained the difference between combustion and burning

  • B.Sai Nandini

    thank you for a neat and detailed explanation

  • Keertana Pillai

    quite helpful.

  • Keertana Pillai

    but combustion and burning aren’t really different? just burning being a sub division of combustion with an added characteristic-flame?