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
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.
|Red||Strontium Chloride or Strontium Nitrate|
|Orange||Calcium Chloride (a bleaching powder)|
|Yellow||Sodium Chloride (table salt)|
or Sodium Carbonate
|Green||Copper Sulfate or Boric Acid|
|Violet||3 parts Potassium Sulfate|
1 part Potassium Nitrate (saltpeter)
|White||Magnesium 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).
|Borax||Laundry booster, roach killer|
|Boric acid||Pharmacy disinfectant|
|Calcium chloride||Road de-icer, desiccant (drying agent)|
|Copper chloride||Online or dissolve copper wire in muriatic acid (not recommended)|
|Copper sulfate||Root killer (solid); algae control (liquid)|
|Lithium chloride||Online or from lithium batteries (not recommended)|
|Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt)||Bath salts, soil treatment, general pharmacy|
|Potassium chloride||Salt substitute|
|Potassium nitrate (saltpeter)||Stump remover, or make your own|
|Potassium sulfate||Fertilizer, pyrotechnics store online|
|Sodium carbonate (washing soda)||Laundry detergent substitute|
|Sodium chloride (table salt)||Table salt (sea salt also works fine)|
|Strontium chloride||Emergency flare or pyrotechnics store online|
|Strontium nitrate||Emergency 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.
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!
- 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