How to Use Chemistry to Make Colored Flames

Fire has a natural glow that is captivating and equally entertaining. While sitting around a bon-fire late at night, you may have discovered that the color of the flame will change depending on what you put in the fire. No we are not advocating you burning all of the photographs of your ex-boyfrind/girlfriend! In fact, it’s simple chemistry that causes this reaction!

Newspapers are one of the most commonly used items but the fire isn’t always consistent and can require some period of trial and error. There is a way that you can make fire burn in different colors with just a few ingredients from the grocery store. First, let’s get an understanding of how the color of fire can be manipulated in this way.

Colored Flames

Image via Flickr.

Just as a forewarning, you probably don’t want to try this with any gas fires because it can be much more dangerous.

Why Fire Burns in Different Colors

Anybody who bakes or does some cooking in the kitchen is aware of food dyes. In a similar fashion, colorants are used to create colored flames. A colorant is a broad ranging term that can include any number of inks, paint, pigments, dye, and food colorings. The chemical properties in these colorants will change the color of the item at hand; in this case fire.

Generally speaking, natural wood fires will burn yellow. This is because of the sodium content within wood which emits a yellow hue when lit. If you know which chemicals result in what colors, you’ll be able to make fire burn in different colors whenever you want. So let’s figure out how to make colored flames!

Green Fire

Green fire is created using Copper Sulfate or Boric Acid. Image via Science Blogs.

How to Make Colored Fire

You can find many colorants at your local grocery store. Some of the items that you’ll want to look for are copper chloride (CuC12), sodium, borax, potassium chloride, and calcium chloride (notice a pattern here). Each of these has a corresponding color that they will emit when thrown into the fire. You can look at the following chart below to decide which one you will use.

Colored Flames Chart

Colored Flame Chart

How to Make Fire Bigger

Here’s the secret that many magicians, firework technicians, and alchemists use; lycopodium powder. Lycopodium powder is a yellow/tan powder that will make your fire boom! It’s often been known simply as “flash powder.” You may be surprised to know that it is not actually any type of synthetic chemical. Lycopodium powder is composed of the dry spores of clubmoss plants. When mixed with air, these spores are highly flammable due to their high fat content.

Be careful, this can be very dangerous and should only be attempted while taking proper safety precautions. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher nearby and avoid wearing baggy clothes that may catch on fire. Remember to tie your hair back, wear safety goggles, and stand as far back from the flame before proceeding with your experiment. You can use a few grains initially to measure how large the flame will be.

Do not just throw a handful in! Lycopodium powder is VERY STRONG and must be used in a controlled environment! It usually only takes a mere pinch to see amazing results. Make sure that you know what you are doing before you get started. Learn about proper fire safety rules before you try this out on your own. Failure to do so can result in serious hazards.