How to Make Colored Fire (Ask an Expert)

Fun Fireplace Instructions for Colored Fire

Applying metal salts to a fire will allow you to produce colored flames.
Don Farrall/Getty Images

I know I'm not the only person who has rummaged through old magazines and newspapers, looking for highly colored pages to throw onto a fire to make colored flames. This method of coloring fire, while fun, is hit-and-miss. Have you ever wanted to know how to color the fire reliably? I've compiled a list of colorants and simple instructions for using them.

Chemicals That Are Flame Colorants

In theory, you could use any chemical that works for the flame test.

In practice, it's better to stick with these safe, readily available compounds.

ColorChemical
CarmineLithium Chloride
RedStrontium Chloride or Strontium Nitrate
OrangeCalcium Chloride (a bleaching powder)
YellowSodium Chloride (table salt)
or Sodium Carbonate
Yellowish GreenBorax
GreenCopper Sulfate or Boric Acid
BlueCopper Chloride
Violet3 parts Potassium Sulfate
1 part Potassium Nitrate (saltpeter)
PurplePotassium Chloride
White

Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts)

Here are some of your options:

  • Toss dry colorants onto the flames.
  • Soak logs in an alcohol solution of colorants.
  • Soak logs in an aqueous (water) solution of colorants and allow the logs to dry.
  • Prepare pine cones, sawdust, or cork with colorants.

In general, there is no specific proportion of colorant to mix with the water or alcohol. Add as much powdered colorant as will dissolve in the liquid (roughly a half pound colorant to a gallon of water).

Do not attempt to mix colors together - you will probably end up with a normal yellow flame. If you want multicolored fire, try adding several pine cones, each treated with a single colorant, or scatter a mixture of dried colored sawdust across the fire.

How to Prepare Pine Cones or Sawdust

It's easy!

Remember to do this procedure separately for each color. You can combine dry pine cones or sawdust with different colorants later.

  1. Pour water into a bucket. Use sufficient water to be able to wet your pine cones, sawdust, or waste cork. Skip to step 3 if you purchased your colorant in liquid form.
  2. Stir in colorant until you can't dissolve any more. For sawdust or waste cork, you may also add some liquid glue, which will allow the pieces to stick together and form larger chunks.
  3. Add the pine cones, sawdust, or cork. Mix to form an even coat.
  4. Let the material soak in the colorant mixture for several hours or overnight.
  5. Spread the pieces out to dry. If desired, pine cones may be placed in a paper or mesh bag. You can spread sawdust or cork out on paper, which will also produce colored flames.

How to Prepare Colored Fire Logs

Follow steps 1 and 2 above and either roll a log around in the container (big container, small log) or else pour and spread the mixture onto the logs. Wear kitchen or other protective gloves to protect your hands. Allow the logs to dry. If you make your own newspaper logs, you can smear colorant onto the paper before rolling it.

Points to Keep in Mind

  • The element sodium burns with the usual yellow flame. The presence of this element can overwhelm any other color. If you are making a dry mixture of colorants or colored pine cones/sawdust, you should avoid including any colorant that has sodium in it.
  • If you are using alcohol-based colorants: Remember that alcohol is flammable. If you don't allow it to evaporate before use, you will get a lighter-fluid effect. Use with care!
  • Don't color BBQ fire! The colorants may produce pretty flames, but they can also produce toxic food.
  • Keep the colorants away from children and handle them with the care and respect due to potentially hazardous chemicals. Read and adhere to any warnings listed on product labels.

Now, here is the list of colorants. Most can be found in a grocery or dry goods store, in the laundry or cleaner section. Look for copper sulfate in swimming pool supplies (already in water, which is fine). Potassium chloride is used as a salt substitute and may be found in the spice section. Epsom salts, borax, and calcium chloride may be found with laundry/cleaning supplies.

Others, including strontium chloride, can be obtained from stores that specialize in rocketry or firework supplies.