How to Make Non-Toxic Colored Smoke Bombs

Girl holding a colored smoke bomb
It's safer and less expensive to purchase a colored smoke bomb, but also possible to make one yourself.

Adriana Duduleanu / EyeEm / Getty Images

YouTube is packed with videos of recipes for colored smoke bombs made using crayons or oil pastels. Most of these videos are fake, with military smoke bombs carefully concealed within soft drink cans or paper towel tube. So, you may be wondering whether the average person can get the supplies to make a colored smoke bomb and whether it will be safe. Depending on the country you live in, you can probably make a colored smoke bomb. Whether or not it's safe depends on a few different factors.

Basic Colored Smoke Bomb Requirements

Colored smoke bombs aren't new. The basic recipe as well as other recipes listed here date back as far as 1936. At its heart, a colored smoke bomb is a normal smoke bomb, except it includes dispersed dye. The trick is to release the dye into the air, rather than simply burn it.

You need:

  • Fuel: For homemade versions, this is usually table sugar or sucrose.
  • Oxidizer: This provides enough oxygen to get the sugar to burn. Most homemade smoke bombs use potassium nitrate, but potassium chloride (which is used as a salt replacement and is much easier and cheaper to get) may be a better choice because it makes a smoke bomb that burns at a lower temperature. The lower temperature is good because colored smoke is not really smoke. It is produced by vaporizing a dye rather than burning it.
  • Moderator: If the smoke bomb burns too hot, it may help to moderate the reaction. Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate may be added to the mixture. In practice, simply using more sugar and less potassium nitrate or potassium chloride will slow down combustion and produce more smoke.
  • Organic Dye: Sadly, crayons don't contain enough pigment or the right type to produce colored smoke. You can actually light a crayon on fire as a sort of candle to prove this to yourself. Oil pastels might vaporize to make the smoke, but the vapor is almost certainly not non-toxic. Volatile organic dyes may be ordered online or found in some labs. They include aniline red, auramine, and solvent blue.

Test Smoke Bomb Colorants

You can test a colorant you want to try to see if it will yield colored smoke. Remember, the point is to vaporize the dye and not burn it.

  • Place a small amount of product in a spoon.
  • Heat the bottom of the spoon over a candle, lighter, or other heat source.

If you see wisps of color coming off the spoon, the product may work for a colored smoke bomb. If you only see white, black, or no smoke, just move along. It won't work, no matter how many videos tell you otherwise.

How Safe Is a Colored Smoke Bomb?

People have 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. Sugar may not be great for you, but it's basically 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. However, you 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.
The key ingredient in a colored smoke bomb is the organic dye. You shouldn't eat the organic dye, nor should you intentionally breathe it. The Safety Data Sheet (SDS or MSDS) of the particular dye you choose will give you details, and you should read it. If the chemical to be used is safe, it's still best to complete the project in a shed or outdoors and not in a kitchen, where food is prepared. Homemade colored smoke bomb safety is on par with most chemistry demonstrations. It's safe if you know what you're doing and use precautions, but not something the average person really wants to make.