Introduction: How to Start Fire With Water!

Picture of How to Start Fire With Water!
You probably already know a few ways to do this, but none that beats this method! It will not only make you be able to start a combustion with a drop of water, but it will be the coolest GREEN flame!

For a brief description please watch this video:

Note: Alot of people have mistakenly claimed that I have stolen video and pictures for this Instructable. To clear everything up, I didn't steal anything, I simply posted elsewhere long time ago, and eventually it became popular on the internet. Look in the beginning of the video for the signature.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Before we start, I must warn you. This is obiously NOT a safe experiment you should allow small kids to make, as this will combust with an explosive-like effect with a drop of water, and might not always go off the way you want it to. This mixture is hygroscopic (will soak moisture from air) because off the ammonium nitrate included. So if it is very humid or raining, making this is not a good idea.

Okay, so let's get started!
For this project we will need following items:

- An "Instant cold pack"
- Table salt
- Zinc powder (grey metal powder, can be bought from or

Further you'll need

- A scale, preferably precise to 0.1g
- A mortar and pestle to grind the mixture

Step 2: Ammonium Nitrate

Picture of Ammonium Nitrate

Start by cutting open the Instant cold pack. You'll notice there are two things inside:

- A bag of water, that you can throw away.
- White granules, consisting of ammonium nitrate.

We want the ammonium nitrate for this project, as it will act as oxidizer.

Step 3: Grinding

Picture of Grinding

Now we will need to weigh out the following:

- 3g Ammonium nitrate
- 0.5g Table salt

Transfer it into the mortar and pestle and grind, untill it's well mixed.
Now comes the part were you need to take precaution, weigh out:

- 7g Zinc powder

Put it in the mortar and pestle and grind it together with the other ingredients.
Care must be taken at this point, not to let any water near this stage, since the powder is now finished and ready to use. Use it instantly, as storing the mixture will guarantee problems.

Step 4: Igniting

Picture of Igniting

The only thing left to do is to ignite it.
To do so, add a few drops of water with a syringe or pipette (or stand well back and see if you can hit it with spit!)
The important thing is to wear safety gear, such as goggles or gloves.

A few seconds after the water is added, smoke will appear, and then a combustion will occur with a bright, green flame.


MarkC335 (author)2016-08-15


1MountainMan (author)2016-01-28

There is a misconception that seems pervasive throughout the comments and that is that the flammability of any of the compounds is any sort of factor in this reaction. The issue is how many carbons can be oxidized from their present state to a more oxidized state and how many further oxidations of the same carbon can occur. Further, Ethylene Glycols are hygroscopic and the smaller the molecular mass the more that is the case, although, at the other extreme, the solid -highest mass- ethylene glycols are not hygroscopic at all. So what does that mean? It means that undiluted Polyethylene glycol will work and that diluted will not. Huh? Yes, some water is needed normally to start the oxidations with the oxygen provided by the permanganate; however, in excess, the water stops -as it does many other, ask Wallace Carothers- the oxidation reaction. When treated with acid and in the presence of potassium permanganate, the carbons in question will fully oxidize; that is to say that primary, secondary, and unsaturated carbons will have electrons added to them from the permanganate. PubChem specifically states that a mixture of Polyethylene Glycol and Potassium Permanganate is, all by itself, spontaneously flammable; therefore, negating the need for ammonium nitrate unless....

The formation of Ammonium Permanganate when a mixture of as low as 0.5% Potassium Permanganate and Ammonium Nitrate results in an explosion when a threshold quantity of Ammonium Permanganate has been reached. The reader is cautioned concerning reliance on estimates of seven hours as temperature and pressure play a significant role and a role that, for those incidents, remains unknown. Moreover, the relationship is non linear and therefore any attempt to predict the rate of formation of Ammonium Permanganate under any conditions is fraught with perils. Temperature is certainly going to accelerate the process so that if used to light a campfire, said campfire might suddenly and without sputtering or sparking any more than would normally be the case, explode.

It is posible to use a small piece of bicycle inner tube, when sealed with wax at one end and packed with dryer lint, a fair quantity of permanganate or perchlorate such that when surrounded by further dryer lint and wax, a shelf stable product may be made. Then, when desired, a small amount of some material with the aforementioned oxidizable carbons may be added by poking a hole in the wax and adding the material directly into the permanganate saturated dryer lint that is surrounded by rubber; the resulting fire will burn enough to dry wet wood! It is also possible to create stages such that once a fire is started, the permanganate consumed, the melting of a sufficiently thick wax plug or a gelatin capsule would liberate an amount of magnesium oxide (alternatively, one may use strips of magnesium oxide on the inside of the second piece of rubber so as to both ignite the rubber and increase the temperature of the fire. Undoubtedly, magnesium oxide powder could also be blended into a wax plug and these might be carried as a source of preprepared fire starting material by encasing the magnesium oxide in the wax with dryer lint and surrounding this with a piece of inner tube. Why go through the trouble? The inner tube's border can serve to contain an amount of powdered sugar. This sugar, while totally unreactive with the magnesium oxide, would react violently with potassium permanganate when a small amount of water is added. Dissolved in Polyethylene glycol, the reaction with the permanganate would be something to see indeed given the added carbons available for oxidation.

Having saved the best for last, her it is: permanganates ignite in contact with polypropylene. While it may take more of either, it presents a safe manner in which to carry the permanganate in as much as one can keep it in its original polyethylene container and merely carry or wear the polypro until needed. One major disadvantage is that the reaction will not be as spontaneous as that which would occur with glycerol or glucose paste.

Similarly, one can combine antimony with potassium permanganate and when ground together, a moderate rate of oxidation will occur. That is, a fire, though the reader is cautioned that what a small amount makes into fire, a large amount makes into an explosion.

Personally, I would avoid the usage of ammonium nitrate if at all possible. However, given how its presence alters the reaction kinetics, it might be desirable to use a small amount if one has lots of ammonium nitrate but only a small amount of potassium permanganate.

The experiment described in the article to which this response is attached is fine when sufficient precision is available and used. Nevertheless, if one finds oneself in such a situation as the man in Jack London's tale "To Start a Fire", I imagine that a more some of this and some of that approach might be better suited.

DaVidMaker (author)2015-02-06

saaying its made by water

chriskarr (author)2015-01-20

Everyone is saying don't store the mixture. They're half right. Just store it in two bags - the fuel and the oxidizer in separate bags - and mix when needed.

DustyJK (author)2014-11-05

two years ago i did this experiment for my classmates to get them excited about chemistry. i have found the more reactive the metal in the salt is the better. potassium is 3 to 4 times more powerful that sodium . i haven't got to treat lithium chloride it should be the most reactive.

ShawM1 (author)2014-10-18

be careful when making this, as it may be illegal to intentionally create an explosion in some states. Massachusetts is one of them. The fine's anywhere from $10- $100, but it's unlikely you'll be caught.

alexeagle6630 (author)2009-01-17

how do you make the fire stop and what is a cold pack alexeagle6630

codongolev (author)alexeagle66302009-02-23

cold pack- sold at drugstores, used for injuries. you squeeze the pack of water inside and burst it, and the resulting reaction takes more energy than it creates, therefore making it cold. it's useful for sports, where there's no freezer around.

Some contain UREA instead of NH4NO3 so watch out!!

Jaycub (author)alexeagle66302009-02-20

Once you light a mixture that has the oxidiser in it the only way to put it out is to remove the fuel source. So unless you want to poke a stick in it and try to scrape out the un-burnt part of the mixture while it's going you basicaly can't put it out.

TFrosty (author)Jaycub2009-02-25

You could put a bucket over it, getting rid of the oxygen. You have to eliminate one part of the fire triangle, source, heat, and oxygen

Jaycub (author)TFrosty2009-02-25

The amonium nitrate serves as an oxidizer, it doesn't need oxygen from the air.

TFrosty (author)Jaycub2009-02-25

My mistake. I completely blanked out on that.

DustyJK (author)TFrosty2012-04-16


KWeippert (author)alexeagle66302009-08-26

If you have no idea what a cold pack shouldnt be trying this experiment!!!

A.C.E. (author)alexeagle66302009-06-28

hey it will go out in just about 3 seconds if you follow this guys amounts.

imiller8 (author)2014-02-20

A lithium strip from a disposable battery and a cup of water work just as good.

magnetizer (author)2013-10-15

COOOOOL!anybody with a few braincell,s can do this and its FREAKIN AWESOME .
Can we increase the explosion by increasing the components like everythingx2

DustyJK (author)2012-07-26

Would pottasium clorate replace ammonium nitrate
then could i use pottasium cloride as the salt

zoraxbrooks (author)2009-08-04

this would help when campin'

DustyJK (author)zoraxbrooks2012-04-16


techxpert (author)2011-10-04

a better name would be "insta fire just add water"

Mutantflame (author)2011-09-30

Would Aluminium powder work instead of zinc?

If not, would magnesium work?

cooldog (author)2008-01-19

can you sub the zinc with anything else i'm thinking of using it to start camp fires

lasersage (author)cooldog2008-01-23

When i was a kid, cub/scout master started a fire with a mysterious potion. It turned out to be potassium permangemate, sugar, and glycerine. He'd prepped the fire by grinding the potassium permangemate and sugar into a fine powder and laid it in the kindeling, then he just poored the glycerine on the fire in front of us, and whoosh FIRE! :D I experimented with it at home, warming the glycerine (only hand warm) improved the reaction. Can't remember the sugar to pot ratio, try half and half, but i think they're was more pot than sugar involved. Potassium permangemate is sold over the counter at chemists in tiny little pots, its quite cheap. Old people soak their feet in it or something. Who knows why? Beware it will dye anything very very purple on contact with moisture! Good luck (sorry no Zinc involved in this one:)

Johenix (author)lasersage2011-09-29

DANGER: Do not grind the permanganate and sugar together, there is a danger of explosion. Grind them seperately and then mix them.

Do not grind a permanganate, chlorate, or perchlorate with ANY organic material- there is danger of explosion.


kwhizr (author)lasersage2008-01-25

I saw Survivorman do this on Discovery. It seems a lot safer.

BrazenRain (author)kwhizr2008-01-26

On Survivorman he usually uses magnesium. If you strike it with something hard, it sparks. The spark ignites some sort of fuel (firewood, coconut shellings, etc.). It's a lot different than getting the fire itself out of a chemical reaction. (Or did he actually do that once or twice?)

kadris3 (author)BrazenRain2008-01-26

no kwixr is correct. it was not his usual metal match routine, but a chemical reaction w potassium permanganate and glycerin. he is also correct. it was a slow motion reaction which yielded fire. this would also work in a pinch and is good to know. thanks fr the instructable.

808create (author)kadris32008-03-30

I saw that Survivorman. His was magnesium shavings and another common liquid--I want to say potassium or variant thereof. Only 2 ingredients, I think There was definitely mag and some liquid chem, and whoof--fire. Are there 2 common chemicals only that will create fire without extraordinary heat or something?

808create (author)808create2008-03-30

potassium permanganate is foot-soak, right? where do you get glycerin--antifreeze?

lasersage (author)808create2008-03-31

glycerin is over the counter sugary stuff, its used in cooking so should be able to be got at supermarket, if not from a chemist. as for antifreeze i think you're thinking of glycol - toxic! (and not flamable as far as i know)

I'm pretty sure that antifreeze has glycerol/glycerin in it. I even consulted Wikipedia

just been on the wiki page for antifreeze ( and a search of glyce..... returns nothing.
So no mention of glycerol/glycerin.

Ethylene Glycol ( is the main chemical in anti freeze and as I have already stated is toxic but not especially flammable.

Glycerin is available in food shops , I bought some recently from Sainsbury's in the baking section.

stonebreakerm (author)lasersage2008-09-03

Sorry what I meant to say is glucose is sugary glycerin is slimy and has virtuly no taste.I don't think I have seen glycerin in grocery stores. Though I could be wrong Though I have cooked for 14 yrs

lasersage (author)stonebreakerm2008-09-04

fair enough, I could've been being too optimistic about availability. Definitely not hard to source from decent chemists though. Good luck fire people

stonebreakerm (author)lasersage2008-08-29

No You'r thinking of Glucose

lasersage (author)stonebreakerm2008-09-03

No, you're thinking of Glucose :p

I'm definately thinking of Glycerin, just checked me facts. Mine was a viscous clear liquid, much like this:

All the glucose I can find on the net looks like powders.

I'm standing by my previous Glycerin and Potassium Permangenate claims.

Unless you're suggesting that I'm thinking of Glucose as anti-freeze, but I can't imagine you'd be that wrong!

laidback4sho (author)808create2009-07-20

you can get glycerin from your local newspaper. it comes in 1 gallon jugs. most people who work at newspapers are hard-up for money anyway. slip em some cash and they'll snag some for you.

U.S.M.C.Demo (author)808create2009-04-24

survivor man used hand sanitizer, which is basically glycerin. also, you can get pp at any pet store, its used to clean coy ponds.

jackspara (author)kadris32008-01-30

Table salt turns it green, I think.

A.C.E. (author)jackspara2009-06-28

the zinc doubles as a green color. if you make pyrotechnics, add a bit of zinc powder to make it green. (author)jackspara2008-01-30

No it doesn't, it catalyzes the reaction, but sodium ions have a yellow colorspectrum. Zink makes the green flame.

chriskarr (author)pudi.dk2008-09-10

The ammonium nitrate makes it green. I've made ammonium nitrate rocket engines in my back yard. All you need is the ammonium nitrate and another oxidizer. Ammonium nitrate isn't the most reactive explosive in the world, but it was the explosive in the Oklahoma city bombing. =)

Tobita (author)jackspara2008-02-10

barium salts would make it green

BrazenRain (author)kadris32008-02-10

I saw that on Survivorman recently. You're right. =]

Estwald (author)BrazenRain2008-07-07

Yes, he used it in one of his African episodes, the one where he started out in a hot air balloon. The potassium permangemate and glycerin were from the balloon's first aid kit.

Just so you know, he scrapes magnesium into the kindling and hits the FLINT with his knife. Magnesium doesn't spark when you hit it. Flint does.

Ahh, so the magnesium is what ignites when the spark hits?

Derin (author)lasersage2008-10-03

we use cow poop,its not that dirty as it sounds when dry,it gives more calories burning with a little wood,but my grandpa(who found this out) says it will also burn by itself

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm Nicolaj, a Danish chemistry student interested in DIY and projects involving fabrication.
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