Ever since I started 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.
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
The CDC doesn’t recommend using potassium permanganate as a “primary water disinfection” method in the field.
Instead, 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, a different amount will be required for purifying water.
As a general rule, use 0.1g 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 that is dark pink or purple!
Treating Well Water
One great thing about potassium permanganate is that it can treat water at the source. Just add approximately 3.8-7.6 grams per gallon of water.
In addition to treating pathogens like bacteria, 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
Because it is such a potent disinfectant, potassium permanganate can be used 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, 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 add crystals to water until it turns pink (not purple).
- Soak the infected area in the solution for approximately 20 minutes.
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.
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 off 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 worsen the problem by adding potassium permanganate poisoning to the mix!
4. For Cleaning and Preserving Produce
In some survival situations, such as after flooding, produce or 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, you can use potassium permanganate to wash the food if you are starving.
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 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.
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
- Mix sugar and glycerin
- 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 remove, 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 in doubt about dosage, keep the solution pink, NOT purple. Solutions that are too strong can burn skin.
- Toxicity: High concentrations of potassium permanganate are TOXIC. The toxicity level is set at 1900mg per kg of body weight, 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 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 buy 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; they generally have 400mg per dose.
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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.
Thanks for the extra info Nic, care should definitely be taken as this stuff is somewhat unpredictable.
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!
Awesome – has anyone had any success with glycerine?
I’ve had success with glycerine, or more specifically, PG from my eliquid vapouriser! It is necessary to warm the liquid to at least body temperature first. I was able to light a small strip of magnesium ribbon from the resulting reaction and get a good fire going with fairly damp tinder.
One more thing. In the section regarding water purification, you state 1g of potassium permanganate to 1 litre of water. This cannot be correct and would lead to a dangerously high concentration. Probably the decimal point has wandered a little.
Thanks for catching that! Yes, it is supposed to be 0.1g (or 100mg) and not 1g. We’ll update that immediately.
And that’s a great idea to use vaporizer liquid. I would have never thought of using those
Although potassium permanganate will kill fungi, bacteria, etc. in water, it will not remove pollutants, chemicals, poisons, etc., so don’t assume that the treated water is totally safe to drink.
Yes – for more have a look at this post which goes in-depth on treating water.
You can also use vape juice. I used a few drops and it lit in 5 sec. I will be putting my Glycerin and potassium permanganate in the fridge and trying it out also.
If the fire won’t start add a few drops of water and it will ignite.
I’m a chemistry teacher. I use KMnO4 in demonstrations because of it’s flammability property. That can be some dangerous stuff. I wouldn’t have it around my house.
Yes, good point. Proper safe storage is essential!
Sometimes it’s useful to consult other resources for more information on a topic… Here are a couple the readership may find useful..
1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_permanganate_(medical_use) …which has 23 detailed articles in its bibliography…
2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_permanganate …..45 references most with links
3) https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/325771 …The WHO link to its publication on the List of Essential Medicines 2019…
And a host of others….. To many to quote here…
Good Catch on the weight conversions Gary…
Perhaps this will help others..
A scale commonly used to reload ammunition will weigh to the 0.1 grain…
1.00 grains is equal to 64.8 mg (milligrams) and.. 6.17 grains is equal to 400 mg
For those who need larger quantities:
1 ounce = 437.5 grains or 28,349.5 milligrams
Finally a correction for Mr,D (etheline glycol) is spelled ethylene glycol
Note that propylene glycol is used as a nontoxic antifreeze in breweries and dairy establishments. It will react with KMnO4 as well.
Karl to Karl:
Nice Job mentioning the use of a standard reloading scale and catching all the other fine details!
Like to add… make sure that you have a set of reasonable accurate check weights to go with your scale! A few 0.1 grains can make a difference.