What’s the Difference between GC/MS and Ion Chromatography?

GC-MS vs. Ion ChromatographyAll manufacturers aim to create the highest quality and safest products for their customers. Often times, analytical testing services from a materials testing lab are enlisted to make sure manufacturers are doing just that.

Analytical testing can uncover the causes of product failures, identify contaminants or toxins, and also determine the chemical composition of samples. Two commonly used materials testing techniques are ion chromatography (IC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). While both are forms of chromatography and can be used in similar ways, each is unique and valuable for different situations.

Below we discuss similarities and differences, and when each technique is utilized.


Both testing techniques are forms of analytical chromatography, which analyzes and measures the chemical makeup of a sample. In addition, both techniques are able to identify contaminants and have quality control applications throughout the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, environmental and food industries.


Instrumentation and sample extraction methods are what set these two techniques apart.

Ion chromatography can be used to identify and quantify ionic contaminants such as chlorides, sulfates, phosphates and ammonia. To do so, a High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) system equipped with a conductivity detector is used to separate anions or cations. IC is often used for cleanliness testing and can be especially useful for medical device or electronics manufacturers.

For example, any contaminants on a medical device could cause slow healing times or infection, device failure or harm the person in whom it’s implanted. IC analysis can identify any ionic contaminants on a device and help trace the contamination back to a step in the manufacturing process.

As for GC/MS analysis, this technique separates, identifies and quantifies compounds in a sample. Liquids can be directly injected into the GC/MS for analysis. Residual solvents in a product or materials outgassing from a solid can be analyzed by GC/MS using headspace analysis. Headspace analysis, which can be done on a solid or liquid sample, uses heat to extract volatile or semi-volatile organic compounds from a sample material.

As an example, if a product is putting off a noxious or unexpected smell, that could be an indicator of a process error involving material ingredients or mechanical faults. GC/MS headspace analysis can be used to evaluate the gaseous emissions in a contained environment and uncover the root cause of the odor.

When is each testing method used?

IC can be used for the following situations:

  • Ensuring product cleanliness
  • Water analysis
  • Environmental analysis
  • Identifying food additives

Learn more about Ion Chromatography and IC analysis lab services.

GC/MS can be used for the following situations:

  • Identifying residual solvents that may be trapped or offgassing from products
  • Identifying and quantifying unknown samples
  • Identifying unknown contaminants
  • Environmental analysis
  • Identifying trace elements in samples
  • Identifying gasses in a sealed environment

Learn more about GC/MS analysis and GC/MS analysis lab services.

For more information on ion chromatography, GC/MS analysis or other materials testing services from Innovatech Labs, contact us today.

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