Even geologists can have a difficult time identifying minerals. There are over 4,000 known minerals, and approximately 80-100 new ones are discovered each year. Of all these, only a few hundred are considered common.

To help with identification, geologists must look closely at the physical properties of a mineral. These properties can include: color, streak, hardness, cleavage, specific gravity, crystal form, and others.

Read The Difference Between Rocks and Minerals


Some minerals can be recognized by their color: azurite is always a deep blue and malachite is green. Generally, color alone is not the best tool in identification because color can be highly variable. Some minerals can occur in a variety of different colors due to impurities in the chemical makeup of the mineral. For example, calcite is commonly white, but can be blue, brown, yellow, orange, red, gray to black, or colorless.


Luster refers to the brightness of light reflected from the mineral's surface. The main types of luster are metallic and nonmetallic. Some of the more important nonmetallic lusters are:
  • Adamantine: brilliant, like that of a diamond.
  • Earthy: dull, like kaolin.
  • Silky: having the sheen of silk, like satin spar, a variety of gypsum.
  • Greasy: oily appearance.
  • Resinous: waxy appearance, like sphalerite.
  • Vitreous: the appearance of broken glass, like quartz.
  • Nacreous (pearly): like mother of pearl; for example, pearly luster on fossil gastropods and cephalopods.
Read about Luster of Minerals here.


A streak test is accomplished by rubbing the mineral on a porcelain plate, also known as a streak plate. The color of the streak left by the mineral is sometimes different from the color of the mineral itself. A streak test comes in handy when identifying minerals such as hematite. Hematite can be found in various colors from black to red, but it always leaves a red streak.
Read about streak here.


Hardness is a measure of a mineral’s resistance to abrasion. A numerical value for hardness is determined using a scale that ranges from 1 (softest) to 10 (hardest). Developed by a German mineralogist, Friedrich Mohs, the Mohs Hardness Scale assigns hardness values to 10 representative minerals as well as other common materials (penny, knife blade, etc.). Talc is the softest mineral and diamond is the hardest mineral.
Read more about The Mohs scale of mineral Hardness


Cleavage can be observed in minerals that tend to break along one or more flat surfaces or planes. The number of cleavage planes, and their orientations relative to each other, can be diagnostic of particular minerals. Minerals that display cleavage include: calcite, halite, fluorite, topaz, and galena. However, not all minerals have cleavage, such as quartz and pyrite.
Read about Cleavage of minerals here.

Specific Gravity

Specific gravity is the relative weight of the mineral to an equal volume of water. For example, gold has a specific gravity of 15-19.3 and is thus 15 to 19.3 times as heavy as water. It is possible to make a fairly good estimate of specific gravity by checking the mineral’s weight in your hand.

Crystal Form & Mineral Habit

Crystal form is responsible for the mineral’s geometric shape and arrangement of crystal faces. The crystal form will always remain the same in every sample found of the same mineral, although the crystal form is better displayed in some samples than in others. Sometimes, growth patterns, called the mineral habit, disguise the ideal form of the crystal. However, these habits can also aid in identification. Some commonly found habits include: botryoidal (which resembles a cluster of grapes), striated (parallel grooves on crystal faces), and acicular (needlelike).


How well a mineral resists breakage is known as tenacity. Tenacity is described using these terms:
  •     Brittle - Mineral crushes to angular fragments (quartz).
  •     Malleable - Mineral can be modified in shape without breaking and can be flattened to a thin sheet (copper, gold).
  •     Sectile - Mineral can be cut with a knife into thin shavings (talc).
  •     Flexible - Mineral bends but doesn't regain its shape once released (selenite, gypsum).
  •     Elastic - Mineral bends and regains its original shape when released (muscovite and biotite mica).
Acid Test

When carbonates (especially calcite) are treated with cold, dilute hydrochloric acid, they will effervesce, foam, and bubble, and give off carbon dioxide gas. When sulfides, such as galena, pyrite, and sphalerite, are treated with dilute hydrochloric acid, they will give off the rotten-egg odor of hydrogen sulfide.


Some minerals, such as calcite, gypsum, halite, uranium minerals, and fluorite, will fluoresce in brilliant colors when viewed with an ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light is not normally visible to the human eye, and you should avoid looking directly at the UV source, as it can damage eyesight.

Other Physical Properties

Does the mineral have a taste (for example, salt)?
Is the mineral fluorescent (for example, scheelite)?
Does the mineral give off an odor (for example, sulfur)?
Is the mineral magnetic (for example, magnetite)?
Does dilute hydrochloric acid cause the mineral to fizz or effervesce (for example, calcite)?
Is the mineral radioactive (for example, uraninite)?

Now you are ready for mineral identification.

Once you have observed and noted these mineral properties, you can take your information to a book or to an online resource. Start with my table of the rock-forming minerals, because these are the most common and the ones you should learn first. Each mineral's name is linked to a good photograph and notes to help you confirm the identification. If your mineral has metallic luster, go to my Minerals with Metallic Luster gallery to see the most likely minerals in this group.

See also:  How to Identify Minerals in 10 Steps (photos)

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Unknown said... February 15, 2016 at 12:46 AM

question...I worked for a pipeline co.and I delivered some construction material to a jobsite near riverside ca. and I saw the excavator digging the ditch had come upon a huge vein of rose quartz so I asked the operator to dig out a huge chunk oh it a load it on my work truck...it was bigger than a 55 gallon drum...I lived at the const. yard in Fontana in a camper for night security...this was on a friday...after work and everyone had gone home I got a backhoe and pulled this giant rose quartz off my work truck...I hosed it off with water and wire brushed all the dirt off it ..later about midnight I wanted to break some pieces off it for my rock tumbler so I got a big sledge hammer..I struck it real hard and on the third whack the entire thing began to glow and it lit up like a light bulb for about 10 seconds...blew my mind..it dimmed out so I hit it again and it lit up again...nobody has ever believed the story and they reacted like they didnt like me and I was someone of lesser value but I know what I saw...anyway I thought this was piezoelectric energy but it may be something else..any answers anyone? ...also for about the next year I was having intense psychic phenomenon going on all around me all the time...I dont care about that stuff but I feel sommething strong about rocks , minerals , arrowheads etc....this is kind of way out there but I wonder..if I think these things are cool maybe its them that are attracting me...I knew this lady who had a beautiful smoky quartz crystal cluster and I asked if I could hold it...she said "no"...she went into the kitchen so I stood up and walked towards the shelf the crystal was on and I looked at my friend and he said "dont do it man"...I cupped my hands around it to pick it up and when I touched it it zapped me and I,m talkin jumping up and backwards...well it didnt make any noise and I didnt yell any sound when it happened but suddenly my friend and I heard her say real loud from the kitchen and out of view "YOU TOUCHED IT DIDNT YOU?"..Anyway I hear em sayin c'mon grab your metal detector and come on out...yesterday I went out rockin and got chased by a desert hoop snake that took its tail in its mouth and rolled after me down a hill....let me know if you have any info about quartz lighting up

Unknown said... February 19, 2016 at 3:30 AM

Dude, that's an awesome essay. I love rocks,know little about them, but live amidst them. Your rose quartz story is fantastic! you're quite lucky!.Have you looked up the meaning of rose quartz?

Meryan Siocon said... May 19, 2016 at 8:40 PM

I have a crystal , how much you bay this?

Meryan Siocon said... May 19, 2016 at 8:43 PM

I have a crystal , how much you bay this?