Potasium Permanganate is a dark purple powder that is easily and legally obtained. It has a variety of uses including water purification, disinfecting surfaces and utensils and cleansing wounds. In the proper dilution it is so safe that it has been used by dentists for patients to rinse their mouths during procedures. You may recall that light pink solution with a fairly pleasant taste if you’ve ever had a cavity filled. I don’t know that it is still universally used for that, but it once was.
I also don’t know if this stuff is still included in First-Aid kits. If it is not, you may want to consider including it in yours, as I have mine. It has so many uses–including starting fire easily when combined with any of several other substances. You can buy PP at many hardware, home supply, and general merchandise stores. It is found with the home water purifier products. It can also be found in pet stores as a fish tank cleaner. Places like Lowes or Home Depot or Walmart have 5 lbs. for thirty bucks or so, which is enough to supply everyone on your block forever.
I have previously featured Potassium Permanganate with Sugar and Water as a less-known alternative fire starter. This one uses Potassium Permanganate, too, but as combined with other common substances. Although not widely known either, this method is likely more known than the previous one. It has distinct advantages over the former, but it also has a couple of disadvantages.
The big advantage of this one is that it it works without fail under virtually any conditions. It is somewhat faster and very impressive, without being explosive. The disadvantages include the decreased likelihood of having the other something to mix with it to make fire, and the issues involved with carrying another something with you, with the possibility of accidentally combining the two in transit. The sugar method reduces this possibility because sugar, is of course dry, and mixing requires the extra step of adding water after they are combined. This is not as likely to happen accidentally in a back-pack for example.
But, this method requires adding only one other chemical to the PP to get combustion. There are a variety of such substances with the necessary chemical make-up to ignite. I will only mention the three that I have personally tried and can vouch for as reliable to make flames. They are all liquids, which inherently makes them slightly less desirable to transport alongside the Potassium Permanganate, although if you have access to a motor vehicle, two of them might be readily available in a pinch.
While these may not be as safely transported they do expand the usability of PP and are easy enough to come by in many cases. If care is taken, small amounts of each may be carried in separate containers. I keep some PP crystal powder in a clean lip balm container and the liquid in a small medicine dropper bottle. Each are then wrapped separately in zip-lock bags and then both in a bigger plastic bag. My back-pack has never burned down.
The first product and my preference is Glycerin (not, not Nitro-glycerin))) which may also be found in some bigger First-Aid kits. You may already have it in your medicine cabinet. Glycerin also has many medicinal and household applications. It is inexpensive and available from over-the-counter drugstores or such sections of other stores. It is a clear, slightly thick and sticky-oily liquid. The two other products need no further explanation, but maybe a caution as to their potential toxicity if swallowed. Brake Fluid and Antifreeze.
Here’s How to Use
All you have to do to make a fire is to prepare a pile of tinder and have kindling at the ready. Place a leaf or piece of paper within this tinder bundle and sprinkle about a teaspoon of Potassium Permanganate in one pile on the leaf. When you are ready for fire, simply drop three or four drops of any ONE of the three liquids onto the pile of Potassium Permanganate. Stand back and wait a minute. Don’t be impatient, but it should ignite within a minute or less, depending upon several factors. It may look as if nothing is going to happen and then suddenly start smoking and burst into flames. Yes, it is very cool. And very hot.
Don’t worry, it is not going to explode, but it may startle you when it suddenly begins to smoke and bursts into flames, just when you thought it was a dud. I wouldn’t breath the smoke, because it is smoke, but otherwise I don’t think it is particularly harmful (I claim no particular expertise regarding this except what I have read and experienced; oops! Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me). If it does not readily ignite, try adding another drop or two of the liquid. I have never failed to get fire this way in all kinds of weather. The only problem might arise if it is so windy that the powder gets dispersed, so you’ll want to shelter it in such cases. I have never tried it in open rain, but if it doesn’t get too diluted, this could work too.
There is another article and a short video clip of this action at the link to my other fire blog. Chemical Fire Starting. Be Careful!