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Catalyst vs. Inhibitor: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 29, 2023
A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being consumed, while an inhibitor is a substance that slows down or prevents a chemical reaction.
Catalyst vs. Inhibitor

Key Differences

A catalyst works by providing an alternative pathway for a chemical reaction, typically reducing the activation energy needed. This leads to an increase in the reaction rate. On the other hand, an inhibitor interferes with the reaction process, often by binding to reactants or altering the reaction pathway, thereby reducing the rate of the reaction or stopping it altogether.
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Dec 29, 2023
In industrial processes, a catalyst is often used to speed up production and make it more efficient. For example, catalysts are crucial in making fertilizers and refining petroleum. In contrast, an inhibitor is used to control or halt reactions, such as in preventing metal corrosion or controlling the rate of polymerization in plastics manufacturing.
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In biological systems, enzymes act as catalysts that facilitate and speed up biochemical reactions necessary for life, such as digestion and cellular respiration. Conversely, inhibitors in biology can regulate enzyme activity, serving as a control mechanism for various metabolic pathways.
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The presence of a catalyst in a chemical reaction doesn't change the equilibrium of the reaction; it only helps in reaching the equilibrium faster. In contrast, an inhibitor can shift the equilibrium of a reaction by changing the relative rates of the forward and reverse reactions.
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Catalysts are often specific to particular reactions or types of reactions, meaning they catalyze only certain reactions without affecting others. Inhibitors, too, can be specific, targeting only particular enzymes or reaction pathways, which is especially important in pharmaceutical applications where targeted inhibition is required.
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Comparison Chart

Function

Accelerates reactions
Slows down or prevents reactions
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Industrial Use

Increases production efficiency
Controls or halts undesirable reactions
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Biological Role

Facilitates biochemical reactions
Regulates enzyme activity
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Effect on Reaction Equilibrium

Does not change equilibrium
Can shift equilibrium
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Specificity

Specific to certain reactions
Can be targeted to specific enzymes or pathways
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Catalyst and Inhibitor Definitions

Catalyst

A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction.
The enzyme acted as a catalyst in the digestion process.
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Inhibitor

A molecule that binds to an enzyme and decreases its activity.
The medication is an effective inhibitor of the enzyme.
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Catalyst

A substance that lowers the activation energy of a reaction.
Platinum is a catalyst in catalytic converters for cars.
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Inhibitor

An agent that impedes or interferes with a process.
The paint contains a corrosion inhibitor.
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Catalyst

A catalyst remains unchanged after the reaction.
The catalyst was recovered intact after the chemical synthesis.
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Inhibitor

A substance that slows down or stops a chemical reaction.
The drug acts as an inhibitor of the virus's replication.
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Catalyst

An agent that provokes or speeds up significant change or action.
The court ruling served as a catalyst for legal reform.
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Inhibitor

A factor that restricts or limits an action or process.
UV light serves as a natural inhibitor for the growth of bacteria.
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Catalyst

(Chemistry) A substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.
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Inhibitor

A chemical that prevents undesirable reactions.
The additive in fuel works as an oxidation inhibitor.
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Catalyst

One that precipitates a process or event, especially without being involved in or changed by the consequences
"A free press ... has remained ... a vital catalyst to an informed and responsible electorate" (Robert O'Neal).
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Inhibitor

One that inhibits, as a substance that retards or stops a chemical reaction.
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Catalyst

(chemistry) A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without being consumed in the process.
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Inhibitor

One who or that which inhibits.
I found daily meditation to be a useful inhibitor of negative thoughts.
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Catalyst

Something that encourages progress or change.
Economic development and integration are working as a catalyst for peace.
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Inhibitor

(chemistry) Any substance capable of stopping or slowing a specific chemical reaction.
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Catalyst

(literature) An inciting incident that sets the successive conflict into motion.
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Inhibitor

(biology) Any substance capable of stopping or slowing a specific biological process
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Catalyst

(automotive) A catalytic converter.
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Inhibitor

That which causes inhibitory action; esp., an inhibitory nerve.
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Catalyst

(fantasy) An object that facilitates the casting of a spell (such as a magic wand).
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Inhibitor

A substance that retards or stops an activity
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Catalyst

A substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected; as, thousands of enzymes serve in concert as calaysts to produce the sequence of reactions we call "life"; the industrial production of cheap ammonia depended on finding a good catalyst.
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Catalyst

Something that serves as a precipitating occasion for an event; as, the invasion acted as a catalyst to unite the country.
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Catalyst

Something or someone that causes events to happen with itself being changed.
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Catalyst

(chemistry) a substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected
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Catalyst

Something that causes an important event to happen;
The invasion acted as a catalyst to unite the country
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Catalyst

A factor that precipitates or facilitates an event.
His speech was a catalyst for the public movement.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Are catalysts used in everyday products?

Yes, catalysts are used in products like detergents and catalytic converters.
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What is a catalyst in simple terms?

A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction without being consumed.
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How does an inhibitor work?

An inhibitor works by slowing down or preventing a chemical reaction.
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Can inhibitors be beneficial?

Yes, inhibitors can be beneficial in controlling unwanted reactions, like corrosion.
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Is a catalyst always a chemical?

While often chemical, catalysts can also be biological, like enzymes.
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Can the same substance be a catalyst and inhibitor?

In different reactions or conditions, the same substance can be both.
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Do catalysts change the final products of a reaction?

No, catalysts do not change the final products, only the rate of reaction.
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What are examples of inhibitors in the body?

In the body, inhibitors include certain drugs that block enzyme activities.
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How do catalysts affect activation energy?

Catalysts lower the activation energy required for a reaction.
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Can inhibitors be harmful?

Inhibitors can be harmful if they impede beneficial or necessary chemical reactions.
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Do catalysts get used up in a reaction?

No, catalysts do not get consumed in the reaction they catalyze.
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Are inhibitors used in medicine?

Yes, inhibitors are widely used in medicine to control diseases and conditions.
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What role do inhibitors play in industrial processes?

Inhibitors control or prevent unwanted reactions in various industrial processes.
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Can environmental factors affect catalysts?

Yes, factors like temperature and pH can affect catalysts' effectiveness.
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Are inhibitors always chemicals?

Inhibitors can be chemicals, but in biological contexts, they may be molecules or compounds.
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Can catalysts be harmful?

If misused or in wrong reactions, catalysts can lead to unintended consequences.
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Can catalysts be reused?

Many catalysts can be reused, but their activity may diminish over time.
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Can an inhibitor be a catalyst under different conditions?

Yes, some substances can act as inhibitors or catalysts under different conditions.
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How do catalysts affect reaction rates?

Catalysts increase reaction rates by providing alternative reaction pathways.
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How are inhibitors selected for use?

Inhibitors are selected based on their specificity and effectiveness in a given reaction.
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Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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