How to Make Colored Fire at Home


Flame Color Chart
This handy chart shows the chemicals needed to make different flame colors.

It’s easy to make colored fire at home in the fireplace or a campfire. All you need to do is sprinkle on a salt to color the flames. Here is a list of colorants, the colors they produce, and a look at where to find them.

List of Flame Colorant Chemicals

Colored fire campfire
Dry colorants easily produce a colored fire campfire. (Chris Rhoads)

Many chemicals produce colors in a fire, but not all of them are readily available or safe to use. This is a list of common colorant chemicals and the fire colors they produced.

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
WhiteMagnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts)

The colors are based on the flame test in chemistry, which uses a blue alcohol or gas flame. When these chemicals are added to a wood fire, a rainbow effect is more likely due to the chemical composition of the fuel.

How to Color Fire

Once you have the colorant chemicals, there are different ways to use them:

  • Sprinkle dry colorants onto flames.
  • Dissolve the colorants in alcohol and then soak logs in the liquid.
  • Dissolve the colorants in water. Soak pinecones, rolled newspapers, sawdust, or cork in the liquid. Allow the fuel to dry and then add it to a fire for a pop of color.

There is no “recipe” for how much colorant to add to water or alcohol. The amount that dissolves depends on the temperature of the liquid and the solubility of the chemical. Basically, just add as much solid as will dissolve in the liquid. If you use less, the color of the fire may not be as intense. If you use too much, you’ll have undissolved solid, which you can recover and use later. Some compounds dissolve better in water, while some dissolve better in alcohol. Test a small amount and decide which method works best for your needs.

Do not mix all the colorants together. You won’t get a rainbow! Most likely, you’ll end up with a yellow fire. This is because sodium (in table salt and also naturally in wood) overwhelms other colors. For a multicolored fire, it’s best to add several pine cones, each treated with one colorant, or a mix of dried colored sawdust. Even with separate colorants, it’s best to avoid adding “yellow” because it’s so bright.

Where to Find Flame Colorants

Most of the flame colorants listed here are available at grocery stores or home supply stores. A few are easier to find online. Some of these chemicals are available either as solids or as liquids. Liquids are fine to use for soaking pinecones or logs, but obviously aren’t a great choice for applying directly to a fire (unless you want to put it out).

ChemicalSource
BoraxLaundry booster, roach killer
Boric acidPharmacy disinfectant
Calcium chlorideRoad de-icer, desiccant (drying agent)
Copper chlorideOnline or dissolve copper wire in muriatic acid (not recommended)
Copper sulfateRoot killer (solid); algae control (liquid)
Lithium chlorideOnline or from lithium batteries (not recommended)
Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt)Bath salts, soil treatment, general pharmacy
Potassium chlorideSalt substitute
Potassium nitrate (saltpeter)Stump remover, or make your own
Potassium sulfateFertilizer, pyrotechnics store online
Sodium carbonate (washing soda)Laundry detergent substitute
Sodium chloride (table salt)Table salt (sea salt also works fine)
Strontium chlorideEmergency flare or pyrotechnics store online
Strontium nitrateEmergency flare or pyrotechnics store online

Other Ways to Make Colored Fire

Directly adding salts to a fire is the best way to color fire, but it isn’t the only method. Colored flames also result from burning color-print newspaper, magazines, and some plastics, like garden hoses. While these other methods produce colored fire, their combustion may also release toxic fumes. Color-printed paper is reasonably safe to burn, although it may release cinders that can ignite nearby objects. Burning plastic is never a good idea because the smoke contains toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals.

Safety Information

Colored fire is safe in a fireplace or campfire, but it’s probably not wise to cook hotdogs or roast marshmallows over colored flames. For the most part, using salts produces the same smoke as a normal fire. The salts don’t actually burn in the flames, so they remain in the soot rather than in gases around the fire. For this reason, take care where you dispose of ashes. Using Epsom salts may actually help your garden. Plants also appreciate a boost of boron from borax or boric acid, but too much is harmful. Copper salts naturally occur in soil, but copper is toxic to invertebrates like snails and crabs and other organisms, like algae.

Like other home chemicals, flame colorants should be kept out of reach of children and pets. Read and adhere to any warnings on chemical containers.

If you use alcohol as a fuel, please remember that it is much more flammable than wood. Never add alcohol (or any liquid fuel) to a burning fire, or it will react much light lighter fluid!

References

  • Natural Resources Canada (2003). Pyrotechnics Special Effects Manual (2nd ed.). Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
  • Patnaik, Pradyot (2002). Handbook of Inorganic Chemicals. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-049439-8

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