Skip to Content

What shape is SF6?

SF6, also known as sulfur hexafluoride, is an inorganic, colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas belonging to the family of sulfur fluorides. Its chemical formula is SF6 and its molar mass is 146.06 g/mol. SF6 is one of the most stable gaseous chemical compounds due to the symmetrical and stable structure of its sulfur and fluorine atoms. It is primarily used as an electrical insulator in high voltage equipment due to its high dielectric strength and arc quenching abilities. Determining the shape of SF6 is an important step in understanding its physical and chemical properties.

Molecular Geometry

The sulfur atom in SF6 has 6 valence electrons and thus needs 2 more electrons from the 6 fluorine atoms to complete its octet. Each fluorine atom has 7 valence electrons and needs 1 more electron to complete its octet. Therefore, the Lewis structure of SF6 is:

As seen in the Lewis structure, the central sulfur atom forms 6 polar covalent bonds with the 6 surrounding fluorine atoms. Each fluorine atom is symmetrically arranged around the sulfur atom with a bond angle of 90°.

According to VSEPR theory, the shape of a molecule depends on the number of electron pairs present around the central atom. SF6 has 6 bonding pairs of electrons around the central sulfur atom and no lone pairs. Therefore, the electron pair geometry of SF6 is octahedral with the molecular geometry being octahedral as well.

Octahedral Molecular Geometry

Molecules with an octahedral electron pair geometry have a central atom surrounded by 6 other atoms, groups, or bonding pairs of electrons. The 6 electron groups are oriented in an octahedral arrangement with 90° angles between each group. This gives the molecules a shape similar to a octahedron, which is an eight-sided dual pyramid with triangular faces.

Some key properties of molecules with an octahedral geometry are:

  • Presence of a central atom bonded to 6 outer atoms/groups
  • 6 bonding pairs of electrons on the central atom
  • No lone pairs of electrons on the central atom
  • Bond angles of 90° between the electron groups
  • Symmetric distribution of the outer atoms/groups
  • An eight-sided structure resembling an octahedron

Other examples of octahedral molecules include PCl5, SF4, and XeF6.

Therefore, based on its octahedral molecular geometry, the shape of SF6 is that of an octahedron with sulfur at the center bonded symmetrically to 6 fluorine atoms.

Physical Properties

The octahedral geometry and symmetrical arrangement of fluorine atoms gives SF6 molecule a uniform electric charge distribution. This results in several key physical properties:

  • Non-polar: SF6 is a nonpolar molecule due to the symmetrical distribution of charge.
  • Inertness: The stable geometry makes SF6 chemically inert and non-reactive.
  • Low reactivity: All 6 fluorine positions are filled, making SF6 resistant to further chemical reactions.
  • Gaseous state: SF6 is a gas at room temperature and standard pressures.
  • High density: Solid SF6 has a density of 6.12 g/cm3, significantly higher than air.

Chemical Properties

The octahedral arrangement and stable electron configuration provide SF6 with these chemical properties:

  • Electronegativity: Fluorine has the highest electronegativity among all elements which polarizes the S-F bonds towards F atoms.
  • Thermal stability: SF6 remains stable up to 500°C and can be used over a wide temperature range.
  • Low toxicity: The stable structure results in low reactivity and toxicity.
  • Dielectric strength: Excellent insulator with dielectric strength 2-3 times that of air.
  • Arc suppression: Can quickly quench electric arcs and prevent damage to equipment.

Overall, the octahedral geometry and highly symmetric distribution of fluorine atoms give SF6 an extremely stable molecular structure. This grants SF6 a unique combination of physical and chemical properties ideal for electrical insulation applications.


The stable octahedral structure and properties of SF6 allow it to have these important applications:

  • High voltage insulation: Used extensively in high voltage circuit breakers and switchgear up to 800kV.
  • Arc quenching: Its arc suppression capabilities protect electrical equipment from damage.
  • Etchant: Used in the etching of silicon wafers during semiconductor manufacturing.
  • Tracer gas: Used to detect leaks in high voltage equipment due to its high detectability.
  • Inert shielding gas: Utilized in magnesium casting and splicing of optic fibers.
  • Soundproof windows: Sandwiched between sheets of glass for sound insulation.

The most common application of SF6 remains in gas insulated switchgear and circuit breakers at power generation plants and substations. Approximately 80% of all SF6 produced is used in high voltage electrical equipment.

Environmental Impact

While SF6 has several beneficial applications, it also has some environmental concerns:

  • Potent greenhouse gas: SF6 has a global warming potential 23,500 times higher than CO2.
  • Atmospheric lifetime: 3,200 years which can persist in the atmosphere.
  • Ozone depletion potential: Minor compared to other fluorinated gases.

However, its use is regulated under the Kyoto Protocol due to its global warming effects. Strict guidelines are followed in the storage, handling, and recycling of SF6 gas. With proper precautions, the environmental impact of SF6 usage can be minimized.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is SF6 a polar or nonpolar molecule?

SF6 is a nonpolar molecule because of its symmetrical structure which results in an even distribution of charge. The electronegativity difference between sulfur and fluorine atoms is not enough to make the S-F bond significantly polar.

What is the bond angle in SF6?

The bond angle between the sulfur-fluorine bonds in SF6 is 90 degrees. This results in an octahedral arrangement of the fluorine atoms around the central sulfur atom.

Is SF6 flammable or non-flammable?

SF6 is non-flammable and does not support combustion. Its high thermal and chemical stability prevent it from catching fire or reacting with other substances. This makes it useful in electrical equipment as an arc-quenching medium.

What is the total number of valence electrons in SF6?

The sulfur atom has 6 valence electrons, each of the 6 fluorine atoms has 7 valence electrons. Therefore, the total number of valence electrons in SF6 is 6 + 6(7) = 48. These electrons fully fill the valence shell of SF6 in its stable octahedral structure.

Why is SF6 a greenhouse gas?

The strong molecular bonds in SF6 prevent it from reacting in the lower atmosphere. Being non-polar, SF6 does not dissolve or react with water vapor. This allows SF6 to persist for thousands of years in the upper atmosphere where it absorbs infrared radiation, causing greenhouse gas effects.


In summary, SF6 is an inorganic compound with an octahedral molecular geometry consisting of a central sulfur atom bonded with six fluorine atoms in a symmetrical arrangement. The stable electron configuration and evenly distributed charge density give SF6 unique physical and chemical properties. It is primarily used as a gaseous dielectric medium in high voltage applications due to its high insulating strength and arc suppression capabilities. Strict gas handling precautions need to be followed as SF6 is one of the most potent greenhouse gases with a very long atmospheric lifetime. With responsible usage, SF6 remains an important component in the safe and reliable functioning of electrical equipment worldwide.