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How To Source Chemicals

This page lists chemicals and the manner in which I was able to source them for reference by any other amateur chemists. Some of the these chemicals can be bought from chemical supply stores, but I list the cheaper ways they can be found for the broke among us.

We live in an age when every product is heavily processed and it can be difficult to find pure substances for use in chemistry. Additionally, both law enforcement and common people are skeptical of anyone interested in amateur chemistry, largely over concerns about drugs and explosives, and the situation has harmed the hobby. Chemistry is dangerous, but it also extremely useful and fun when handled safely. This page is for those who wish to source certain materials, especially for cheap, and use them for hobby science purposes. This page lists how to find some dangerous chemicals that can be used for dangerous things, so make sure you research them thoroughly before playing with them.


Acids and Bases

Hydrochloric Acid (HCl)

Sold as muriatic acid in hardware stores like Home Depot. Around 30% by mass, so 1.2 molar. Can be bought by the gallon for around $10. Extremely caustic; be careful.

Acetic Acid (CH3COOH)

Vinegar is 5% acetic acid. In order to get a pure solution, buy white distilled vinegar. Easy to find and super cheap weak acid.

Sodium Hydroxide and Potassium Hydroxide (NaOH or KOH)

Sold as lye, which can be bought as crystals for not too much online. Note that lye usually refers to NaOH, but can also refer to a mixture of KOH and NaOH. Lye can also be found in lye-based drain cleaners, though these often have other chemicals mixed in. I found what appears to be a pure solution of NaOH and KOH sold as Instant Power Drain Cleaner in Home Depot. Caustic; don't touch it with bare skin.


Oxidizers

Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)

Sold as stump remover. I was able to buy a pound on Amazon for around $7. Make sure that the stump remover says that it is pure KNO3 since some stump removers are made of other chemicals. I found that Spectracide Stumper Remover seems to be pure KNO3. Frankly, reviews said that it was piss-poor at removing stumps, but it works great for making sugar rockets.


Metals

Copper (Cu)

Can be found as copper piping at any hardware store. You can also buy copper sheets and stuff, but pipe is easier to get. Make sure to scuff off the oxide layer from the copper (it should be shiny) before trying to use it as pure copper.

Iron (Fe)

Can be found in all sorts of places. Nails will give you a lot of small masses for cheap, but a downside I've found is that finding pure non-galvanized iron nails can be difficult. I put some galvanized nails in water and they made white zinc hydroxide (Zn(OH)2) instead of red iron (II) oxide (Fe2O3). For reactions, #0000 steel wool is great because it's almost entirely iron and has a large surface area.

Aluminum (Al)

Easily found in aluminum foil (also colloquially called tin foil). Aluminum can also be found in sheets in hardware stores like Home Depot. Like most metals, it will usually have a dull oxide layer, in this case aluminum (III) oxide (Al2O3), so this will have to be scraped off.

Zinc (Zn)

Pennies nowadays are actually mostly of zinc with just a bit of copper on the surface. You can scrape off the outer layer from a penny and use the zinc inside.

Hydrogen (H2)

OK, yeah, it's only a metal by a stretch, but it's really cool to make. Hydrogen gas can be produced easily in large quantites by reacting NaOH and Al, as described here.


Other chemicals

Metal Salts

Check out the salt flame test page for info on how to source/form some of the these.

Hydrogren Peroxide (H2O2)

Can be bought at 3% concentration pretty cheap (about a liter for a buck at the dollar store). Higher concentrations are hard to come by.

Acetone (CH2O)

Can be bought as pure acetone in a hardware store. Good solvent.

Sodium Hypochlorite (NaClO)

This is just bleach. It can be used for all sorts of reactions and easily bought anywhere cheeply (even at the dollar store). Try to find something without too much else (like scents) added.

Nitrocellulose

Ping pong balls are made of nitrocellulose. They have low esterification though, so they don't burn as fast as flash paper. Still, by dissolving ping pong balls in acetone, you can make a sludge that can be molded and dried into a nice flammable solid. See the rocketry for more info on how this can be used to make a rocket igniter.

Anhydrous Alcohol

Anhydrous alcohol can be found as denatured fuel alcohol in hardware stores. Denatured alcohol is mostly methanol and ethanol, with a couple more poisons mixed in. This is done so that it can be sold without having drinking alcohol restrictions. I don't think I'd use this for any delicate reactions because it's not purely one alcohol, but it can be used as a solvent, a cleaning agent, and a fuel. Also, don't drink it. You'll go blind and then die.

Ethanol (CH3CH2OH)

If you happen to be too young to buy ethanol, you can make your own by fermenting sugar water with yeast. Look up "sugar wash". This won't make a very high concentration, but it can be distilled to get a higher concentration (though not to the point of having pure alcohol). Note that this can be illegal, especially if you are underage. I'll say no more.

Iron (II) Oxide (Fe2O3)

This is common red rust. Easily made by oxidizing steel wool. Check out the rocketry page for more info on how to make it and one way to use it.