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Colored Fire - Where to Find Metal Salts for Colorants

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Applying metal salts to a fire will allow you to produce colored flames.

Applying metal salts to a fire will allow you to produce colored flames.

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  • I've received many requests for information about where to find the metal salts that can be used to make colored fire. Here's a list of common sources of these metal salts. If the salts are in liquid form, simply soak pinecones or logs or whatever you are burning in the liquid and let the fuel dry before use. If the salts are solids, your best bet is to try to dissolve them in a bit of alcohol and then apply them to your fire fuel. You can use water, but expect a longer drying time.

    Fire Color - Source

    Green - Boric acid is probably your best source of "green". Boric acid most commonly is sold as a disinfectant in the pharmacy section of a store. Copper sulfate is another metal salt that produces green fire. You can find copper sulfate, usually diluted in liquid form, in products used to control algae in pools or ponds.

    White - Magnesium compounds can lighten a flame color to white. You can add Epsom salts, which are used for a variety of household purposes. I usually see Epsom salts sold in the pharmacy section of stores for use as a bath soak, but the salts commonly contain sodium impurities, which will produce a yellow flame.

    Yellow - Your usual fire will be yellow already, but if you are burning a fuel that produces a blue flame, for example, you can turn it from green to yellow by adding sodium salt, such as common table salt.

    Orange - Calcium chloride produces orange fire. Calcium chloride is sold as a dessicant and as a road de-icing agent. Just be sure the calcium chloride isn't mixed with sodium chloride or else the yellow from the sodium will overpower the orange from the calcium.

    Red - Strontium salts produce red colored fire. The easiest way to get strontium is to break open a red emergency flare, which you can find in the automotive section of stores. Road flares contain their own fuel and oxidizer, so this material burned vigorously and very brightly. Lithium produces a beautiful red flame, too. You can get lithium from certain lithium batteries.

    Purple - Purple or violet flames may be produced by adding potassium chloride to the fire. Potassium chloride is sold as lite salt or salt substitute in the spice section of the grocery store.

    Blue - You can get blue fire from copper chloride. I am not aware of a widely-available source of copper chloride. You can produce it by dissolving copper wire (easy to locate) in muriatic acid (sold in building supply stores). This would be an outdoors-only type of reaction and not something I really recommend doing unless you have a little chemistry experience... but if you're determined, dissolve a piece of copper in a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide (sold as a disinfectant) to which you have added sufficient muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) to make 5% HCl solution.

    Comments

    July 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    (1) Derek says:

    Thanks for the tips, I still can’t seem to get any coloured flame effect whatsoever, I’ve tried ETOH, methanol, direct sprinkling, soaking pine cones (and drying them), paper packets with the agent…nothing works. Just plain regular flames each time, not even a hint of colour. Even the commercially prepared packets don’t always seem to work. Any ideas?

    August 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    (2) Doug says:

    Derek,
    The strength of the color is dependent on the temperature of the fire. I’m still a relative novice at making fireworks but, from what I’ve read, a 2000° (F) flame will produce significantly more intense colors than the ~1700° fire typically produced by black powder. I’m not sure how hot a typical wood fire gets, but I don’t think it reaches these temperatures.
    I’m not a physicist, but I believe that the reason temperature is critical is because of how the visible light is produced. When heated, the electrons in the chemical compound become excited (ionized) into a higher energy state. When the electron drops back down to a lower energy state, it emits light at a particular wavelength – which we see as a color. The catch is that it takes a fairly high energy level (ie. temperature) to ionize the material in the first place.

    One side note here: Sodium produces a much brighter light than any of the other metal salts, so you have to make sure to keep any sodium contamination way from your other chemicals.

    Also, if you just want to test the color that a given substance will produce, there’s an easier way than making up a whole batch of pine cones. (I don’t know how old you are, so you may need to have a RESPONSIBLE adult help with this.)
    Take a small piece of thin stainless steel wire about 4″ long, bend one end into a very small loop (about a millimeter or less in diameter), then poke the other end into the eraser on a pencil. Dip the loop into the salt. (If it’s liquid, let it dry. If it’s a solid, then just try to catch a piece so it sits firmly in the loop.)
    Using the pencil as a handle, carefully place the loop with the test chemical into a hot fire. The blue flame from a gas stove should be hot enough to see at least some color, but a candle or butane lighter flame probably won’t be. (Besides, the candle or lighter flame will probably be bright enough to drown out the color you’re trying to see.)

    Good luck – and don’t burn the house down!!!!
    Doug

    March 18, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    (3) Liz says:

    you can buy all these metals salts here.
    http://www.hvchemical.com/flame-salts.htm

    April 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    (4) Chris says:

    For a really strong deep true red colored flame, use lithium chloride or other salts of lithium; in my opinion the chloride works best. Strontium salts give more of a orangish-red color to flames compared to the color lithium imparts.

    April 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    (5) Sheila says:

    What can we use to get a hot enough flare if a lighter or candle won’t work. We do not have access to a gas stove.

    April 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    (6) chemistry says:

    Sheila,
    You can use a match, candle, or lighter. It’s the fuel that is important, not the ignition source.

    June 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    (7) jules says:

    hey!
    what would be the balanced formula for this reaction?

    June 5, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    (8) jules says:

    ooops!
    i meant to ask what would be the balanced chemical equation for this reaction!?

    October 25, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    (9) james says:

    thanks for all the info and experiments uve given us to try my only problem is convining my mum to let me do them

    November 6, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    (10) josh says:

    copper sulphate pentahydrate is the only ingrediant in Zeps Root Killer – used to kills roots that invade your septic system. Can be found at Home Depot. It burns blue… althought there are health warning involved and should only be used w gloves and in an outdoor location.

    December 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    (11) prathyusha says:

    hiii
    can u tell me the exact defination of atom,matter,element,compound,molecule,wave,particles.how they relate each other and if possible give me an example

    December 17, 2010 at 2:43 am

    (12) Ekimmu says:

    Prathyusha, all those definitions are conveniently archived in those rectangular things made of paper (AKA books) about physics and chemistry. and some of them even have pictures for your understanding! YAY!

    January 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    (13) Anonymous says:

    atom-particles of an element
    matter-anything that is existent(not counting antimatter)
    element-something that cannot be broken down any further
    compound-a bunch of elements together
    molecule-a small amount of a compound
    wave-no idea
    particle-no idea

    hope i helped a little.

    January 6, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    (14) Anonymous Student says:

    I’m doing this experiment for a science fair project. I have a few questions:
    Is this legal? Like, to do in your backyard or something?
    Does the fire have to be a campfire or a fireplace or can it be a bonfire in your backyard? I don’t have a fireplace….
    Will the chemicals give off dangerous fumes when burned?
    How should we execute the experiment? Like, do we use a match with lycopodium powder to get it burning? Or what?

    Thank you in advance, and I eagerly await your suggestions and answers. Please e-mail me at zytyxx@gmail.com. Thank you, again.

    February 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    (15) Lanthanum says:

    Lithium compounds can be obtained by opening a lithium battery (described in many places around the net) and removing the lithium. Lithium metal itself will burn with a bright white flame but lithium chloride would be better. Do this outdoors. Drop one droplet of concentrated hydrochloric acid on a small piece of lithium in a closable container. Bubbling will start and corrosive and irritating fumes will be given off. After a while the bubbling will slow. Close the container and leave it for about an hour. There should be a paste of lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride remaining. It is caustic, so be very careful. This can be placed on a wire and heated to produce a bright “carmine” flame. If the hydrochloric acid is replaced with water, 1) less toxic fumes will be given off, 2) the resulting paste is much more caustic, 3) it may not produce a very bright flame.

    February 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    (16) Lanthanum says:

    Copper(I) chloride is difficult to make in a powdered form as it oxidizes easily. To make it in a powdered form, hot dry nitrogen is probably needed. To make it in a wet form, react ascorbic acid crystals (obtainable from health food store) with copper(II) chloride solution. This will make a fine white precipitate of copper(I) chloride. Make sure that there is no hydrogen peroxide in the copper(II) chloride or the ascorbic acid will preferentially reduce the hydrogen peroxide instead of the copper(II), leaving a green solution. Excess ascorbic acid and ascorbic acid residue in the solution may burn, though, when heated.

    You may try copper(I) oxide, made by throwing an aluminium foil ball into copper(II) chloride solution. Make sure there is no extra hydrochloric acid in the copper(II) chloride or you may get an unpleasantly jumping aluminium foil ball and a gray liquid. No guarantees that copper(I) oxide would work, though.

    February 24, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    (17) Lanthanum again! says:

    I tried the Epsom salts but it didn’t work. This was on a carbon rod, iron wire, and nichrome wire.

    March 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    (18) Chemicals says:

    The same thing happened to me. I tried wire, pinecones, and even lighting it on fire directly, using, methyl alcohol as an accelerant. None of them worked. I’m trying to solidify the whole thing so that it becomes like one big cube of epsom salts. i accidentally mixed baking soda with it, though, so i don’t know if it will light on fire or put the fire out.

    March 12, 2011 at 4:27 am

    (19) Mark Schreader says:

    I learned of a trick to get colored fire for our campfires perhaps 35 years ago. A cousin told me to take a piece of copper pipe about an inch in diameter and 4 inches long, and take a piece of cheap plastic hose, and cut it to the same length, and insert it into the pipe, and then put it into the fire. I found that the process works best after the fire is well established. Three or four pieces work best. The dominant colors are blues and greens, but at times there are purples/violets, as well as the normal fire colors. We have had fires that were almost all blue/green, and at other times had fires that were technicolor, with all colors except true red. The best color lasts for perhaps 10 to 20 minutes, but there will be licks of colored flames at times for quite some time after. The copper pipe sections can be used for several fires until they disintegrate. I am anxious to try the ideas for reds.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    (20) Pyromaniacism says:

    Really? Wow. I wonder how potassium and/or lithium got into the pipe hose or copper wire. I heard that purple is the easiest color to mask, even if it is the only chemical present. I should have done that for my Science Fair Project… Oh well, i still got an A on it.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    (21) David says:

    I just wanted to add: Methanol burns blue also. I just went to the hardware store and bought a can of Heet antifreeze and water remover instead of mixing the hydrochloric acid and copper wire business. It is much easier! 

    July 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    (22) Zoe says:

    I was going to dip strips of paper in a solution of the colored salts and alcohol, let them dry and then burn them? Would these methods still work? I also considered mixing the salt in paraffin and then coating the paper.

    September 14, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    (23) abhijeet says:

    i tried your green fire experiment and got first prize in my school exhibition.thanks!

    January 3, 2012 at 9:20 am

    (24) mani megalai says:

    super

    June 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    (25) TRavis says:

    If you thro powders direcly in the fire be sure ther is no wind and does any one know how to make fire colouring from lint please anwer

    January 10, 2013 at 7:36 am

    (26) satchit chatterji says:

    i know of a really easy way of making copper chloride (CuCl and CuCl2)
    just heat a solution of CuSO4 and NaCl (both very easy to get) and heat and boil for a few minutes(better if it boils for more time). depending on how much NaCl you put you will get CuCl (for less salt) or CuCl2(for less salt). the copper chloride(1) will be a precipitate and copper chloride(2) will also precipitate but you’ll get more if you dry the solution.

    July 23, 2013 at 6:27 am

    (27) Emidio Queiroz Lopes says:

    Thanks for contribution to understand the purple color of silver artifacts. Copper?, Potassium? I refer the silver coin 460 a. C. in Gulbenkian Museum, section Arte Greco Romana. can You inform the alloyng elemen tprobably present in the coin? Cordially, Emidio Queiroz Lopes

    October 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    (28) Gabe says:

    sorry,but I am sure copper burns green and barium burns yellow because I read a book that said that they did.

    October 10, 2013 at 6:19 am

    (29) Mama T says:

    I did a colored flame program for my sons Eagle Scout court of honor. I mixed the different liquid chemicals with sawdust, dried them and put into paper envelopes. As each scout spoke, he put the envelope into the campfire. There was a little delay, but the fire then changed color. It was impressive. (an example: red is for courage, white is for virtue, blue is for loyalty, etc..)

    December 18, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    (30) Shanda says:

    Mama T – U R Cool.

    January 29, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    (31) brad says:

    Where can you buy like stores of the powders calcium, sodium, baron, copper, potassium and methanol?

     

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