How to Make Colored Sparklers

How to Make Colored Sparklers

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Sparklers are small handheld fireworks that give off fiery sparks rather than explode. Sparklers consist of a thin metal or wooden stick coated with a simple pyrotechnic mixture. Colored sparklers really are as easy to make as regular sparklers. The difference lies in the oxidizer that is used.

You're basically replicating a flame test, except in reverse since you know the colors to expect from various metal ions. Potassium nitrate or saltpeter will impart a violet color. Barium nitrate burns green. Strontium nitrate burns red. Aside from ordering from a chemical supply store, you can find strontium nitrate in emergency flares and potassium nitrate at some garden supply stores (or you can make it yourself). You can mix in other metal salts from the flame test or colored fire list, but only go for one color. If you try to mix colors, you'll likely wind up with a basic golden sparkler.

There are several recipes for colored sparklers. Here are some examples. Ingredients are listed in terms of parts by weight, so you can use milligrams or grams or ounces… whatever works for you.

Red Sparklers

  • 5 parts strontium nitrate
  • 1 part shellac

Dip iron wires or wooden sticks in the mixture and allow it to dry completely before use. Be sure to leave enough room on the stick so that you can hold the sparkler safely.

Green Sparklers

  • 300 parts potassium chlorate
  • 60 parts barium nitrate
  • 60 parts aluminum fines, flitter, or granules
  • 2 parts charcoal
  • 10% dextrin in water solution

Dip the wires or sticks in a mixture made from the dry ingredients with just enough dextrin solution to make a thick slurry. Dry the sparklers before use.

Another option for a green sparkler is to substitute boric acid or borax for the barium nitrate.

Purple Sparklers

  • 14 parts potassium nitrate
  • 3 parts powdered sulfur
  • 3 parts powdered charcoal
  • 2 parts aluminum flitter (for sparks)
  • 10% dextrin in water

Dip the sticks in a mixture made from the dry ingredients with enough dextrin solution to make a slurry.

Note the human eye is not very sensitive to the color violet. The purple color is easily overwhelmed by the color that may be produced by any chemical contaminant in the mixture. If the sparkler appears yellow instead of purple, it means sodium is present. Salt is the most likely culprit.

Substitutions in Sparkler Recipes

By examining these recipes, you can see aluminum flitter may be added to make sparks in any sparkler. Fine particles of other metals also produce sparks. Titanium makes white sparks while iron filings produce golden sparks.

Dextrin is a common binder and fuel in sparkler recipes. If it is unavailable, sugar or starch may be used.

Other colors of sparklers are also possible. For example, using a copper salt will produce a blue or a green flame, depending on the oxidation state of the copper.

The default color of a sparkler is yellow or gold, but the color may be brightened and enhanced by adding a small amount of table salt or sodium chloride (NaCl) to the mixture.

Adding the tiniest amount of salt to a red sparkler can produce an orange flame. Calcium salts can also produce the orange color.

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