Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
 Find the prime factorization of a composite number
 Find the least common multiple (LCM) of two numbers
Be Prepared 2.12
Before you get started, take this readiness quiz.
Is $810$ divisible by $2,3,5,6,\text{or}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}10?$
If you missed this problem, review Example 2.44.
Be Prepared 2.13
Is $127$ prime or composite?
If you missed this problem, review Example 2.47.
Write $2\cdot 2\cdot 2\cdot 2$ in exponential notation.
If you missed this problem, review Example 2.5.
Find the Prime Factorization of a Composite Number
In the previous section, we found the factors of a number. Prime numbers have only two factors, the number $1$ and the prime number itself. Composite numbers have more than two factors, and every composite number can be written as a unique product of primes. This is called the prime factorization of a number. When we write the prime factorization of a number, we are rewriting the number as a product of primes. Finding the prime factorization of a composite number will help you later in this course.
Prime Factorization
The prime factorization of a number is the product of prime numbers that equals the number.
Manipulative Mathematics
You may want to refer to the following list of prime numbers less than $50$ as you work through this section.
Prime Factorization Using the Factor Tree Method
One way to find the prime factorization of a number is to make a factor tree. We start by writing the number, and then writing it as the product of two factors. We write the factors below the number and connect them to the number with a small line segment—a “branch” of the factor tree.
If a factor is prime, we circle it (like a bud on a tree), and do not factor that “branch” any further. If a factor is not prime, we repeat this process, writing it as the product of two factors and adding new branches to the tree.
We continue until all the branches end with a prime. When the factor tree is complete, the circled primes give us the prime factorization.
For example, let’s find the prime factorization of $36.$ We can start with any factor pair such as $3$ and $12.$ We write $3$ and $12$ below $36$ with branches connecting them.
The factor $3$ is prime, so we circle it. The factor $12$ is composite, so we need to find its factors. Let’s use $3$ and $4.$ We write these factors on the tree under the $12.$
The factor $3$ is prime, so we circle it. The factor $4$ is composite, and it factors into $2\xb72.$ We write these factors under the $4.$ Since $2$ is prime, we circle both $2\text{s}.$
The prime factorization is the product of the circled primes. We generally write the prime factorization in order from least to greatest.
In cases like this, where some of the prime factors are repeated, we can write prime factorization in exponential form.
Note that we could have started our factor tree with any factor pair of $36.$ We chose $12$ and $3,$ but the same result would have been the same if we had started with $2$ and $18,4$ and $9,\text{or}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}6\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}6.$
How To
Find the prime factorization of a composite number using the tree method.
 Step 1. Find any factor pair of the given number, and use these numbers to create two branches.
 Step 2. If a factor is prime, that branch is complete. Circle the prime.
 Step 3. If a factor is not prime, write it as the product of a factor pair and continue the process.
 Step 4. Write the composite number as the product of all the circled primes.
Example 2.48
Find the prime factorization of $48$ using the factor tree method.
Solution
We can start our tree using any factor pair of 48. Let's use 2 and 24. We circle the 2 because it is prime and so that branch is complete. 

Now we will factor 24. Let's use 4 and 6.  
Neither factor is prime, so we do not circle either. We circle the 2s and the 3 since they are prime. Now all of the branches end in a prime. 

Write the product of the circled numbers.  $2\cdot 2\cdot 2\cdot 2\cdot 3$ 
Write in exponential form.  ${2}^{4}\cdot 3$ 
Check this on your own by multiplying all the factors together. The result should be $48.$
Try It 2.95
Find the prime factorization using the factor tree method: $80$
Try It 2.96
Find the prime factorization using the factor tree method: $60$
Example 2.49
Find the prime factorization of 84 using the factor tree method.
Solution
We start with the factor pair 4 and 21. Neither factor is prime so we factor them further. 

Now the factors are all prime, so we circle them.  
Then we write 84 as the product of all circled primes.  $2\cdot 2\cdot 3\cdot 7$ ${2}^{2}\cdot 3\cdot 7$ 
Draw a factor tree of $84.$
Try It 2.97
Find the prime factorization using the factor tree method: $126$
Try It 2.98
Find the prime factorization using the factor tree method: $294$
Prime Factorization Using the Ladder Method
The ladder method is another way to find the prime factors of a composite number. It leads to the same result as the factor tree method. Some people prefer the ladder method to the factor tree method, and vice versa.
To begin building the “ladder,” divide the given number by its smallest prime factor. For example, to start the ladder for $36,$ we divide $36$ by $2,$ the smallest prime factor of $36.$
To add a “step” to the ladder, we continue dividing by the same prime until it no longer divides evenly.
Then we divide by the next prime; so we divide $9$ by $3.$
We continue dividing up the ladder in this way until the quotient is prime. Since the quotient, $3,$ is prime, we stop here.
Do you see why the ladder method is sometimes called stacked division?
The prime factorization is the product of all the primes on the sides and top of the ladder.
Notice that the result is the same as we obtained with the factor tree method.
How To
Find the prime factorization of a composite number using the ladder method.
 Step 1. Divide the number by the smallest prime.
 Step 2. Continue dividing by that prime until it no longer divides evenly.
 Step 3. Divide by the next prime until it no longer divides evenly.
 Step 4. Continue until the quotient is a prime.
 Step 5. Write the composite number as the product of all the primes on the sides and top of the ladder.
Example 2.50
Find the prime factorization of $120$ using the ladder method.
Solution
Divide the number by the smallest prime, which is 2.  
Continue dividing by 2 until it no longer divides evenly.  
Divide by the next prime, 3.  
The quotient, 5, is prime, so the ladder is complete. Write the prime factorization of 120.  $2\cdot 2\cdot 2\cdot 3\cdot 5$ ${2}^{3}\cdot 3\cdot 5$ 
Check this yourself by multiplying the factors. The result should be $120.$
Try It 2.99
Find the prime factorization using the ladder method: $80$
Try It 2.100
Find the prime factorization using the ladder method: $60$
Example 2.51
Find the prime factorization of $48$ using the ladder method.
Solution
Divide the number by the smallest prime, 2.  
Continue dividing by 2 until it no longer divides evenly.  
The quotient, 3, is prime, so the ladder is complete. Write the prime factorization of 48.  $2\cdot 2\cdot 2\cdot 2\cdot 3$ ${2}^{4}\cdot 3$ 
Try It 2.101
Find the prime factorization using the ladder method. $126$
Try It 2.102
Find the prime factorization using the ladder method. $294$
Find the Least Common Multiple (LCM) of Two Numbers
One of the reasons we look at multiples and primes is to use these techniques to find the least common multiple of two numbers. This will be useful when we add and subtract fractions with different denominators.
Listing Multiples Method
A common multiple of two numbers is a number that is a multiple of both numbers. Suppose we want to find common multiples of $10$ and $25.$ We can list the first several multiples of each number. Then we look for multiples that are common to both lists—these are the common multiples.
We see that $50$ and $100$ appear in both lists. They are common multiples of $10$ and $25.$ We would find more common multiples if we continued the list of multiples for each.
The smallest number that is a multiple of two numbers is called the least common multiple (LCM). So the least LCM of $10$ and $25$ is $50.$
How To
Find the least common multiple (LCM) of two numbers by listing multiples.
 Step 1. List the first several multiples of each number.
 Step 2. Look for multiples common to both lists. If there are no common multiples in the lists, write out additional multiples for each number.
 Step 3. Look for the smallest number that is common to both lists.
 Step 4. This number is the LCM.
Example 2.52
Find the LCM of $15$ and $20$ by listing multiples.
Solution
List the first several multiples of $15$ and of $20.$ Identify the first common multiple.
$\begin{array}{l}\text{15:}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}15,30,45,\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}60,75,90,105,120\hfill \\ \text{20:}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}20,40,\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}60,80,100,120,140,160\hfill \end{array}$
The smallest number to appear on both lists is $60,$ so $60$ is the least common multiple of $15$ and $20.$
Notice that $120$ is on both lists, too. It is a common multiple, but it is not the least common multiple.
Try It 2.103
Find the least common multiple (LCM) of the given numbers: $9\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}12$
Try It 2.104
Find the least common multiple (LCM) of the given numbers: $18\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}24$
Prime Factors Method
Another way to find the least common multiple of two numbers is to use their prime factors. We’ll use this method to find the LCM of $12$ and $18.$
We start by finding the prime factorization of each number.
Then we write each number as a product of primes, matching primes vertically when possible.
Now we bring down the primes in each column. The LCM is the product of these factors.
Notice that the prime factors of $12$ and the prime factors of $18$ are included in the LCM. By matching up the common primes, each common prime factor is used only once. This ensures that $36$ is the least common multiple.
How To
Find the LCM using the prime factors method.
 Step 1. Find the prime factorization of each number.
 Step 2. Write each number as a product of primes, matching primes vertically when possible.
 Step 3. Bring down the primes in each column.
 Step 4. Multiply the factors to get the LCM.
Example 2.53
Find the LCM of $15$ and $18$ using the prime factors method.
Solution
Write each number as a product of primes.  
Write each number as a product of primes, matching primes vertically when possible.  
Bring down the primes in each column.  
Multiply the factors to get the LCM.  $\text{LCM}=2\cdot 3\cdot 3\cdot 5$ The LCM of 15 and 18 is 90. 
Try It 2.105
Find the LCM using the prime factors method. $15\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}20$
Try It 2.106
Find the LCM using the prime factors method. $15\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}35$
Example 2.54
Find the LCM of $50$ and $100$ using the prime factors method.
Solution
Write the prime factorization of each number.  
Write each number as a product of primes, matching primes vertically when possible.  
Bring down the primes in each column.  
Multiply the factors to get the LCM.  $\text{LCM}=2\cdot 2\cdot 5\cdot 5$ The LCM of 50 and 100 is 100. 
Try It 2.107
Find the LCM using the prime factors method: $55,88$
Try It 2.108
Find the LCM using the prime factors method: $60,72$
Media
ACCESS ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES
 Ex 1: Prime Factorization
 Ex 2: Prime Factorization
 Ex 3: Prime Factorization
 Ex 1: Prime Factorization Using Stacked Division
 Ex 2: Prime Factorization Using Stacked Division
 The Least Common Multiple
 Example: Determining the Least Common Multiple Using a List of Multiples
 Example: Determining the Least Common Multiple Using Prime Factorization
Section 2.5 Exercises
Practice Makes Perfect
Find the Prime Factorization of a Composite Number
In the following exercises, find the prime factorization of each number using the factor tree method.
$78$
$455$
$420$
$225$
1560
In the following exercises, find the prime factorization of each number using the ladder method.
$72$
$252$
$400$
$627$
$2520$
In the following exercises, find the prime factorization of each number using any method.
$180$
$444$
$50$
$144$
Find the Least Common Multiple (LCM) of Two Numbers
In the following exercises, find the least common multiple (LCM) by listing multiples.
$4,3$
$12,16$
$20,30$
$44,55$
In the following exercises, find the least common multiple (LCM) by using the prime factors method.
$12,16$
$28,40$
$84,90$
In the following exercises, find the least common multiple (LCM) using any method.
$9,15$
$32,40$
Everyday Math
Grocery shopping Hot dogs are sold in packages of ten, but hot dog buns come in packs of eight. What is the smallest number of hot dogs and buns that can be purchased if you want to have the same number of hot dogs and buns? (Hint: it is the LCM!)
Grocery shopping Paper plates are sold in packages of $12$ and party cups come in packs of $8.$ What is the smallest number of plates and cups you can purchase if you want to have the same number of each? (Hint: it is the LCM!)
Writing Exercises
Do you prefer to find the prime factorization of a composite number by using the factor tree method or the ladder method? Why?
Do you prefer to find the LCM by listing multiples or by using the prime factors method? Why?
Self Check
ⓐ After completing the exercises, use this checklist to evaluate your mastery of the objectives of this section.
ⓑ Overall, after looking at the checklist, do you think you are wellprepared for the next Chapter? Why or why not?