Introduction: Make Nitric Acid - the Complete Guide

We show 3 ways to make nitric acid based on two different chemical approaches both of which can be done using easily accessible materials.

Warning: The procedures in this video produce large quantities of toxic gases and deal with highly corrosive acids. All work must be performed in a fume hood with proper safety equipment. And all apparatus must be glass to withstand the acids.

Chemically, nitric acid is made by bubbling nitrogen dioxide into water. So the objective in this approach is to generate nitrogen dioxide. This can be done by reacting hydrochloric acid, a nitrate salt and copper. Around 80grams of sodium nitrate, over 30 grams of copper and 100mL of hydrochloric acid are the quantities needed. The exact amount is not critical. For useable concentrations, the amount of water being converted should be small, around 20-50mL.

Any source of nitrate is usable including potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and even nitrate-based fertilizers. You can use our previous video on testing for nitrates if you want to determine if yours can be used.

The tricky part now is leading the gas into water. Two approaches are shown in the video. In the first approach three containers, such as jars are place inside each other to force the gas to go into the water. This is very inefficient but is very simple to do.

The better approach is to lead the gas out of the generator through a tube and into a chilled container of water.

The water that is converted into nitric acid can be replaced with hydrogen peroxide for better yield.

The chemical waste that is generated contains the valuable copper used before and recovering it is worthwhile due to todays high copper prices. This is simply done by putting in enough aluminum metal that it reacts with all the acids and copper in solution to create a slurry of copper. This can be filtered to obtain a residue of copper. it is highly contaminated but can still be used to make more nitric acid.

Finally, the last way of making pure nitric acid is to react concentrated sulfuric acid and a pure nitrate salt (NOT fertilizer) and heat it in a glass distillation apparatus to distill over the pure nitric acid. Stochiometric quantities of both reagents are recommended for maximum yield.

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SHOE0007 (author)2017-09-16

Could Mangesium nitrate and a strong acid like sulfuric acid give you Nitric acid??? Please respond quickly if this would work.

Mickeymouse121 (author)2016-03-26

Can you replace the sodium nitrate with potassium nitrate

Yes most any nitrate, except ammonium nitrate could decompose your product due to ammonia being a strong base. Both Sodium or Potassium Nitrate work fine though

WessonS (author)2016-11-27

What is the Nitric acid strength (e.g. 68% or 70%) when you combine 93% virgin Sulfuric acid with Potassium nitrate?

I am not referring to a distillation strength, just the strength of the Nitric acid produced when combining the two reagents.

luuyl (author)2016-05-22

Question: roughly what is the minimum temperature needed to react the Sodium Nitrate and Sulfuric acid?

lemonie (author)2009-06-04

Oooh, this might be nice but it's all wrong (in principle). Nitric acid is made from ammonia, and nitrates are made from that, so you're going backwards here... Is there anyway of burning ammonia in the lab? L

NurdRage (author)lemonie2009-06-04

All wrong? so I'm not making nitric acid? The point is not to make nitric acid on an industrial scale. The point is to enable an individual without a massive platinum-rhodium catalyst to make it themselves. Electric heating is also going "backwards": a power plant uses a powerful thermal reaction, such as coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear and then drives a generator to make electricity which is sent to your house. Your electric "furnace" or stove converts that back into heat for home use. Sounds backwards, but this is still done for many homes due to convenience and safety issues. Its more convenient to make nitric acid by converting commercial nitrates than to reduce nitrogen into ammonia and then oxidize ammonia into nitric acid. Sorry if this violates scientific principles. Reducing nitrogen on an industrial scale is done by the Haber process where nitrogen is reacted with hydrogen under high pressure and temperature over a catalyst. Oxidation of ammonia is done by the Ostwald process using a platinum-rhodium catalyst. Both methods are entirely beyond the individual due to extreme costs.

lemonie (author)NurdRage2009-06-04

My thinking was along the lines of: nitrate & nitric acid equilibrate, so if you add hydrochloric acid to nitrate you're done in that step. But more than that, if you've got the fume hood, proper safety equipment and all apparatus you've got a bottle of nitric acid in your lab anyway (and you have I know). It's nice to see but isn't really practical. I've seen US army handbooks on improvised munitions explain how to concentrate (car) battery-acid, produce nitric, make nitrating mixture, improvise explosives etc - I do get it. I'm just being picky on a point of principle, nothing more than that - I like this stuff! L

luuyl (author)lemonie2016-05-22

Yes NurdRage may have a bottle of nitric acid in hand. However, living in the UK unless you have a license and a nice wad of cash it is very hard to get your hands on concentrated nitric acid. I personally need it to make aqua regia as I am playing with gold refining. So yes it may be a useless practise for NerdRage or yourself but there are few easy and relativly cheap ways i can get my hands on concentrated Nitric acid.

Jaycub (author)lemonie2009-09-01

"...if you add hydrochloric acid to nitrate you're done in that step." Does this mean that I could just mix kno3 with muriatic acid and it would be nitric acid even without the bubbling step?

lemonie (author)Jaycub2009-09-01

Yes. But that wouldn't give you concentrated nitric acid.


Jaycub (author)lemonie2009-09-02

If I boiled the water out of the muriatic acid and mixed concentrated hydrochloric acid with the kno3 would the nitric acid be stronger? Then could I distill it to make it even stronger? My bubbling experiment didn't work very well.

lemonie (author)Jaycub2009-09-02

Theoretically yes, but these things equilibrate and stuff. What do you want nitric acid for anyway? L

Jaycub (author)lemonie2009-09-02

There are a lot of uses for it, mostly explosives.

NurdRage (author)Jaycub2009-09-02

I do not condone or assist in the making of explosives or weapons.

Jaycub (author)NurdRage2009-09-02

Not for weapons, just for fun.

NurdRage (author)Jaycub2009-09-02

Creating deadly improvised explosive devices that have killed and maimed for FUN?

Jaycub (author)NurdRage2009-09-02

I'm not a terrorist!!! They only kill or maime if you use them wrong. I just really like fireworks.

NurdRage (author)Jaycub2009-09-02

Your various errors in the understanding of chemistry means that inevitably you will make a costly mistake. You're already using the chemistry "wrong" it's painfully obvious that you do not really understand what you are doing. If you don't understand then you cannot reasonably make a judgment of how to do something right. The power of science over things like games is that it's real, and accomplishes real things. Unfortunately it also causes real damage, real injury, and real death. I'm not trying to be mean. I appreciate your curiosity in science. But if you die that's one less potential scientist for the world. Almost any other science i'll help with. But the problem with explosives is that if something goes wrong, you don't have time to run.

Jaycub (author)NurdRage2009-09-02

I'm not planning on making anything much bigger than a few ounces, so the wors that could realy happen with the precautions I take is a fire or an injured hand. What specificaly am I getting wrong?

jonjones48 (author)Jaycub2011-07-14

in most states any explosive over 1.4 gram in mass is illegal without permit. Making and then storing ANY AMOUNT of explosive without a license is illegal in ALL states!

This, is the reaction I got after making and using copper(i)acetylide

Jaycub (author)jonjones482011-07-14

Mabey your technically right but I've read that The BATF will "look the other way" if your just making flash powder or something for recreation.

Jaycub (author)NurdRage2009-09-03

It also might make you feel better to know that I am not only making explosives. I will also be experimenting with rockets, and mabey to extract pure gold from dirt.

Perankhscribe (author)NurdRage2010-01-14

Agreed.   These people are going to hurt themselves or somebody else. 

lemonie (author)Jaycub2009-09-02

Often with sulphuric (concentrated) so why not use that? L

Jaycub (author)lemonie2009-09-02

My first experiment will be nitrocellulose, then urea nitrate. And anyway I need more supplies before I can make sulfuric acid.

lemonie (author)Jaycub2009-09-02

Nitric acid will happily hydrolyse cellulose if it's too wet, but you might be able to find some celluloid somewhere (wikipedia it for uses as a material)


NurdRage (author)lemonie2009-06-04

alright then. :) But you'd be amazed, i've seen people build labs out of their garages with with very sophisticated equipment. All improvised ofcourse, but very functional. Proper glassware can also be bought online and off auction sites. So its very much within the means of an individual... with lots of cash... to build a functional lab. Getting chemicals though may run afoul of regulatory agencies. Nitric acid requires special shipping instructions and ordering a small quantity is quite difficult. It's easier for me (as an individual) to buy $1000 worth of glassware than it is to get $4 of nitric acid. But yeah.... the number of people with a functional lab who are also weirdly unable to get nitric acid can probably be counted on one hand :P Ah well. Still makes for a great video. :) And the last method i describe in the video is the proper distillation method for nitric acid. Done by early chemists before the ostwald process made it moot. Still fun stuff. I don't personally use the first two methods. afterall like you said; i have nitric acid by the bottle-load. But i do occasionally use the last method to make fuming nitric acid since i can make what i need in a night rather than wait a week for shipping.

Cat on my Lap (author)NurdRage2009-09-02

Don't forget barns in that list of places build impromptu labs...Not that I'd know about that.

lemonie (author)NurdRage2009-06-04

It's all fun stuff. I once purified methanesulfonic acid by a similar-ish process: convert to sodium salt, dry, add conc. sulfuric, distil. Dammed hygroscopic stuff, and I ultimately used it in TFA as a solvent! L

Perankhscribe (author)NurdRage2010-01-14

A good article describing this process is here:

Honestly I think Lemonie is missing the point here.  The approach NurdRage is demonstrating is a very useful reaction for an amateur chemist.   I did want to note however that you can get platinum off ebay which is extremely pure.   Now rhodium is another matter, but if you have the platinum you can do it.

Electrical arcing....  It does work but its inefficient and contaminated.   If I am not mistaken there is some ammonia produced by the arcing method.   Free radicals also tend to react and make more complicated products.  (They say this is how the building blocks of life were made.)

qualia (author)Perankhscribe2010-04-14

yeah because platinum isn't expensive at all.

Jaycub (author)Perankhscribe2010-01-26

I don't see how ammonia would be made in a berkland eyed reactor... but yeah lemonie is deffinately not saying a true thing. Nitrate salts can be made by microorganisms and extracted from the dirt they live in (then converted to hno3 and k2so4 by reaction with h2so4), or nitric acid can be made from ammonia which was made in the haber process (or whatever way it was made), and there's always the BE reactor. There's nothing wrong with Nurdrage's ways.

qualia (author)NurdRage2010-04-14


mathewwhyburd (author)lemonie2015-09-16

not on burning coal, or you could make cyanide accidently.

facesfromparadise (author)2016-05-09

in the video you made for this process you use %30 h2o2, would a higher concentration of peroxide give a higher yield? I had a hard time getting my peroxide to absorb much no2 gas, in spite of it being in an ice bath. I'm aware of how dangerous concentrated peroxide can be which is why I'm asking. I am going to try to find a taller thinner vessel to bubble the gas through first, with the logic that if the gas spends more time in the peroxide more of it will react. I figured I would bring this question here though and ask just in case that doesn't work. Thanks for doing what you do.

mathewwhyburd (author)2015-09-16

how do you make acetone peroxide?

elizabeth.cain.7796 (author)2015-08-24

im sorry for using my spouces site but can strontium nitrate from road flares be used for the nitrate salt as well bobmaccian

theegghead (author)2015-06-15

does weaker HCL work?

Nishi2001 (author)2015-01-08

I made it but its still little bit of blue.Is there a way to purify it????

ThijssjihT (author)Nishi20012015-06-12

Adding a few drops of concentrated sodium or potassium phosphate solution should remove the blue copper ions. However, if you add to much, you will add contamination with phosphate, but at least that's colorless.

jonny.blazer.92 (author)2015-01-29

Mr. Jordan, is that you? I'm a hardcore NurdRage fan, and have been for quite a long time...and despite the fact that u may distort your voice, u still sound EXACTLY like my high school chemistry teacher back in '99!

Whether it is you, or not -- this is a fantatic thing youre doing here. educational, useful, awesome!

Good stuff.

ClownW (author)2014-12-15

Ok so I did the pipette method a few times and I get odd results every time.
My end product is bale blue instead of water clear. the first time I thought that perhaps it foamed a little up into the vac tube but i watched this last one run off and there was nothing that boiled/bubbled over at all.

Also I am getting the faint smell of chlorine in my basement so I dont think my fume hood is strong enough to handle heavy gasses. how dangerous is this?
I left the basement as soon as smelled it and set the exhaust tube from my hood down on the floor.

ClownW (author)ClownW2014-12-15

Come to think of it, it smells a little like ozone more than chlorine.

guds777 (author)2014-08-22

Do you have to distill the hydrochloric acid and saltpeter solution or is it enough to just heat the solution up and collect the brown liquid as a nitric acid.

guds777 (author)guds7772014-08-23

If you have rubber glove to seal the boiling flask and you get the all the vapors back in the flask.

rvelma (author)2014-04-20

Thanks for the very detailed and precise information. I get what it is that you are trying to accomplish: remove the industrial dependency we have on our access to chems we can make at home. At least that is one obvious intent here and I so do appreciate it. It seems that some Chemists (not all) but some do tend to try and alienate those folks like me, who scratch their heads first glance at the Periodic Table. Why those Chemists do not realize that this is overkill is beyond me!!!!lol

Ok if a person has sodium nitrate, metabasulfite and hydrochloric acid can one make nitric acid? or do they need sulfuric in order to make it? Sorry if this is an ignorant question. The only way to remove ignorance is to learn your lesson!!!!LOL

E_MAN (author)2013-06-26

What is the equation for this?

About This Instructable




Bio: NurdRage is a dedicate group of science nerds trying to further amateur science with direct how-to instructions in video format. We saw what was already ... More »
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