Introduction: Nitrocellulose

Picture of Nitrocellulose

This instructable shows an easy way to make nitrocellulose (also known as gun cotton). Nitrocellulose is a fun compound that is safe to handle, burns very fast, and can be used in explosive mixtures like smokeless powder and APNC (acetone peroxide and nitrocellulose), and in fuses, rockets, whatever you can think of.

This isn't the best way to make nitrocellulose. If you want super good nitrocellulose mix concentrated sulfuic acid with concentrated nitric acid 2 to 1 by volume, cool the solution to below 25 degrees F (ice and salt works), then slowly add cotton and let it soak for 12 to 24 hours while keeping the ice fresh. Then clean it with cold water (no baking soda) until there is no acid left. Nitrocellulose made this way can be detonated by hitting a pinch of it with a hammer.

Videos: My nitrocellulose burning (not as good as the batch in the Instructable) Some APNC I made from this and TATP. It will easily detonate unconfined with just heat.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

You will need:
-Potassium nitrate (or another nitrate salt)
-mortar and pestel
-a glass cup
-2 containers for water baths
-baking soda (already disolved in water in picture)
-cotton balls
-sulfuric acid (mine is drain cleaner)
-Glass stirring thing (mine is part of a broken jar)

Step 2: Make the Nitrating Solution

Picture of Make the Nitrating Solution

Pour some of the potassium nitrate into the mortar and pestel and grind it to a fine powder. Next pour an amount of sulfuric acid (a little more than a cotton ball could absorb) into the glass cup. Mix the powdered potassium nitrate into the sulfuric acid a little at a time until it is very cloudy and almost thick with the nitrate. Do this in a well ventilated area because it will form a fuming mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids.

According to Powerlabs, if you want to make cellulose hexanitrate, a very high energy explosive that is about 1.2-1.5 times as strong as TNT when detonated and has a VoD of ~7300m/s then the proportion of sulfuric acid to kno3 should be 1 gram kno3 to 3.819ml (or 3.325 grams) of sulfuric acid.

Step 3: Perform the Nitration

Picture of Perform the Nitration

Using the pliers, put a cotton ball into the nitrating solution. Poke it a little with the glass stirring thing to get it to soak up the solution. Now just leave it for a while. I let it sit for about an hour and a half, and it could have gone a little longer. Also make sure it doesn't get to cold or it will take a long time, but nitration is more complete when cold. Since it was like 40 degrees F when I did this my portable heater/ventalation system was set on warm.

This has never happened to me, but if it starts putting out a brown gas throw it into water and start over. That means it is doing "runnaway nitration".

Step 4: Clean and Dry

Picture of Clean and Dry

While you're waiting, put water in your 2 containers, and dissolve some baking soda into one of them.

After you think it has nitrated long enough, pull the cotton ball out of the glass cup and rinse it in the water bath. Then move it to the baking soda bath and nudge it around while the acid is neutralized by the baking soda. When the bubbling slows, replace the water in the plane water bath and rinse it again. Then put it back into the baking soda one and gently move it around until the bubbling completely stops. Then replace the water in the other cup again and rinse it one last time. (Note, I have read that the baking soda washing will partialy decompose the nitrocellulose, so a better cleaning option is to boil it in distilled water and rinse it a lot).

Squeeze the water out of it and fluff it back up into cotton form by gently pulling at it. To speed the drying, press it firmly between two folded halves of a towel (or your shirt). Then fluff it up again and let it dry thoroughly. After that you are done.


yishaisilver8 (author)2016-01-24

Is there any way to make the flash green?

rebeccaz4 (author)yishaisilver82017-04-22

try soaking it in barium chloride, which gives fireworks their characteristic green

KubaD3 (author)yishaisilver82016-04-18

Well, try soaking it in some copper salt (for example CuSO4) solution, and then dry it. It should help a bit, hovewer i haven't tried it yet.

GranulaR (author)2016-10-14

OK...mixed my pure nitric acid with store bought 9 percent HCl and set some cottonballs in it overnight ill let u all know how it goes...also if anyone wants i can make a vid of me shooting a small cannon with it or blowing smthing up haha

Mr.Brownstone (author)2016-10-07

Can I just put this directly in my reloads or do I have to do something to it?

PopsicleGhoul made it! (author)2016-06-20

I made it, only I used nitric and sulfuric acid since I had both. I made some large fireballs, nitrocellulose string, and I even got it to explode with shrapnel! Check out the youtube video for exciting footage.

Dr KAZ (author)2010-09-03

You could skip the baking soda step and just wash with three portions of water, followed by three portions of methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) to speed up removal of the water. Made a batch today - the spirits (which had a purple dye in it) gave the nitrocellulose a blue tint. It almost looked like cotton candy.

Jaycub (author)Dr KAZ2010-09-03

Yeah I don't use this process anymore. When I clean it I just use runnung water, and I use pure-ish nitric acid instead of a nitrate salt in the nitration since I got retort. Also an ice bath and a long (12-24 hour) nitration can greatly improve the quality. How did your "cotton candy" work? Did you follow the instructable or did you use a better method?

Dr KAZ (author)Jaycub2010-09-03

The kids loved it (as did my inner pyromaniac). I normally use concentrated nitric and sulphuric acid and agitate at 0°C for as long as possible. Yesterday's was only 4 hours and I used (approximately) the nitrating mix you suggested in the instructable.

Deepsnare (author)Dr KAZ2015-04-17

I have tried to make this two times, and the cotton just keeps dissolving into an unusable mush. Any idea why this is happening? Am I using too much sulfuric acid?

matt.maus.507 (author)2014-12-19

you can purchase potasium nitrate fro azuregreen a metaphys supplier online, can also get sulfer aswell, ive always bought it from a local pagan shop near my house , you can also buy it in bulk of up to a pound of wither powder.

T Makwana (author)2014-08-05

What will happen if I put cellulose into concentrated nitric acid without sulfuric acid. Will it form Nitocellulose.

Jaycub (author)T Makwana2014-08-08

I think it would but you probably wont get such a complete nitration. You can try it and let us know if you want... From what I have read the sulfuric acid is important for forming ions (NO2+) that are needed for the nitration.

spinaci (author)2012-01-24

I found my cellulose becomes a clean solution with nitrate salt and sulfuric acid mixture (i used NaNO3). And it's possible to making 98 nitric acid just by heating up the nitrate salt with sulfuric acid.
another thing is the nitrocellulose shouldn't only wash with NaHCO3 solution, this may cause nitrocellulose detonate after few days. Also, TATP is easy to self-detonate too.
my English is not good, Bah)

Jaycub (author)spinaci2012-01-24

Are you talikng about distilling the nitric acid? HNO3 Has a lower boiling point than water so if you heat it in sulfuric acid it will come out as nitric acid steam. Do this in a retort and you can collect concentrated nitric acid.

Why would baking soda make it detonate? I have never experienced that, the NaHCO3 is meant to neutralize the acid but using pure water is fine too.

TATP is not as dangerous as everyone who has never been around it says. I think the myths of it's sensitivity come from people who used H2SO4 instead of HCl or didn't cool the solution during the reaction and wound up with DADP, or mabey they didn't neutralize the acid. In my experience TATP is hard to set off from impact and I have never seen it go off for no reason even after longish storage.

spinaci (author)Jaycub2012-01-27

It was reported that washing nitrocellulose only with akaline solution will stop the decomposition of SO3H in cellulose (of course if you only use HNO3, it won't cause this problem). The SO3H makes nitrocellulose decompose, and probably it increases the sensitivity of nitrocellulose.
I don't know what will happen if using H2SO4 instead of HCl when making TATP, but it seems to be very difficult to produce DADP. I made a bottle of TATP (stored in water) without cleaning acid and nothing happened. Another time I made it without controlling temperature, and the mixture only splashes out TATP crystals. The dry TATP is extremely dangerous, you can test it by grinding or hitting when it's dry, but only test it in a very small amount (0.05g is enough)

myfcr (author)2012-01-10

is not nitration dangerous without chilling?

Jaycub (author)myfcr2012-01-11

Yes but in this small amount it is fine, I have never seen a runnaway nitration in person.

Dreistein (author)2011-11-18

i mean could u use this as a propelant for a mini cannon?

Jaycub (author)Dreistein2011-11-19


loqk (author)2011-11-15

Thanks, I've been looking for an explanation of why sulfuric acid is used in addition to a nitrating compound, and it's finally been answered after my long search :-D

for those who missed it, the sulfuric acid reacts with the water produced by the nitrating reaction.

Jaycub (author)loqk2011-11-16

In this process some of the sulfuric acid is used to make nitric acid (+ potassium sulfate) from the potassium nitrate, and the rest of the sulfuric acid to turn that nitric acid to water and NO2+ ions for the nitration. It does suck up the water that is produced but that is a side benefit.

loqk (author)Jaycub2011-11-16

oops, yes, i'd been reading several formulations, and all of them used sulfuric acid, and some used a nitrating compound other than nitric acid.

all the ones i've seen use sulfuric acid even if the nitrating compound is nitric acid.

it made sense to turn sulfuric acid into nitric acid the same way it can be turned into hydrochloric acid, but i couldn't find the reason for using sulfuric acid and nitric acid together.

Dornier335A gave me the answer here, although i didn't read the ingredients carefully enough, and imagined that this solution was also nitric and sulfuric acid rather than sulfuric acid and potassium nitrate.

thanks for the correction though, if i hadn't already been aware of the change from sulfuric acid to nitric acid, i would have misunderstood the answer rather than just being ignorant about the question :-)

now i am neither, so thank you :-)

intresting, could you use hydrocloric instead of sulfuric?also what woud hapeen if you didn't put it in the water bath and just let it dry?

It won't work. The sulfuric acid absorbs the water produced by the nitration. And if you used HCl, you would get aqua regia. There is a reason that sulfuric acid should be used.

Nitric acid would still be produced if you used HCl instead of sulfuric acid but the sulfuric acid helps with the nitration. You can try it and see, mabey it will work.

If you don't wash it it will be dangerous to handle because of the acid, it will be more sensitive and could go off by itself because of the acid (I've read, never seen it happen), and the sulfuric acid will take a very long time to evaporate because of it's high boiling point.

thankyou for that, i will defintly use your information

Did it work with the HCl?

unfortunately the 'cotton' i had was actualy synfitic, the packet was actualy saying feels like cotton so im yet to find out

eagleon (author)2010-11-07

Could you nitrate a loofah? One way to find out I guess...

Jaycub (author)eagleon2010-11-09

I don't know, is it a plant or animal? If it is a plant then I think you could. Animals don't have cellulose. I suppose there could be some oil or sugar or something in an animal.

eagleon (author)Jaycub2010-11-09

Loofahs are porous squashes, dessicated to make weird exfoliating sponge things for old ladies. Very tough, and very fibrous, so I'm assuming they're almost all cellulose, but I wonder if other chemicals might interfere. The idea of an exploding bath toy makes me giggle. Maybe that means I should stay away from explosives, hehe.

Jaycub (author)eagleon2011-07-13

Did you ever try to nitrate the loofah?

eagleon (author)Jaycub2011-07-14

I was kidding, mostly. If my apartment allowed manufacturing flammable chemicals I'd have probably already burned it down somehow.

Jaycub (author)eagleon2010-11-12

It should work then. I doubt there are enough other chemicals in the loofah to mess up the nitration. Nitrocellulose can be made in bulk for mining or whatever from straw, and that isn't pure cellulose.

Dreistein (author)2011-07-13

can u use this in place of black powder?

Jaycub (author)Dreistein2011-07-13

It acts differently than black powder, it depends on the application. It has a lower ignition point, burns faster, leaves little or no residue and smoke, and I think it releases more gasses. It also can detonate. But if you form it into a solid block by dissolving then drying it, it burns slow. And it has a negative oxygen ballance so it could be made better as a propellant by adding ammonium nitrate or something.

Jaycub (author)2010-02-18

OK but be careful with the APNC, it is a powerful explosive. I hope you know what you are doing when you make a practical joke out of it.

lug big lug (author)Jaycub2010-02-19

 I know explosives very well. I will only be using pea sized amounts that are attached to larger amounts of nitrocellulose that is exposed and not placed in any closed container....

Nyxius (author)lug big lug2010-03-26

Try using the apnc as your detonator cap and surrounding it with a naptha smoke charge.   Makes a ton of smoke.  Used typically in the movies.

Nyxius (author)Nyxius2010-03-26

NC itself is stable and relatively safe especially when wet, but in larger quantities is very dangerous.  It is classified as a high explosive and was used in WWII as a rocket propellant. 
It doesn't take much of a overpressure shock wave to crush a human skull and the classification as a HE means that NC is good at making shock waves.

Jaycub (author)Nyxius2010-07-01

You can detonate NC with a hammer even in small amounts.

Jaycub (author)lug big lug2010-02-19

That's good. By the way, do you have a youtube account with the name plug jug jim? Because there is someone who does that is asking me about flash powder a lot.

Jamie bagn (author)2010-01-21

where did you get your Potassium nitrate from and how much was it

Nyxius (author)Jamie bagn2010-03-26

Typically it is the primary non-dynamite form of stump remover 8-)

Jaycub (author)Jamie bagn2010-01-21

I got it at a store called "the country store" which is loke a co-op. It costed a couple dollars, not sure exactly how much but it wasn't expensive.

You also can get it out of fertile dirt like compost. Just put the dirt into warm water to dissolve the potassium nitrate, filter out the solids untill the water is clear, and boil off the water (or let it evaporate).

Jaycub (author)2010-03-01

Over a thousand views, YAY!

lug big lug (author)2010-02-16

 I am no trying to be critical, but stump remover is not pure Kno3, you have to refine it for it to be pure.... it is only partly Kno3. But this is very simple and I like it. 

Jaycub (author)lug big lug2010-02-16

No not quite pure but it's pretty close. In all my gunpowder and flash powders and stuff that requires kno3 I just use powdered "grants stump remover" an it doesn't seem to reduce the power of these mixtres at all. My guess is that it's probably more than 95% pure.

I have recrystalized it before and it didn't help anything.

lug big lug (author)Jaycub2010-02-16

 Now i didnt know that and I am going to try it with both ammonium nitrate ( the purest form of nitrate I have) and stump remover by itself. Thank you and I will be in touch referring to other projects off of this one. 

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