Colored Fire - Where to Find Metal Salts for Colorants

Multi-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 solvent. One of the best solvents is 70% rubbing alcohol because it contains both alcohol and water. Some metal salts dissolve better in one chemical than the other, so using a mixture covers your bases. One the colorant is dissolved, soak the fuel in the liquid and then allow the fuel to dry completely before using it in a fire.

Sources for Colorants (by color)

Green - The three chemicals used to make green fire are borax, boric acid, and copper sulfate (copper sulphate). Borax is the most widely available colorant, as it is a common laundry booster and roach killer. It's either found in the laundry section of a store (e.g., 20 Mule Team Borax) or in the pest control section. 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. It is sold as solid granules for use as a root killer. The solid granules may be sprinkled directly on a fire to get the green color.

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 desiccant 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.

Rainbow Colors - Using either copper sulfate or borax on a wood or paper fire will give an entire rainbow of colors. This is because the fuel burns at different temperatures, so incandescence imparts the colors red, orange, yellow, blue, and white.

Pure Colors: Adding any colorant to wood, kerosene, or paper will produce multi-colored flames. To get pure colors, the salts need a relatively pure fuel. Alcohol burns with a barely visible blue flame, so it is a good choice. Options include rubbing alcohol, ethanol, high-proof spirits, or methanol. Spraying solutions of colorants onto gas flames also works. However, be careful spraying colorants at any fuel, as the flame could travel outward toward other people or back toward your hand!