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Specific Heat vs. Latent Heat: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 3, 2023
Specific heat is the amount of heat per unit mass required to raise the temperature by one degree Celsius, while latent heat is the heat absorbed or released during a phase change of a substance, without changing its temperature.

Key Differences

Specific Heat refers to the quantity of heat required to change the temperature of a unit mass of a substance by one degree Celsius. It is a measure of a material's ability to absorb heat energy. Latent Heat, on the other hand, is the amount of heat absorbed or released by a substance during a phase change, such as melting or boiling, without any change in temperature.
Latent Heat is crucial in understanding phase changes, like ice melting to water or water evaporating to vapor, where the temperature remains constant despite heat exchange. Specific Heat is more concerned with the thermal capacity of a substance during temperature changes not involving phase transitions.
In the context of Specific Heat, different substances require different amounts of heat energy to achieve the same temperature change, reflecting their unique thermal properties. Latent Heat represents the hidden energy involved in altering the state of a substance, like solid to liquid or liquid to gas, without temperature variance.
Specific Heat is a fundamental concept in thermodynamics, playing a pivotal role in heat transfer and temperature regulation in various applications. In contrast, Latent Heat is key in processes involving phase transitions, significantly impacting climatic, industrial, and environmental systems.
The study of Latent Heat provides insights into the energy required for phase changes, essential in meteorology, refrigeration, and heating systems. Specific Heat, however, is integral in designing materials and systems for efficient heat absorption and release, essential in engineering and environmental management.

Comparison Chart


Heat per unit mass to raise temperature by 1°C
Heat absorbed or released during phase change without temperature change

Measurement Units

Joules per kilogram Celsius (J/kg°C)
Joules per kilogram (J/kg)

Temperature Change

Involves temperature change
No temperature change during phase transition

Role in Phase Change

Not directly involved in phase changes
Integral to phase changes like melting or boiling

Practical Examples

Heating water in a pot
Ice melting into water

Specific Heat and Latent Heat Definitions

Specific Heat

Specific heat is the heat capacity per unit mass.
Water has a high specific heat, making it effective for cooling systems.

Latent Heat

Latent heat quantifies the phase transition energy of materials.
The latent heat of fusion is key in understanding the melting of ice.

Specific Heat

Specific heat measures the resistance of a material to temperature change.
Substances with low specific heat are used in quick-heating appliances.

Latent Heat

It's the hidden heat involved in changing a substance's state without temperature change.
Ice absorbs latent heat when melting, yet its temperature remains constant.

Specific Heat

It represents the thermal inertia of a material.
High specific heat materials are used in thermal batteries.

Latent Heat

Latent heat is the energy absorbed or released during a substance's phase change.
The latent heat of vaporization is high for water, requiring a lot of energy to boil.

Specific Heat

It's the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kg of a substance by 1°C.
Metals with low specific heat heat up and cool down quickly.

Latent Heat

Latent heat is the heat associated with material state changes.
During freezing, water releases latent heat into the environment.

Specific Heat

Specific heat reflects how much heat a substance can store.
Due to its specific heat, sand gets very hot on sunny days.

Latent Heat

It denotes the energy per unit mass for phase change at constant temperature.
In air conditioning, latent heat is removed from the air during condensation.


What is specific heat?

It's the heat required to raise the temperature of a unit mass of a substance by 1°C.

What units are used for latent heat?

Joules per kilogram (J/kg).

What does latent heat mean?

It's the heat absorbed or released by a substance during a phase change without a temperature change.

How is specific heat measured?

In Joules per kilogram Celsius (J/kg°C).

How does latent heat affect weather?

It's key in processes like evaporation and condensation in the atmosphere.

Are specific heat and heat capacity the same?

Specific heat is a type of heat capacity, referring to heat capacity per unit mass.

What's an example of specific heat in use?

Cooling systems exploit water's high specific heat.

Does specific heat involve phase changes?

No, it relates to temperature changes without changing the state.

Is latent heat involved in temperature change?

No, it occurs without changing the temperature during phase transitions.

Can specific heat vary between substances?

Yes, different materials have different specific heats.

What's a common application of latent heat?

Refrigeration and heating systems rely on latent heat for phase transitions.

What role does specific heat play in everyday life?

It affects how quickly objects heat up or cool down.

Why do metals feel hotter than wood in the sun?

Due to their lower specific heat, metals heat up faster.

How do engineers use specific heat?

In designing materials and systems for efficient heating and cooling.

Why is latent heat important?

It's crucial for understanding energy requirements in phase changes.

What is the latent heat of vaporization?

The energy needed for a substance to change from liquid to gas.

How does specific heat impact climate change?

It influences how different materials store and release heat.

What is the latent heat of fusion?

The energy needed for a substance to change from solid to liquid.

Can we feel latent heat directly?

No, as it doesn't change the temperature of the substance.

Is latent heat always the same for a given material?

Yes, it's a characteristic property of the material.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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