Capacitive Reactance

In the RC Network tutorial we saw that when a DC voltage is applied to a capacitor, the capacitor itself draws a charging current from the supply and charges up to a value equal to the applied voltage. Likewise, when the supply voltage is reduced the charge stored in the capacitor also reduces and the capacitor discharges.

In an AC Circuit in which the applied voltage signal is continually changing from a positive to a negative polarity at a rate determined by the frequency of the supply, as in the case of a sine wave voltage, for example, the capacitor is either being charged or discharged on a continuous basis at a rate determined by the supply frequency.

As the capacitor charges or discharges, a current flows through it which is restricted by the internal resistance of the capacitor. This internal resistance is commonly known as Capacitive Reactance and is given the symbol XC in Ohms.

Unlike resistance which has a fixed value, for example, 100Ωs, 1kΩ, 10kΩ etc, (this is because resistance obeys Ohms Law), Capacitive Reactance varies with the applied frequency so any variation in supply frequency will have a big effect on the capacitors, “capacitive reactance” value.

As the frequency applied to the capacitor increases, its effect is to decrease its reactance (measured in ohms). Likewise as the frequency across the capacitor decreases its reactance value increases. This variation is called the capacitors complex impedance.

Complex impedance exists because the electrons in the form of an electrical charge on the capacitor plates, pass from one plate to the other more rapidly with respect to the varying frequency.

As the frequency increases, the capacitor passes more charge across the plates in a given time resulting in a greater current flow through the capacitor appearing as if the internal resistance of the capacitor has decreased. Therefore, a capacitor connected to a circuit that changes over a given range of frequencies can be said to be “Frequency Dependant”.

Capacitive Reactance has the electrical symbol “Xc” and has units measured in Ohms the same as resistance, ( R ). It is calculated using the following formula:

Capacitive Reactance

capacitive circuit capacitive reactance
Capacitive Reactance Formula
  • Where:
  •    Xc = Capacitive Reactance in Ohms, (Ω)
  •    π (pi) = 3.142 (decimal) or 22÷7 (fraction)
  •    ƒ = Frequency in Hertz, (Hz)
  •    C = Capacitance in Farads, (F)

Capacitive Reactance Example No1

Calculate the capacitive reactance of a 220nF capacitor at a frequency of 1kHz and again at 20kHz.

 At a frequency of 1kHz,

capacitive reactance equation

 Again at a frequency of 20kHz,

capacitive reactance formula

 where: ƒ = frequency in Hertz and C = capacitance in Farads

Therefore, it can be seen from above that as the frequency applied to our 220nF capacitor increases from 1kHz to 20kHz, its reactance decreases from approx 723Ωs to just 36Ωs. For any given value of capacitance the reactance of a capacitor can be plotted against the frequency as shown below.

Capacitive Reactance against Frequency

capacitive reactance against frequency


By re-arranging the reactance formula above, we can also find at what frequency a capacitor will have a particular capacitive reactance ( XC ) value.

Example No2

At which frequency would a 2.2uF Capacitor have a reactance value of 200Ωs?

frequency formula


Or we can find the value of the capacitor in Farads by knowing the applied frequency and its reactance value at that frequency.

Example No3

What will be the value of a capacitor in farads when it has a capacitive reactance of 200Ω and is connected to a 50Hz supply.

capacitance formula


We can see from the above examples that a capacitor when connected to a variable frequency supply, acts a bit like a “frequency controlled variable resistor”. At very low frequencies, such as 1Hz our 220nF capacitor has a high capacitive reactance value of approx 723.3KΩs (giving the effect of an open circuit).

At very high frequencies such as 1Mhz the capacitor has a low capacitive reactance value of just 0.72Ω (giving the effect of a short circuit). So at zero frequency or steady state DC our 220nF capacitor has infinite reactance looking more like an “open-circuit” between the plates and blocking any flow of current through it.

Voltage Divider Revision

We remember from our tutorial about Resistors in Series that different voltages can appear across each resistor depending upon the value of the resistance and that a voltage divider circuit has the ability to divide its supply voltage by the ratio of R2/(R1+R2). Therefore, when R1 = R2 the output voltage will be half the value of the input voltage. Likewise, any value of R2 greater or less than R1 will result in a proportional change to the output voltage. Consider the circuit below.

Voltage Divider

voltage divider network


We now know that a capacitors reactance, Xc (its complex impedance) value changes with respect to the applied frequency. If we now changed resistor R2 above for a capacitor, the voltage drop across the two components would change as the frequency changed because the reactance of the capacitor affects its impedance.

The impedance of resistor R1 does not change with frequency. Resistors are of fixed values and are unaffected by frequency change. Then the voltage across resistor R1 and therefore the output voltage is determined by the capacitive reactance of the capacitor at a given frequency. This then results in a frequency-dependent RC voltage divider circuit. With this idea in mind, passive Low Pass Filters and High Pass Filters can be constructed by replacing one of the voltage divider resistors with a suitable capacitor as shown.

Low Pass Filter

low pass filter

High Pass Filter

high pass filter


The property of Capacitive Reactance, makes capacitors ideal for use in AC filter circuits or in DC power supply smoothing circuits to reduce the effects of any unwanted Ripple Voltage as the capacitor applies an short circuit signal path to any unwanted frequency signals on the output terminals.

Capacitive Reactance Summary

So, we can summarize the behaviour of a capacitor in a variable frequency circuit as being a sort of frequency controlled resistor that has a high capacitive reactance value (open circuit condition) at very low frequencies and low capacitive reactance value (short circuit condition) at very high frequencies as shown in the graph above.

effect of frequency on capacitance


It is important to remember these two conditions and in our next tutorial about the Passive Low Pass Filter, we will look at the use of Capacitive reactance to block any unwanted high frequency signals while allowing only low frequency signals to pass.

« | »

32 Responses to “Capacitive Reactance”

  1. Binu

    I want to know the significance of capacitive reactance. For my application, I have 200KHz switching frequency, 80v, 20A supply, 1000uf capacitor.Using this values I get 125.6 K ohm reactance.
    How this value effect my filter circuit?

  2. alireza jafari

    i have a sensor that the output of the sensor is pwm with frequency 38KHz the sensor is tsop 1138
    i wanted to convert it to voltage , therefor i used from low-pass RC filter but the leader of my team said me that we must use from resistor and capacitor(not polarity) but i saw on the internet that the symbol of the capacitor is not polarity , i got mixed up what should i do???
    i don’t know that use form which capacitor?

  3. Tshepi Moraswi

    A series circuit consisting of a capacitor and a 100v-60w incandescent lamp is supplied with 220 v/50hz.Calculate the capacitive reactance.

    • Wayne Storr

      220Vrms = 311.1Vpk, and 100Vrms = 141.4Vpk.

      Vc = sq.root(311.1^2 – 141.4^2) = 277Vpk = 196Vrms

      Ic = I(lamp) = 60W/100V = 600mA or 0.6A

      Xc = Vc/Ic = 196/0.6 = 326.6 ohms, therefore C = 1/(2pi.f.Xc) = 9.75uF

    • ashok kumar

      sir,ya mam iam ashok kumar i m working capcitor but i have some problems
      i have not a proper solution for capcitor ,im asking for u how capcitor ac block and dc pass. nd how to used capcitor in amfication.

      • Wayne Storr

        When a capacitor is connected to a DC source will charge up to a value equal to the DC source and stop because the plates are fully charged and no potential difference exists between the voltage source and the plates of the capacitor. As the DC source is constant, it therefore blocks any more flow of current as the capacitor has reached its full charge.

        When a capacitor is connected to an AC source, the capacitor is constantly charging and discharging as the AC source is continuously reversing polarity. This means that charging and discharging currents are always flowing in and out of the capacitor every cycle.

        This is explained in more detail here: RC Charging

  4. naresh sharma

    dear Sir,
    good day!

    i want to make a AC 5 Watt led Bulb operated at 240v/50hz .there is various led bulb present in market which have RC ciruit based and i am study on that. But now i do not have proper solution how to calculate capacitor value and resistance value.
    please guide me for the same.

  5. vinod Rana

    Hello sir or ma’am , I want to ask a question , , I’m working in parallel rlc circuit for low resonance frequency.
    e.g L=30 mH, C= 10uF .theortically its resonace freq is approx. 900 Hz .
    but practically when we measuring frequencies increses from 100Hz ,200Hz, 300 Hz, 400 and so on .we saw graph of frq vs current is coming from low to high below resonace freq where as its should be high at low freq and goes on decreasing up to resonace freq and then should increase after resonace . The problem is that I don’t know why it is happening.. Please please help me out … a.s.ap
    thanks vinod rana

    • Parthasarathi

      If you plot freq vs voltage it’ll come from high to low
      If you plot freq vs current it’ll come from low to high
      At resonance, more current will flow with low voltage drop.

  6. digvijay bisht

    Hello sir or ma’am , I want to ask a question , , I’m designing a led bulb which operates in dc and I want it to operate in generators and inverters . The problem is that I don’t know what value capacitor or resistors I should use to glow 1.5w, 3w, 5w, 7w, 9w, 12w led bulb containing half watt leds . Without harming them by generator or inverters which doesn’t provide pure sine wave and frequency . Please please help me out … a.s.ap

    • Wayne Storr

      You do not say what voltage the LED bulbs are or what AC voltage they will operate on, but for AC operation use a bridge rectifier, or zener diodes to set the DC voltage.

  7. Björn H

    Nice article but please note that π is not equal to 22÷7 (fraction).

    π=C /d
    C is the circumference of a circle
    d is the diameter of the circle

    • Roger H.

      22/7=3.1428… is a good approximation of pi. for most purposes especially if one does not have a circle to measure or does not remember the value of pi.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

six − 2 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>