Colored Fire Spray Bottles

Spritz Fire to Change the Flame Color

Walt changes the colors of a flame by spraying it with chemicals.
In the "Breaking Bad" pilot episode, Walt sprays a bunsen burner flame with chemicals from a spray bottle and turns the flame different colors. AMC

In the pilot episode of "Breaking Bad", chemistry teacher Walt White performs a demonstration in which he changes the color of a bunsen burner flame by spraying the flame with chemicals. You can perform the colored fire demonstration yourself. All you need are some common chemicals, alcohol, and spray bottles. Here is a list of metal salts you can use to (safely) color fire. The chemicals have low toxicity and any smoke produced won't be any better/worse for you than normal wood smoke:

Colored Fire Chemicals

Here's a list of common chemicals and the colors of flames they produce:

  • Dark red = lithium chloride
  • Red = strontium chloride (found in emergency flares)
  • Orange = calcium chloride (a bleaching powder)
  • Yellow = sodium chloride (table salt) or sodium carbonate
  • Yellowish green = borax (sodium borate, a common insecticide and cleaning agent)
  • Green = copper sulfate (found in some pool and aquarium chemicals)
  • Blue = copper chloride (lab chemical, but other copper compounds found in algicides and fungicides may work)
  • Violet = 3 parts potassium sulfate, 1 part potassium nitrate (saltpeter)
  • Purple = potassium chloride (sometimes sold as a salt substitute)
  • White = magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts)

Prepare the Flame Colorants

If you were just coloring a campfire or other wood fire, you could simply sprinkle the dry metal salts onto the fire. Copper chloride is especially nice for this since the sodium that is naturally present in wood causes this chemical to produce a mix of blue, green, and yellow flames. However, for the gas flame in a burner, you need the salts dissolved in a flammable liquid. The obvious choice here is alcohol. Common alcohols found around the home could include rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol (e.g., in vodka). In some cases, the metal salts will first need to be dissolved in a small volume of water and then mixed with alcohol so that they can be spray onto a flame. Some salts may not dissolve, so what you can do is grind them into a fine powder and suspend them in liquid.

Do not spray alcohol or any flammable chemical across a flame toward people!

Safety Information

While the colorants used in this demonstration are generally safe, this project involves flammable materials and flames. There is an innate risk of burns and uncontrolled fire. Be sure to have a working fire extinguisher handy, wear appropriate safety gear, and maintain a safe distance between the demonstration and the demonstrator/audience. Flames involving alcohol may be extinguished with water, by suffocation, or with any fire extinguisher. The demonstrator is advised to wear low-flammability clothing (typically natural fibers) rather than flammable synthetic clothing. A little preparation makes for a safe and memorable demonstration that will raise interest in chemistry!

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