Introduction: Nitrogen Triiodide

Picture of Nitrogen Triiodide


Odds are that you've seen a demonstration of this stuff before, most likely in your high school chemistry class. It is a highly sensitive contact explosive made from two ingredients ammonia and iodine crystals. It is so sensitive when dry it can be set off by a feather or even a fly. The last time I made this was years ago for a science project. It was the middle of winter and I had been setting off batches of this stuff in my backyard all day. When night fell it started lightly snowing, the snow flakes fell to the ground and set off minute traces of the NI3. The resulting snaps were loud enough to wake up my mom who then woke me up and told me to do something about it. I wasnt really sure what to do about it so I filled up a bucket of water and threw it out over the pavement, setting off hundreds of little snaps which each gave off tiny poofs of purple smoke.

It has got to be one of the most surreal memories I have, being out in the moonlight while snowflakes gently floated down, causing the dead silence to be broken by little purple snaps going off everywhere.

Heres the wiki for it nitrogen triiodide

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Iodine crystals.
Can be bought on e-bay,, or
That last one is a forensics website. Iodine crystals are used in a fingerprint lifting process called iodine fuming. As you can see on the label on the jar, the gas from the crystals has stained the paper to a dark purple color. Iodine gas is toxic, so do this experiment in a well ventilated area.

The purer the better. I use clear ammonia available almost anywhere. The store bought stuff is actually Ammonium hydroxide, meaning that it is ammonia dissolved in a ton of water. If for some reason you have access to highly concentrated ammonia the resulting nitrogen triiodide will be much more powerful, and therefore handled much more carefully.

A tupperware container
Coffee filters

Step 2: Mix It Up

Picture of Mix It Up

Fill the container up with enough ammonia to completely submerge any crystals you put in. Spoon in the crystals, I highly recommend using a very small amount of crystals the first time (pencil eraser sized) so if you accidentally set it off you have less of a chance of injury.

Let the crystals sit for a few hours, I normally just leave them overnight and use them the next day. Overnight the nitrogen atoms from the ammonia will get it on with the iodine atoms and NI3 will result. I know what your thinking, nitrogen is a dirty for taking 3 iodine's at once, but who are you to judge, we've all done things were not proud of to make ends meet.

You, now have the extremely unstable compound NI3. It is relitavely safe to handle while it is still wet, but that is no guarantee of anything, it has been known to go off while still damp. So from this point on be very cautious around it.

Step 3: Filter It Out

Picture of Filter It Out

Pour the ammonia container and iodine crystals through the coffee filter, and then quickly while it is still damp move the filtered crystals to where you want to set them off. It is not a good idea to do what I am doing in the picture and hold the coffee filter in your hand, I used water for the photos so it is not actual NI3 (it was raining outside, and I didnt want to have to deal with setting it off). Once the crystals are settled in their final resting place, wait for them to dry, which can vary from 30 min to a few hours. Use a long stick to set them off.


mettaurlover (author)2009-12-09

I have a simple idea for a safer way to set this stuff off. I may post an 'ible on it once I've had a chance to test it out. It could also be used quite easily in a grenade.

Damon458 (author)mettaurlover2017-07-16

Are you kidding? You clearly have no idea of what you are dealing with.

simes303 (author)mettaurlover2016-04-13

If you put it in a grenade the only thing you'll blow up is yourself. It is SUPER unstable. DO NOT DO IT.

hacker102 (author)simes3032017-04-07

The moment you pick up the grenade, it'll explode in a fraction of a second. Also the purple gas will inflame your lungs and eyes if contacted or inhaled. But other than that, you'll be ok... I guess.. Speaking of which, what is the name of that purple gas that is expelled after the explosion?

Dr KAZ (author)mettaurlover2009-12-11

"It could also be used quite easily in a grenade." It is glaringly obvious that you have never synthesized even a mg of this compound. Learn to respect chemicals before you attempt making gram quantities of high explosives, or any other chemical compound not found at the corner store, for that matter.

Please, should you try anything with this, rather consult the "old man" - I'd gladly help out with instructions, even send you the stuff, if you agree to be careful.

lyneal.jenkins (author)Dr KAZ2014-10-17

Hi Dr Kaz,

Firstly, I'm an author, so have no intention of trying this out.

I'm looking into how to use Nitrogen Triiodide as an explosive for my story. I understand that it is highly volatile when dry, but more stable when wet. I want my character to be able to handle to explosive before needed.

Would it be possible to package it when damp, and set it off by engulfing it in flames (for example: firing a burning arrow at it)?

Kind regards

Azide (author)lyneal.jenkins2017-02-02

Greetings, an explosive like Acetone or Butanone Peroxide would do fine for that sort of scenario.

mettaurlover (author)Dr KAZ2009-12-11

I was talking about my way of setting it off, not about the actual substance being used in a grenade.

Furkan EfeT (author)2017-07-14

I am not a chemist. Im actually writing a scenerio and I dont know how but is there a way to crystalize this stuff? Like Heisenberg did? I want to add it but i must make sure it can be done. I dont need fully %100 instroctions. I just need a simple explain.With couple of steps. (step 1 like this, then step 4 then step ?.) I need those to add my comic. thanks and sorry for my bad english.

BenM84 (author)2016-01-05

Does it work as a primer? I'm messing around with the idea of making some kind of low-powered incendiary/explosive arrows and was wondering if the nitrogen triiodide would make a spark sufficient to ignite some flammable substance

DJchmiel (author)BenM842016-07-30

it could possibly work however as I understand it is very delicate so the wind resistance could be enough to set it off mid flight

simes303 (author)BenM842016-04-13

I wouldn't do that. It's SUPER unstable. The last time I made some I left it out on a paving slab, totally covered with an upside down metal tin to keep the breeze off and it still exploded on its own.

charleslinquist (author)2016-07-15

I found that the best way to make NI3 is to dissolve the iodine in a solution of potassium iodide and water. Then add ammonium hydroxide and filter the precipitate. After initial filtering, I added more pure ammonium hydroxide to wash away any other byproducts. It is possible water would have worked as well, but I never tried that.

I made this in high school. I kept the wet substance in a plastic pill-bottle (Excedrin) with a snap on cap. There were no problems as long as I kept it wet. I put a tiny amount on the "lead" end of a pencil and pulled the pencil back with a fingerand let it go while holding the eraser end of the pencil in my other hand. This caused the tiny blob of NI3 to hit the floor with enough force that it split into hundreds of almost invisible particles. The particles were small enough that they would dry within a minute or so. Then anyone walking across the floor would hear this snap, snap, snap everywhere they went. I also put a pea-sized piece on some paper and threw it into a waste basket. About an hour later, a teacher threw another paper into that wastebasket. BOOM! It was so loud that everyone in the school heard it. I was nearly expelled.

But the other writers are correct. This stuff will explode with the slightest provocation when dry. It will even explode if warmed by the sun (such as on a window-sill). It cannot be used safely for anything. I made a whole Excedrin bottle full and kept in my pocket for days. I am lucky that nothing really bad happened. My belief is that you would be safer making nitroglycerine.

ardrhi (author)2015-09-26

This stuff was used by the French Underground because the ingredients wouldn't attract negative attention. It's a fairly brisant stuff, and very unstable.

If the author wanting to use it in a story is still watching, it already was. Check out Robert A. Heinlein's book "Farnham's Freehold". That's where I learned about it, then researched it at college and made some. It's fun, but in any serious quantity it's horribly dangerous.

oppie (author)2015-09-09

Made this 35 years ago. Used the iodine crystals and a very strong ammonia that was for a blueprint machine. As I recall, the crystals turned almost clear and the smoke was almost colorless. Left some on the dark rug outside the bosses office and watched the fun.

Azide (author)oppie2015-09-13

Sounds fun haha

horphmyre (author)2015-08-17

I made some of this many years ago. I had ground the iodine crystals to a fine powder before adding the ammonium hydroxide. The black sludge at the bottom of the 10 ml beaker reminded me of gun powder. I used an eye dropper to place small dots of it on door handles and light switches. All was well until the remainder was placed on a shelf and forgotten for a week. The liquid completely evaporated leaving perhaps 1 to 2 ml of the explosive mixture in the bottom of the beaker. When this was played with after a lab, a small quantity fell out and exploded, causing what was in the beaker to also explode. There was a tremendous noise and a huge cloud of purple covering a large part of the chem lab. The teacher still has a slightly bent finger, due to a severed tendon and vein. Which leads me to this: Be very careful what you do with the end product. For its size, it can pack a real wallop.

Jollyrgr (author)2007-02-28

COMMENT TO AUTHOR: Please add a disclaimer to wear saftey glasses, and gloves while playing with this stuff.

Tetranitrate (author)Jollyrgr2007-03-02

COMMENT TO JOLLYRGR: No, if you don't know the SOP for handling chemicals you shouldn't be attempting this.

does liquid iodine work the same or must it be solid because i cant get iodine crystals/powder only iodine powder already dissolved in alchohol btw cloudy ammonia contains soap and soap as you know is slippery even when dry , and also as you know nitrogen triiodide is friction sensitive mix that with soap and its pretty much useless btw again can i evapourate the iodine solution to make powder and also can you get the soap out of the cloudy ammonia warning the government is slowly eradicating clear ammonia from grocery stores because they know that nitrogen triiodide can be made with it sorry this is so long but can you evapuorate cloudy ammonia into another bottle and will it pickup the ammonia in the vapure or will it be left behind with the soap as a salt?

Crystals only
29% Strong Ammonia
Both on Amazon
It's awesome!

If you don't know how to spell "evaporate" You probably shouldn't be messing with Nitrogen Triiodide.

I SOOO wish I could thumbs up your comment. If you don't know the difference between osmosis and evaporation, stick to party poppers and cap guns.

because i mispelt a word i am incapable of handling NI3 why?

also, it would have been handy to know that it would have worked, since i spent 2 weeks trying to figure out how ammonia works, which i know now. i made some NI3 , and i cannot for the love of god understand what all this cafuffle is about.

Tv1996 (author)oldmanbeefjerky2012-04-11

No, not because the word was misspelled. It's because iodine sublimates, not evaporates.

oldmanbeefjerky (author)Tv19962012-04-11

i have a good understanding of chemistry now, i know how to make it, but i dont want to anymore.
What i meant was could i evapourate iodine tincture and use that, but now i know the amount of iodine in tincuture is neglegeble. ide be better off extracting iodic acid from seaweed.

The best source of iodine is to simply buy potassium iodide, mix with hydrochloric acid, then add hydrogen peroxide, which results in what i beleive is roughly 70% by weight of the potassium iodide, in iodine crystals.

Ammonia is a very mysterious thing, as is hydrogen sulfides reaction with alkalis, which is more confusing, as it is an acid, yet does not follow the same rules as a typical acid-alkali neutralization .

anyone able to point me in the right direction to find out more about why ammonia behaves the way it does?

zaakoc (author)2014-10-03

Let me add its stable while wet.
I stored it in a little glass brown bottle with brush.
Takes only a minute or two to dry.
Makes a small sharp blast and puff of purple smoke.
It stings the hand hard but harmless.
Also be aware that NI3 stains purple!
Sodium thiosulphate will remove it!

Be smart keep it cool, don't keep it in your pocket!

If your going to play with Nitrogen triiodide
Check out

Just my 7 cents


zaakoc (author)2014-10-03

I've found that by dissolving the filtrate in isopropyl alcohol (93%) you get a stable 'paint'! painted on doorknobs is fun! and the coting is so thin it dosn't stress as it dries, so no premature explosions.

smittee (author)2014-01-05

It's worth mentioning that in Australia this stuff is legally classified as an explosive. So making, possessing, or transporting this stuff is illegal in Australia without very specific permits. And in our post-9/11 world that has serious consequences if you get caught mucking about with it.

Not trying to be a wowser, especially seeing as we made it when we were kids. But times have changed.

ThorsMitersaw (author)smittee2014-06-25

The next person I see use the phrase: "And in our post-9/11 world" I swear to god I am going to gouge out their eyes and cut out their tongue with a boxcutter.

smittee (author)ThorsMitersaw2014-07-03

What are you, like 12yo or just stupid? I was trying to make the point that while some of us got to make this stuff and smear it outside the teacher's lounge in the 80s with no consequences, just try pranking with it these days and an explosives conviction is probably one of the nicer outcomes you can expect. Next time you feel an urge to post comments threatening someone with physical violence, go take your boxcutter and quietly practice on yourself afk.

alexmac131 (author)2014-05-24

keeping in mind in Canada this is a crime

guds777 (author)2013-12-30

35% Ammonia.

guds777 (author)2013-12-30

guds777 (author)guds7772013-12-30

iodine crystals...

Duffman1 (author)2013-01-14

Hey guys, wanting to try this out but from what i know the more concentrated the ammonia used druing the synthesis the less stable and stronger force made when the NI3 expoldes. I can get a hold of a solution of at least 13 mol/L of lab purity ammonia, what kind of stability and expolsive force would the resulting NI3 have ? I'm just wanting to assess the danger because i'll be doing this experiment in my garden but have never made this before.

impulsegordon (author)2012-05-15

so if you distill the water out of the ammonia hydroxide though osmosis (thats evaporating the water right?) would it purify the ammonia enough to be used for this?

osmosis would be a high salt concentration diffusing into another low salt concentration through a semipermeable membrane. like dialysis

badassintheshadows (author)2012-01-03

yeah... nitrogen is a whore.

winst_17 (author)2011-03-25

Can we speed up the reaction of iodine crystals with amonium hydroxide by like, heating the mix?

the_anaconda (author)2008-06-04

would I be able to use iodine tablets like the ones used to purify water?

genesis357 (author)the_anaconda2009-05-29

I don't think that;s the right type of iodine. not sure though.

Alpha Bravo (author)genesis3572010-09-21

The iodine in water purifying tablets is usualy potassium iodide or a similar compound (which wouldn't react with the ammonia). But fear not the iodine can be extracted to crystals by reacting with acid. This can be very dangerous if done incorectly (producing clouds of iodine and acid gas; toxic AND corrosive :| ). I would recomend following this vid if you still want to do it;

shawneegeek (author)the_anaconda2010-01-15

No, those water purification tabs don't work.  I tried it with the old ones even, before they switch to binary ingredents, and it still didn't work. But you can get iodine from walgreens that works.... hope this helps ya out, be safe.

Dr KAZ (author)2009-07-09

Unlike DANGEROUS explosives, this SAFE explosive (it is a high explosive), is not easy to make as the ingredients are not available at every corner shop. Try as you may, nothing but the pure stuff will work. It is best synthesized by using the method suggested by Tetranitrate although the limit of 1g iodine set by him is not the absolute safety limit. I have done this in 20g batches (in a fume cupboard). A batch may be rolled into a ball (using gloves) and set upon a high place (like a 7th storey library roof) to dry for a few hours (use a Buchner Funnel to separate your crystals). To set this baby off, just release it from whatever you are holding it with. The 2m diameter brown ring left behind sublimes in an hour (weather permitting). Please: Be safe, wear safety glasses, gloves and at least an apron when playing with chemicals. NEVER play alone.

emcelhannon (author)Dr KAZ2010-07-09

"Nothing but the pure stuff will work." With pure Iodide crystals, will the store bought amonium hydroxide work?

Dr KAZ (author)Dr KAZ2009-12-11

Add this:

I regularly hold "explosion chemistry" workshops for students. I take the utmost care not to ever injure anyone. However, during one of my workshops, a student held 0.5g of nitrogen triiodide on a sheet of paper, outside, in open air and was blown off his feet when a gust of wind blew the sheet of paper holding the explosive against his chest. He wore a lab coat, safety glasses and had long pants and closed shoes to aid in his protection. A sense of humour also aided in both of us coming frrom the experiment without any harm.

EMPHASIS: If you know how stuff works, be even more carefull than when you do not have a clue.

AND: Rather play with this than try to synthesize other lethal compounds of which you know nothing of.

mettaurlover (author)Dr KAZ2009-12-09

What about making this stuff by the pound in small containers designed to strain out the liquid?

Dr KAZ (author)mettaurlover2009-12-09

Could be possible, I'd scale it up slowly though. Remember, the crystals must be completely dry in order to detonate. That might prove technically difficult in some sort of sealed container. You'd also want to speak to your bank manager as iodine is not exactly the cheapest material around. Nonetheless, it is a viable idea.

mettaurlover (author)Dr KAZ2009-12-10

True, but I know people. And I wouldn't actually need very much of the stuff. Juse using a film canister as the container, then carefully lidding it when it's dry after otherwise draining liquids.

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