A number of experimental methods for determining the specific gravities of solids, liquids, and gases have been devised. A solid is weighed first in air, then while immersed in water; the difference in the two weights, according to Archimedes' principle, is the weight of the water displaced by the volume of the solid. If the solid is less dense than water, some means must be adopted to fully submerge it, e.g., a system of pulleys or a sinker of known mass and volume. The specific gravity of the solid is the ratio of its weight in air to the difference between its weight in air and its weight immersed in water.
Two methods are commonly used for determining the specific gravities of liquids. One method uses the hydrometer, an instrument that gives a specific gravity reading directly. A second method, called the bottle method, uses a "specific-gravity bottle," i.e., a flask made to hold a known volume of liquid at a specified temperature (usually 20°C). The bottle is weighed, filled with the liquid whose specific gravity is to be found, and weighed again. The difference in weights is divided by the weight of an equal volume of water to give the specific gravity of the liquid. For gases a method essentially the same as the bottle method for liquids is used. Specific gravities of gases are usually converted mathematically to their value at standard temperature and pressure (see STP).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.