Tuesday, October 27, 2015

13 Days of Halloween: Colorful Flames


Day 9:  Creating Colorful Flames

Have you ever made flames of different colors.  This is a great activity.  I even used it for my son's Harry Potter themed birthday.  My favorite part is using the hand sanitizer as the fuel.  It gives a nice medium flame and burns at a nice speed.  My cousin is a high school chemistry teacher and gave me the idea.  It enables kids to actively participate.

Make sure to follow the directions carefully.  Please use safety precautions when working with fire.  Common sense and adult supervision is required. 

Creating a White Flame with Magnesium Sulfate

How it Works

Hand sanitizer is flammable because it is alcohol based.  When the flame touches the hand sanitizer it immediately lights on fire.  It will burn until all the alcohol has burned off.  When no chemicals are added you should get the typical yellow/orange flame and may be some blue.  In order to change the flame color the temperature of the fire needs to change.  Burning different chemicals can change the color of the fire, mainly metallic salts.  Epsom salt is composed of magnesium sulfate.  It is made of a metal and a nonmetal.  The metal magnesium makes the colored flame.  Magnesium increases the temperature causing a white flame.  You may even see a bright blue flame at the bottom and some orange near the top.  This is a very hot flame, so be careful.  The flame may appear invisible under normal light.  Darken the room if it is not visible.  Metallic salts are used to make different fireworks.  Magnesium sulfate is used to make bright white fireworks.  Never randomly test chemicals to see what will happen. 

Directions and other colored flames you can create are below.

Each chemical is tested one at a time.  Below is a list of chemicals and what colored flames they will produce. 

Directions for Creating a Colorful Flame

What You Need

 Tin Pie Pan              Hand Sanitizer         Matches             Lighter 
  Teaspoon                 Safety Goggles       Fire Extinguisher (must be safe)
Chemicals you can Try
Magnesium Sulfate (Epson Salt) = White Flame
Sodium Chloride (Table Salt) = Yellow Flame
Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) = Yellow Flame
Borax (Detergent Booster) = Green Flame
Potassium Chloride (Lite Salt, found in grocer store with salt) = Purple


1. Put your safety goggles on.
2. Place the tin pan in front of you on a table.
3. Squirt 1 to 2 drops of hand sanitizer in the center of the pie pan.
4. Measure 1 teaspoon of the chemical of choice.
5. Sprinkle the chemical on top of the hand sanitizer.
6. Using the lighter, light the hand sanitizer.  It should light immediately, but it may be hard to see.  You may need to darken the room to see the colored flame.
7. If the flame is hard to see take an unlit match and hold it over the sanitizer.  The match should appear to magically light because the fire is still burning.
8. Be sure to hold a match over the chemical and sanitizer to make sure it is not still burning before handling the pie plate.  It is very hot.  Allow it to cool.  Wipe clean and test another chemical. 

More to come tomorrow in the 13 Days of Halloween.  For more great demonstrations that can be turned into science investigations check out Science Show and Tell
It is now a growing bundle.   Over 20 demonstrations and growing!


No comments:

Post a Comment