Potassium permanganate: The Most Useful Survival Chemical

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Potassium permanganate: The Most Useful Survival Chemical

Potassium-permanganate-sample-full

When people think about survival tools, chemicals are usually not one of the first things that come to mind. Potassium permanganate should, though.

Also known as KMnO4, Condy’s Crystals and permanganate of potash, Potassium permanganate is a jack of all survival trades. When it comes to survival, the more you know, the more you can do with less. Like wilderness medicine, it also often becomes about improvising with less than ideal tools.

I first learned about the usefulness of this chemical while watching a Survivor Man episode titled Sonoran Desert. In the Sonoran Desert episode (Season 1 Episode 2), Les Stroud demonstrates how mixing Potassium permanganate and glycerin will start a chemical fire. Intrigued, I did some digging.

It turns out, this chemical not just useful for making fires. Here are the 7 best uses:

  1. Purifying water
  2. Creating an antiseptic solution
  3. As an anti-fungal treatment for the hands and feet
  4. As a cholera disinfectant
  5. Treating canker sores
  6. Marking snow as an emergency signal.
  7. General disinfectant agent

Proceed with caution, however. The information provided in this article is intended for emergency situations only. Caution should be exercised when using any of the following information.

potassium-permanganate-firePotassium permanganate will start a fire when mixed with a couple of different compounds. Glycerin is the most common, but antifreeze will also do the trick. Antifreeze seems to create a reaction that is a little more violent. Be very careful when using either. The reaction is not always immediate. It can take several seconds for the reaction to start a fire – let it be.

After gathering all the necessary fire tinder and large pieces of wood to keep your fire going, place a teaspoon of Potassium permanganate on a flat surface. Carefully add the same amount of Glycerine or Antifreeze evenly on top of your pile. Next, stand back a couple of feet and wait at the ready with your tinder.

Mix sugar in with the Glycerin before adding to your Condy’s Crystals, and you’ll get a decent signal smoke.

For water purification, its use is relatively straight forward. First, if there is any sediment in the water, strain it out. Then add 3 – 4 crystals per liter of water. Stir or shake for a few seconds then let sit for 2 hours. The water should be a light pink (a concentration of 1:10,000) – no darker.

Here are some proportions for killing the different nasty organisms that can find their way into water:

  • Bacteria requires a minimum of 2.5mg per liter of water.
  • Viruses require a minimum of 50mg (close to danger levels) per liter.

Potassium permanganate can become toxic in high concentrations, just like anything. The lowest recorded instance of a person poisoned was 100mg per kilogram of body weight. That said, the LD50 scale for Potassium permanganate is 1900mg per kilogram of body weight.

Just remember, as long as it is pink – it’s probably ok to drink.

To use as an antiseptic, anti-fungal treatment, or emergency snow signal, add crystals one by one until the solution turns purple. Shake and use to flush out a wound, soak a fungal infection, or to leave a message in the snow.

Don’t eat snow marked in yellow – just saying.

Ideally, Potassium permanganate should be stored in a nonreactive plastic bottle with a Teflon coated cap. Most plastic bottles and non-coated caps should be fine.

Potassium permanganate is not a perfect option for any of the above-listed purposes. If other more convention options are available  – use them first. What it does do is offer another option should you find yourself with it as your only resource.

Potassium Permanganate Usage Warnings

Everything in life comes with a warning label, “Caution, this air compressor may cause bloating.“ Here are a couple things you should be warned about when it comes to playing with Potassium permanganate:

  • It’s an aggressive oxidizer. It must be kept in a safe, non-reactive container.
  • Solutions mixed too strong can cause caustic burns!
  • Potassium permanganate will dye just about anything it comes in contact with pink or purple.

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By | 2017-01-13T12:53:28+00:00 July 28th, 2011|Featured, Medical, Survival Skills, Urban Survival Skills|68 Comments

About the Author:

In his free time, Aaron enjoys hogging the remote, surfing, scotch, mental masturbation and debate over philosophical topics, and shooting stuff--usually not all at the same time.

68 Comments

  1. JD July 31, 2011 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    Interesting. Where is the best place to get something like this?

  2. Aaron Frankel August 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Amazon has listings for potassium permanganate. You can view them by going HERE.

    • RT August 13, 2011 at 1:10 am - Reply

      Just go to any Lowes or Home Depot. Ask where the chemicals for the water softning systems are. You will find this stuff for about $8 for a quart size bottle. It is used in the filter that removes Iron from your well water

  3. Joe October 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    I would recommend being extremely cautious about using Potassium permanganate as described above. I was a drinking water treatment plant operator for quite some time and we used this in the treatment process. Of all the chemicals we had on hand this was the only one that we could not touch without wearing a respirator. It has very fine particles that can do some pretty horrible things to your lungs. Also any amount of moisture will result in this stuff leaching purple everywhere. It is a great way to ruin cloths and carpet. Be extremely careful with this stuff.

    • Aaron Frankel October 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the information and warning, Joe. While I did a bunch of research and had a friend that is a chemist look into it, I never came across the lung concern. …Good do know.

      • Stewart December 13, 2013 at 3:32 am - Reply

        Most Potassium Permanganate bought for domestic use comes as small crystals, so this is of no concern. In industrial facilities it is often used as a fine powder which might become easily airborne if disturbed. I wouldn’t want to oxidise the lining of my lungs by breathing this in. But, given that about 2g is sufficient for fire-lighting and that about 1g would disinfect a gallon of (fresh, clear) water, doing anything described in this article is not going to be a concern on this count even with the powdered form.

        On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend snorting it, whatever the form.

    • swetha May 12, 2015 at 11:52 am - Reply

      we are using KMnO4 (2 pellets per litre) as a solution to wash hands and legs before entering the plant. So should that be followed or stopped.

      • Aaron Frankel May 12, 2015 at 12:10 pm - Reply

        That all depends on what kind of plant you are talking about and why it’s being done. Perhaps you could elaborate.

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  5. david cortez November 29, 2013 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    i learned about this myself on the same show just today and that is why im looking it up! ..that is funny to me because i thought no one else would have done this! but i dont know how to get or find the stuff to do it with. when i go camping people think im nuts for bringing little mirrors and magnifing glasses with me. you never know what can happen in a situation .

  6. david cortez November 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    and i dont know what the glycerin is.

    • Stewart December 13, 2013 at 3:43 am - Reply

      Look for “glycerine” in the home-baking section of your favourite supermarket, or “glycerol” at your favourite pharmacy.

      If you live near a bio-diesel processing plant, this is a waste product – so they are likely to give it away for free to anyone that is prepared to take it.

      • Maggie March 3, 2014 at 2:59 am - Reply

        Hi, I bought some two weeks ago at the chemist.. My grandson cut his feet rather badly on coral and they got infected. He only used it for a week and his feet healed in no time.

    • fred June 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm - Reply

      Home Depot & Lowes, (as well as many of the Pool Supply stores, possibly the large pet stores that deal with tropical fish), have potassium permanganate. At Lowes, I heard it is in the section where the pool supplies are or in plumbing near the Red Devil drain cleaner. I havent tried to find it there because I live in Nicaragua, I get it on eBay in the fish tank supplies.

  7. Jeremy January 7, 2014 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    They also sell Permanganate at Radio Shack or most likely any similar electronics supply store, it’s used to etch circuit boards..

  8. Aminul February 24, 2014 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    I want to know the Production country (export )of potassium permanganate

  9. Aaron February 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    It is sold at any hardware store ie:home depot, lowes as ” PotPerm”. http://t.homedepot.com/p/Pot-Perm-2-lb-Potassium-Permanganate-97802/202519998

    Its is also great for bleaching wood and antiquing fabrics, also used to make faded denim amongst a million other uses.

    • Alex Riehl May 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm - Reply

      Aaron: I would be very careful of using ghe PotPerm version for purifying drinking water; the version sold there is a “free-flow” grade that has additives to prevent caking when used in industrial applications such as pool-filter cleaning. You’re better off getting a small quantity of this stuff in laboratory grade crystals online.

      In addition, be aware of the MSDS for this stuff and use it very, very carefully.
      An MSDS can be found here: http://www.sciencecompany.com/msds/Potassium_Permanganate_MSDS.pdf
      Overdose is very, very easy and symptoms may not manifest for weeks. Wear gloves when handling, don’t drink any in which the crystals have not completely dissolved, and definitely don’t ingest in any kind of high concentration. The MSDS states that a fatal oral dose is 10 grams, but studies show that non-fatal dosages can lead to acute-onset Parkinson’s. These studies recommend that if there is any possibility of overdose [and maybe in any case of ingestion], N-acetyl cysteine [available fairly cheaply online] should be taken immediately to attempt to counteract the effects, and then emergency medical care should be sought.

      This stuff works well in the right amounts, but be careful. Better safe than sorry.

  10. santosh May 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    can i use 2 to 3 crystals to brush dog teeth

    • Aaron Frankel June 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      Ummmm… Thank you for the question. But this is outside the scope of this article. Your best bet would be to ask a Veterinarian.

  11. AL McCoy August 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Ok.. I see where it says 2mg/litre and 50mg/liter for bacteria and viruses.. Well what if you don’t know about the water..? Is this the best out instead of the 3-4 crystals per litre..? And also, if you’re in a survival situation, how the heck do you know how to measure in mg..? Lol Can anybody tell me how to guess at this..?

    • Aaron Frankel August 5, 2014 at 6:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Al,

      You’re over thinking it. Just use your best guess. If you’re unsure of the water use more. If you’re worried about overdoing it, strain and boil the water instead.

    • Norman McIntosh October 18, 2015 at 2:00 pm - Reply

      First with any water from surface sources or of unknown or suspect sources I would heat to boiling first and then cool. Water at 160F will kill most pathogenic bacteria. Don’t have to hold temp for very long. I would use Chlorine dioxide tabs or a chlorine bleach product to increase the safety of the water. It should be cool before adding the Chlorine. The KMNO4 could be used instead. Encysted parasites are another story and are best filtered out but some may get past the filter. Do what you can this is survival and not life at the home hearth. As noted use caution with Sodium Hypochlorite or KMNO4 as there are safe limits and hazardous limits. Remember Chlorine (bleach) needs an exposure time for the disinfectant to be effective as with the KKMNO4. If you can’t boil first I would let it sit longer so the disinfectant has a better chance.

    • Ron January 21, 2016 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      “Can anybody tell me how to guess at this..?”

      No guessing required: practice beforehand! That way you know how much KMnO2 is 2mg. And a liter is just a smidge over 1 quart.

      • vanwin October 26, 2016 at 2:20 pm - Reply

        I read that just add a few grains, crumbs of it till water goes pink. No darker than pink though.

  12. grant October 29, 2014 at 12:34 am - Reply

    KMN04 is A Scheduled precursor chemical due to its usefulness in creating a number or drugs!and is most likely unavailable to anyone who is not a chemist pharmacist or otherwise they no longer use this for medical purposes they did refer to this in mash and i some coutries you may still be able to find it but |In the USA and Canada It is deffinatly 100% Illegal to buy possess trade give etc…

    • Aaron Frankel October 29, 2014 at 12:45 am - Reply

      You are mistaken, at least as far as the USA is concerned. You can buy KMN04 at most aquatic life stores, major chain hardware stores such as Lowes and Home Depot, and Amazon to name a few.

      However, that being said, it is “suspected” as being a DEA watched chemical. Then again, so is bleach and ammonia in large quantities.

    • D M Wilson` January 11, 2015 at 9:06 am - Reply

      Odd you should say that, as Amazon has it for sale in several different sizes, as does Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and many others, I’m sure.

    • RG March 19, 2017 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      It is most definitely NOT illegal in Canada. It may be restricted in some grades. You can’t get it at a pharmacy without a prescription because of its class A registration or something like that. Like the other posters have mentioned, you can buy it as PotPerm in 2lb plastic bottles at Home Depot and at some aquarium stores and from the Canadian Amazon website. It is a popular agent for “aging” items in the film industry. Nobody needs 2 lbs to light a couple of fires; a few grams or a teaspoon is fine.
      It will react with glycerine but it will also react with the glycol in antifreeze or brake fluid.

  13. John T November 14, 2014 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    This stuff is often used by taxidermist to re stain old antlers. They will turn purple for a few seconds then turn a natural looking brown.

  14. Nic December 10, 2014 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    this stuff is being used by me for a 7th grade science report. I found it interesting and aced the report. thanks for the info Aaron. And interesting comment John. I think my brother is drooling right now over the fact that it starts fire, he’s fire obsessed.

    • Aaron Frankel December 11, 2014 at 1:32 am - Reply

      Glad to hear it, Nikki. And tell you brother to be careful.

  15. isaac kgaphola December 30, 2014 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks for such a useful information. Does this staff works like chasing snakes away? I’ve got piece of land in a new area and it’s still a bush. I found a snake in my store room at my back yard room.

    • Aaron Frankel January 1, 2015 at 10:52 am - Reply

      I’ve never heard of this being used to ward off snakes.

  16. Evil Will January 11, 2015 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Snakes can be cooked with the fire from potassium permanganate . Just note if you’re not sure if the snake is poisonous or not. Cut 4 to 6 inches behind the head . Then clean the snake. Can’t find glycerol? Just use sugar and permanganate. Friction fire instead of chemical fire. I have powered potassium permanganate on its way to my house . Bought it from E Bay 5 ounces for under $10. My concerns for anyone experimenting with chemicals…… Get yourself a Ferrel rod and petroleum jelly mix with tinder its safer . If you’re wanting to study survival techniques? Or putting together a survival kit? Keep, several ways to start a fire and or purification 2 compasses….. ect…. you get my point. Good luck everyone happy New year.

  17. k nagarajan January 25, 2015 at 5:20 am - Reply

    I can use kmno4 for teeth cleaning?

  18. Justice Moeketsi February 24, 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    within what time frame does potasium clear the poison from your system , whether in blood or in your urine ? A matter of minutes or hours ?

  19. Kyrin June 4, 2015 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Potassium permanganate is quite popular in Russia and some other post-Soviet states for internal medical application. If you’ve poisoned yourself with food, you can mix a few grains of potassium permanganate with water, and drink that water (leave the grains out though). If you have diarrhea, you can also stop it almost instantly by drinking potassium permanganate colored water. Just make sure not to drink too much or too saturated, or you’ll replace diarrhea with constipation. But this kind of application is very common in far eastern Europe.

  20. Tim June 4, 2015 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Potassium permanganate in Canada is a restricted product. The government tracks who purchases it.
    Trust me this is no joke as I am a water treatment professional. The companies I purchase mine from are required to have a license to sell it and must record all sales and report this information back to the government. It is expensive and not very easy to get.
    As for dying everything it comes into contact with purple or pink WRONG! anyone who has ever gotten the powder along with water on their hands has found out that it starts purple but then dries dark brown.

    HINT FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS STAINED HIS HANDS BEFORE. – To remove the brown stains use some form of citric acid (bottled lemon juice for cooking or tang juice mix works well or if you can find it citric acid powder) and hot water. Rub this on your hands and the brown will magically disappear.

  21. Paul July 17, 2015 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    I’ve used potassium permanganate before in toxic gas abatement systems for the semiconductor industry. We used a granulate form purchased in 55 gal. drums. The powder will irritate mucous membranes (nose, eyes, etc). It stings a lot. I wore full face respirator when decanting. I heard it was used in 3rd world countries to disinfect drinking well water, until I moved to Mesa AZ, they use it here to treat well water when cleaning municipal water supply lines twice annually. You can always tell, the water stinks for a couple weeks, and sometimes it makes your eyes water!

  22. Erin July 20, 2015 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tip about how to get it off my hands! I use it once a year in my water treatment system and got a bunch on my hand, which is now dark brown. I definitely would not brush teeth with it! LOL

  23. Mike McDevitt August 4, 2015 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    A potassium permanganate and glycerine mix produces an extremely hot reaction. It has been used to initiate a thermite welding process in steel fabrication. A small amount of glycerine suffices; usually applied with an eye dropper. Be cautious!

  24. Julie August 5, 2015 at 12:00 am - Reply

    My partner and I have used condy’s and water mixed for our chooks…when we purchased them most of them were losing their feathers….and in no time they looked in prime condition. We also use condy’s when we are drenching our sheep to kill any bugs….all 5000 of them look terrific

    • Aaron Frankel August 5, 2015 at 10:27 am - Reply

      How long do the Sheep stay purple for after dipping them?

  25. teresa sanchez August 12, 2015 at 9:50 am - Reply

    Hi,
    Can we order online for this? We vadly needed it

  26. Bill August 14, 2015 at 5:14 am - Reply

    I just bought some crystals at a chemist in India to use to treat my feet. I am diabetic and foot cleanliness is critical for me in hot climates when I sweat heavily. This is what the locals use.
    Previously I used the powder form at home in Canada, to oxidize the iron in my water treatment system. It was the iron remover inline ahead of the softener. Culligan had to stop selling it as it can be used to make improvised explosives. I wiil not provide the recipe here. Explosions are just rapid oxidations. I am stunned that it is freely available in the US after 911.

    • Ron January 21, 2016 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      “I wiil not provide the recipe here.”

      You don’t have to. A quick Google is all it takes.

  27. Ron January 21, 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    “It’s an aggressive oxidizer.”

    40% oxygen, which is higher than in the nitrous oxide used in dragsters.

  28. lmen March 17, 2016 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    growing up in india , we used it all the time for sore throats, just gargled with a speck dissolved in water.
    cant remember how it tasted but did not look forward to it.
    although it always cured the sore throat really quick

  29. Thando south africa kzn province. March 30, 2016 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Tnx i wanna try 4 my fungal , bt not sure f t a fungal i hav ds skin infection 4 ten years now doctors in south africa dnt help me , i nid ur opinion whether i should try potassium permanganant as my cure coz dis infection z on my legs n handz only plz reply gud ppl frm all ova places tnx.

  30. victor June 13, 2016 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    This is also an item in C4 explosives

  31. Woodsman June 25, 2016 at 2:41 am - Reply

    Keep in mind there is USP (aka food grade or pharma grade) and lab grade. If you plan to use it for drinking water etc you should get the USP grade. If you plan to start fires, get the cheapest one you can find. Also note, if the temperature is not around room temp then this is not very helpful. Also note that this isn’t like magnesium that will burn and ignite practically anything. You still need all the same tinder etc as most other sources. I wonder if you can use this to dry out some tinder so a blast match etc might work more effectively… hmm.

  32. K Thistleton August 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Will it kill leather jacks in my lawn

  33. Millie September 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    This is great to remove the sticky substance from skin affected by Candida albacans: dip a cotton bud in a week solution, repeat with a clean bud until clear. Store the rest in a bottle and use when needed.

  34. bogie October 31, 2016 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    To remove the dark purple Potassium permanganate stains from your cloths and skin, use a 50/50 mix of Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide. Works like magic.. Learned this from my boss at the city water plant. We mix up a spray bottle of it and it will last us all year.

  35. Katrina November 27, 2016 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    So if this is considered a survival tool, can u find it in the wild? And considering how explosive and corrosive it is, can you really pack it in your survival kit and travel the world? Im pretty sure most countries would detain you at customs

    • Aaron Frankel December 14, 2016 at 3:11 pm - Reply

      Most things people consider a survival tool are not things laying around in nature. Take a knife, compass, or matches, for example. There’s also a wide gap between those who can walk naked into the woods with nothing and survive vs… well… the vast majority of people who consider themselves “survivalists.” So whether or not something is a survival tool or unnecessary item is entirely dependent on the individual’s skill level.

      As for airlines, seems you’re making a big assumption. Perhaps you should Google that before going down a rat hole of theories in a comments section.

      • Bill June 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm - Reply

        There is a difference in Matches and Strike anywhere Matches and if a person didn’t know the difference some advice is completely worthless! If a person is going off the grid camping or backpacking. They better do some real homework! Not just a knife a real KNIFE! There are thousands of knives out there on the market but only a few that are really true quality SURVIVAL KNIVES! Rope is not Climbing/rappelling Rope always!!!! A compass is worthless without a Map! Sure you can travel in a fixed line for about 2 feet, then there is a tree….. If your a first time camper/backpacker, start small and work your way into it!

  36. Cade December 14, 2016 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    That’s an awesome bio, and this is a pretty cool/ interesting article.

  37. Marco January 11, 2017 at 6:48 am - Reply

    you can buy this from the pharmacy, chemist , drugstore.

  38. Ararat kadam May 9, 2017 at 8:54 am - Reply

    It’s over thinking

  39. Simon May 23, 2017 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Useful substance ever to remove skin warts. Just add a drop of pure water on a pinch of potassium penanganete. It must remain concentrate not too watery. Apply on the skin warts. Leave for some hours am not so sure the exactly time. The warts will just disappear without leaving a mark. No bleeding at all. It’s like a miracle. My face was ruined by skin warts but now my skin is just smooth. This substance was prescribed by a student doctor and worked so good. Try it

  40. Bill June 8, 2017 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    If used as a fire starter this will work even in very bad weather conditions P/P and Glycerin… and it doesn’t take much!!! If you mix P/P and sugar in an about even amount you can simply take a stick and mash it and it will start fire! Also as a safety tip make sure that the P/P and Glycerin are carried in completely separate compartments as far away from each other as possible! If by accident they come together inside a pack you could loose everything due to an accidental fame-off…….

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