Non-Toxic Colored Smoke Bombs

This is a purple smoke grenade, used during a military training exercise.
This is a purple smoke grenade, used during a military training exercise. The typical colored smoke bomb is like a normal white smoke bomb, with a dye released into the smoke. U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

You may have read that the YouTube colored smoke bomb video is believed to have been faked, with the video showing a military smoke bomb, masked with duct tape, rather than the smoke bomb made using the recipe. I think that probably is true, but it doesn't invalidate the recipe for the colored smoke bomb (though I have heard recommendations that you avoid adding baking soda -- I'm looking into that). Colored smoke bombs aren't new. The other recipes I have listed date back as far as 1936. A colored smoke bomb is a normal smoke bomb, with dispersed dye. The trick is to release the dye into the air, rather than simply burn it.

I get a lot of questions about the safety of smoke bombs. Is it safe to use your cookware for food after making a smoke bomb? Is the smoke bomb non-toxic? Is the smoke from the smoke bomb non-toxic?

The classic smoke bomb recipe is very safe. The ingredients are sugar and saltpeter. I think we can agree that sugar is non-toxic. If you read the MSDS for saltpeter (potassium nitrate), you'll see eating it will cause you to throw up, and like other nitrates, it can be converted to nitrites, so it's not good for kids to eat, but it's not a poison. You shouldn't taste the smoke bomb, much less eat it, but if you do, it's unlikely you would fall over dead (do call Poison Control). If you wash your cookware after making a smoke bomb, it will be safe for cooking. I should note: you can ruin your pan with this recipe. If you've made candy (badly), you know burnt sugar and pans don't go well together. Smoke particles aren't great for your respiratory system. The smoke from the smoke bomb is no more or less safe than smoke from a campfire. Actually, the campfire smoke is worse, but it gives you a sort of safety benchmark.

Moving on to the colored smoke bomb... I wouldn't eat the organic dye, nor would I intentionally breathe it. The MSDS of the particular dye you choose will give you details, and you should read the MSDS. I'd make something like this in the lab, not my kitchen. The smoke is for show, not for inhalation. It's on par with the safety of most chemistry demonstrations. It's safe if you know what you're doing and use precautions, but not something the average person will want to make.