Potassium Permanganate: 5 Surprising Survival Uses

Ever since I got started with prepping and survivalism, I’ve discovered a lot of really useful supplies.  One of these is potassium permanganate.

Don’t let the name intimidate you,  it is versatile, easy to use, and cheap to buy.

 

What is Potassium Permanganate?

Also known as Condy’s crystals or permanganate of potash, potassium permanganate is a chemical compound.  It is made up of one potassium ion and one permanganate ion.  For those who are interested, the chemical formula is KMnO4.

It comes as dark purple crystals.  To use, the crystals are dissolved in water.

Note: The concentration of the crystals can vary, so figuring out exact dosages can be difficult.

 1. Purifying Water

using potassium permanganate to treat water

The CDC doesn’t recommend using potassium permanganate as a “primary water disinfection” method in the field.

Rather, you should use a water purification method such as filtering, UV light, or boiling.  However, in a pinch, it will purify water.

Studies have shown that a ratio of KMnO4 to water of 1:10,000 will kill bacteria, algae, viruses, and fungi within an hour.

How the heck are you supposed to measure out a ratio of 1:10,000?

Remember that potassium permanganate is sold in concentrations of usually 1% to 5%.  Depending on the concentration you get, a different amount will be required for purifying water.

As a general rule, use 1g of potassium permanganate crystals to 1 liter of water. This usually means adding 3-4 crystals per liter of water.  The water should be a light pink color.

Never drink water which is dark pink or purple!

 

Treating Well Water

One great thing about potassium permanganate is that it can be used to treat water at the source.  Just add approximately 3.8-7.6 grams per gallon of water.

In addition to treating pathogens like bacteria, the potassium permanganate will also remove magnesium and iron from the water.

After adding to the well, you’ll need to agitate the water.  This will help loosen sediment and improve the effectiveness of the treatment.

2. Medical Uses

potassium permanganate solution
Potassium permanganate solutions should always be more pink than purple!

Because it is such a potent disinfectant, even the World Health Organization recommends potassium permanganate for treating wounds.

Treating Open Wounds and Blisters:

  • Mix the crystals with sterile water. The following recommendations are given: 1g per liter of water, 3-4 crystals per liter of water, or one 400mg tablet dissolved in 4 liters of water.
  • Soak sterile gauze in the potassium permanganate solution.
  • Apply the gauze to the wound and let it sit for 20-30 minutes.
  • Following treatment, apply a topical cream/gel and bandage the wound.

Treating Athlete’s Foot and Fungal Infections: 

  • Mix the crystals with sterile water. Use the 1g per liter of water recommendation, or simply add crystals to water until it turns pink (not purple).
  • Soak the infected area in the solution for approximately 20 minutes.

Warning: Potassium permanganate is very drying.  It should never be used on dry skin.  At high concentrations, it can burn skin. Discontinue use if the patient feels a burning sensation.

3. As an Antidote

Some older publications recommend using it as a treatment for poisoning, including snake bites.

For Poisoning:

To use for poisoning, you consume a “stomach wash.”  The wash should be a very low concentration of 0.2%.

For Snake Bites:

The (very) old method for treating snake bites involves first tying a tourniquet.  Then the wound is cut open and a solution of potassium permanganate is applied. You are probably better of following these protocols for snake bites instead!

Unfortunately, there isn’t much research backing up the effectiveness of potassium permanganate for poisoning.

This should only be used as a last resort in complete SHTF situations.  You could even make the problem worse by adding potassium permanganate poisoning to the mix!

4. For Cleaning and Preserving Produce

In some survival situations, such as after flooding, produce or even wild edibles can be tainted with harmful bacteria and pathogens.  Trying to clean these with sterile water won’t do you any good!

As a general rule, you should always throw away any produce which might have touched dirty water.  However, if you are absolutely starving, you can use potassium permanganate to wash the food.

Simply mix up a pink solution of potassium permanganate and water.  Use this solution to soak the produce. You can also sterilize cooking utensils this way.

Another cool trick is to put a few potassium permanganate crystals in a plastic bag with your produce.  This can double their lifespan.

5. As a Firestarter

Potassium permanganate is highly combustible (which is why it should never be stored in metal).  You can utilize this feature to start a fire – even in the snow.

Glycerine and Potassium Permanganate Fire:

  • First set up your tinder and kindling.
  • Place a flat piece of cardboard or paper over this.
  • Put about 10g of potassium permanganate on the paper.
  • Add an equal amount of glycerine. You can also use antifreeze.
  • It might take a few moments, but a bright purple flame should start.
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Sugar and Potassium Permanganate Fire:

  • Mix equal parts of sugar and potassium permanganate
  • Apply friction to the mixture by pushing on it with a wide, flat stick
  • A fire should form quickly

Smoke Signal:

  • Mix sugar and glycerin together
  • Put potassium permanganate on a flat, non-flammable surface
  • Mix in the glycerin-sugar mixture
  • Smoke will form

Tips for Using Potassium Permanganate

  • Staining: Potassium permanganate will stain! Those brown stains are almost impossible to get out, so proceed with care.
  • Storage: You must keep it in a non-metal, non-reactive container. Containers should be air-tight and kept away from light.
  • Temperature: Potassium permanganate is very sensitive to heat. It performs best at 50 to 72 degrees F.
  • Mixing: Never use metal to mix.
  • Dosage/Concentration: When it doubt about dosage, keep the solution pink NOT purple. Solutions which are too strong can burn skin.

Warnings

  • Toxicity: High concentrations of potassium permanganate are TOXIC.  The toxicity level is set at 1900mg per kg of bodyweight, but poisoning has occurred at levels as low as 100mg per kg. To play it safe, keep solutions of potassium permanganate pink, not purple.
  • Fire and Explosions: It is a strong oxidant.  It will react with metals and certain combustible substances.
  • Fumes: When potassium permanganate starts to decompose (such as when being heated), it will produce fumes.  If using it as a fire starter, avoid breathing in the smoke.

Where to Buy

You can buy potassium permanganate at Amazon, in pet stores, pool supply stores, and hardware stores.

Pay attention to the concentration that you are getting when you it.  Usually the concentration is 1% to 5%, which will then be dissolved further with water.

If possible, buy small packets of 1g potassium permanganate.  This will make it easier to measure out dosages. You can also get tablets of potassium permanganate. Tablets generally have 400mg per tablet.

I’m Jacob Hunter, founder of Primal Survivor.
I believe in empowering people with the knowledge to prepare and survive in the modern world.

More about Jacob here.

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  1. Potassium Permanganate is a her useful fire starter and when teaching children they are enthralled at the chemical reaction.

    The heat and flame are produced as a product of a chemical reaction called Oxidation.
    In the article it mentions that the crystals are heat sensitive. The oxidation will only take place at approx 21 degrees celcius or 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
    That is okay if you are in warmer climates or have a method of warming the glycerine. In a country like the Uk you may struggle unless it is a hot day. In cold weather you are not going to have success with this.
    The reaction works better if you have some brake fluid. If you are going to carry these crystals for fire starting it may be better to also carry a small bottle brake fluid.
    One other point to bear in mind is the reaction isn’t usually spontaneous and may take a few seconds to start. You may then just get a small amount of smouldering, but it can them suddenly burst into flames. Bearing in mind the reaction is exothermic and produces very high temperatures. Care should be taken not to get burned.

  2. I tried sugar and glycerine with no success but when I poured some anti-freeze (etheline glycol) onto some potassium permanganate there was a strong flame within 15 seconds!

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