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Setting Up a Home Science
Laboratory Part III Chemicals
on the Cheap
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This article is based on material originally published in
Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All
Electronics Workshop Craft Science Home Art & Design
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Lab, No Lecture, by Robert Bruce Thompson, and the
not-yet-published Illustrated Guide to Forensics
Investigations: Uncover Evidence in Your Home, Lab,
or Basement, by Robert Bruce Thompson and
Barbara Fritchman Thompson.

Laboratory chemicals are expensive, at least if you buy them from specialty
lab supply vendors. Fortunately, there are many alternative sources for good
quality, useful chemicals at reasonable prices. In fact, its possible to stock a
home lab pretty comprehensively while buying only a few chemicals from
specialty sources.
These alternative sources are many and varied, including the drugstore,
supermarket, hardware store, or home improvement center, auto parts store,
lawn and garden store, and pottery supply store. The following image shows
just the first dozen or so chemicals that came to hand when I did a quick
pillage of my lab to set up this shot. There are literally dozens more like them
in my lab.
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The purity of these chemicals ranges from very high (USP or FCC grades,
intended for human consumption) to the lower practical and technical grades.
For routine use, even practical or technical grade chemicals often suffice, and
many of the impure chemicals can be purified to very high standards using
ordinary lab procedures such as recrystallization and distillation, which well
cover in later articles.
Furthermore, youre not limited to the chemicals offered for sale. You can use
these readily-available chemicals to synthesize other chemicals. For example,
in one of our videos, Dr. Mary Chervenak reacts copper(II) sulfate (root killer)
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with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to form pure copper(II) carbonate. In a
later lab session, we react a portion of that copper(II) carbonate with acetic
acid (distilled white vinegar) to produce copper(II) acetate, another portion
with hydrochloric acid (muriatic acid from the hardware store) to produce
copper(II) chloride, and a third portion with nitric acid to produce copper(II)
nitrate. In yet another lab session, we react muriatic acid with steel wool to
produce iron(II) chloride (ferrous chloride) and iron(III) chloride (ferric
chloride). In still another, we convert a pound of barium carbonate purchased
for about three bucks from a pottery supplies vendor into about $50 worth of
barium chloride, barium nitrate, and barium hydroxide. And so on.
Pottery supply stores in particular are an excellent inexpensive source for
many hard-to-find chemicals, used mostly in glazes. Most chemicals are sold
in one-pound and larger packages (often sealed paper or plastic bags),
although most vendors also offer half-pound, quarter-pound, or smaller
quantities. Although the chemicals are technical grade, theyre often of
surprisingly high purity. (Potters will not tolerate impure chemicals ruining a
finished piece, which pottery supply stores are well aware of.) Carbonates are
the most useful form of these chemicals, because the only byproducts of their
reactions with acids are water and carbon dioxide. For example, reacting
barium carbonate with hydrochloric (muriatic) acid yields only barium chloride
(the desired product), water, and carbon dioxide, making it easy to purify the
product.
The image below shows some of the building block chemicals I bought from
Seattle Pottery Supply. From these, I can synthesize literally dozens of other
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useful chemicals. I paid about $60 for these chemicals, which with a few hours
work, I can convert to several hundred dollars worth of other useful
chemicals.
For many home chemists, its a point of pride to synthesize and purify their
own chemicals. It is immensely satisfying to look to a bottle on the shelf and
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know that you made whats in that bottle, that its just as pure as the
expensive commercial ACS Reagent grade chemical sold by specialty
vendors, and that making it cost a tenth of what it would have cost to buy it.
Darkrooms and Pyrotechnics
Before digital cameras pretty much killed hobbyist film photography,
camera stores were one of the best alternative sources for laboratory
chemicals. Most towns had at least one camera store that stocked dozens
of pure chemicals that are now available only from specialty chemical
suppliers. Silver nitrate, potassium bromide, potassium iodide, nitric acid,
iodine, various organicsthe list went on and on. Such camera stores are
pretty much history now, and those that remain no longer stock much in the
way of darkroom chemicals other than prepackaged developers and so on.
There are still several on-line darkroom supply vendors that sell individual
chemicals. These chemicals are invariably photo grade, which may range
from reagent-grade purity to practical grade, depending on the specific
chemical. Package quantities vary widely, from a gram or less for some
very expensive chemicals (usually silver- or platinum-based), through five
pounds or more for inexpensive chemicals that are used in large amounts
(such as sodium thiosulfate for fixer). Prices are all over the map. For some
chemicals, prices are as low or lower (sometimes, much lower) than those
of specialty vendors; for others, the prices are outrageously high. Buyer
beware. Here are some darkroom supply vendors you may want to check
out (note: we have not purchased from any of them):
Artcraft
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Bostick and Sullivan
Photographers Formulary
Pyrotechnic suppliers are another good source for chemicals, but theres a
catch. Many hobbyists steer clear of pyrotechnic suppliers because they
dont want to draw government attention to themselves. Various
government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, take a strong
interest in anyone who buys chemicals that can be used to make
explosives or fireworks. Weve never bought chemicals from any of these
vendors for that reason, but if youre comfortable doing so, here are a
couple of pyrotechnic vendors:
Skylighter
United Nuclear
Key Chemicals
Here are some chemicals youll need to stock up your lab, both for general
use and for use in synthesizing other chemicals. Those in bold are high-
priority chemicals that youll probably want to stock in reasonable quantities,
say a pound (~ 500 g) for solid chemicals, and a pint to a gallon (500 mL to 4
L) for liquid chemicals, particularly if you plan to do any syntheses.
Recommended quantities are shown in parentheses.
Acetic acid You may need glacial (~ 99%) acetic acid for some
purposes, but often a dilute solution suffices. Distilled white vinegar is very
pure (FCC grade) acetic acid in 5% concentration (about 0.83 M). If
necessary, you can concentrate it further by distillation. The low molarity
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makes vinegar less than ideal for synthesizing chemicals in bulk because
so much is required and so much water must be removed to isolate the
product, but it is suitable for making up dilute solutions (~ 0.1 M) of various
acetate salts. (one pint or more)
Acetone Technical grade acetone, available by the pint, quart, or gallon
in the paint section of any hardware store or home improvement center, is
more than pure enough for routine lab use. Its useful as a general solvent,
a chromatography solvent, as a final rinse when you synthesize a water-
soluble chemical, and as a final rinse when you wash up your glassware
(one pint or more).
Aluminum Ordinary kitchen aluminum foil is fine for most purposes, as
are aluminum beverage cans. (Both of these are coated with plastic on at
least one side, which usually presents no problem.) You can also use any
form of aluminum hardware or scrap. We picked up several aluminum
window screen frames that had been put to the curb in our neighborhood
for bulky-item pickup day. The frames are pure aluminum and we even
recycled part of the plastic screen for use as sifters in our lab.
Aluminum oxide (~ $3/pound as alumina from a pottery supplies store) is
useful primarily for making your own thin-layer chromatography plates, at a
cost of a few cents each versus a couple dollars each for commercial TLC
plates. (If you want to make TLC plates, order a few ounces of alumina in
the finest powder available.)
Ammonia The clear, non-sudsy household ammonia sold in
supermarkets is actually reasonably pure 10% aqueous ammonia (~ 5.8
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M), which is concentrated enough for most purposes, including syntheses.
(Because ammonia is so extremely soluble even in boiling water,
household ammonia cannot be concentrated by distillation. If you need a
higher concentration, youll need to buy it.) Buy the cheapest generic
household ammonia and make sure it doesnt contain soap. Ammonia is
used as-is in many experiments, and can be reacted with mineral acids or
organic acids to form numerous salts, such as ammonium acetate,
ammonium chloride, ammonium oxalate, ammonium phosphate, ammonium
sulfate, and so on (one quart).
For example, heres how to make up dilute bench solutions of two
ammonium compounds.
Ammonium acetate solution, 0.1 M To make up 100 mL of this
solution, add household ammonia dropwise (about 1.7 mL) to 12.0 mL of
distilled white vinegar until the solution just turns red litmus paper blue
and then dilute to 100 mL.
Ammonium chloride solution, 0.1 M To make up 100 mL of this
solution, add 31.45% muriatic acid dropwise (about 1.0 mL) to 1.7 mL of
household ammonia until the solution just turns blue litmus paper red
and then dilute to 100 mL.
Ammonium nitrate Although you can make ammonium nitrate by reacting
ammonia with nitric acid, its much cheaper to buy ammonium nitrate at a
lawn and garden store, where its sold in pure form in 1-pound to 50-pound
bags as 33-0-0 or 34-0-0 fertilizer. Store separately from all other
chemicals (four ounces or more).
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Barium carbonate (~ $3/pound from a pottery supplies store) can be
reacted with mineral acids, organic acids, or sodium hydroxide to produce
barium chloride, barium nitrate, barium hydroxide, and other barium salts,
for which you might otherwise have to pay several dollars for a 5 g to 25 g
bottle (four ounces or more, if you want to synthesize barium salts).
Calcium carbonate (~ $2/pound as whiting, from a pottery supplies store)
can be reacted with mineral acids or organic acids to produce calcium
acetate, calcium chloride, calcium nitrate, and other calcium salts. Ordinary
blackboard chalk is also primarily calcium carbonate, as are some antacids
(four ounces or more, if you want to synthesize calcium salts).
Calcium chloride is used in some experiments. It is the primary or sole
chemical present in some ice melt products, and is also available from
brewing/winemaking suppliers and from some garden supply stores as a
trace nutrient fertilizers. You can also make up calcium chloride yourself by
reacting calcium carbonate with hydrochloric (muriatic) acid. (one ounce, if
you need it)
Calcium hydroxide is available from garden supply stores, usually as
hydrated lime, slaked lime, or simply lime (which may also contain
calcium oxide and/or calcium carbonate). The primary use of calcium
hydroxide in a home lab is as lime water, a saturated solution of calcium
hydroxide that forms a precipitate of calcium carbonate if carbon dioxide
gas is passed through it. (one ounce, if you need it)
Carbon you can buy carbon in the form of activated charcoal in some
drugstores and the aquarium section of some pet stores. (one ounce or
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more)
Cobalt carbonate (~ $50/pound or $4/ounce from a pottery supplies store)
can be reacted with hydrochloric acid to produce cobalt(II) chloride, or with
nitric acid to produce cobalt(II) nitrate. We bought 1 ounce of cobalt
carbonate and converted half an ounce each to cobalt chloride and cobalt
nitrate. Because cobalt itself is quite expensive, the cost savings in making
your own cobalt salts are less compelling than with most other syntheses.
(one ounce or more, if you want to synthesize cobalt salts)
Copper carbonate (~ $7/pound from a pottery supplies store) can be
reacted with various acids to produce copper(II) acetate, copper(II)
chloride, copper(II) nitrate, or even copper(II) sulfate. However, in this
instance the pottery chemical price is actually more than it costs to buy
copper(II) sulfate at the hardware store and react it with baking soda to
make your own copper(II) carbonate. Buy copper(II) carbonate only if the
convenience outweighs the higher price.
Copper(II) sulfate you can buy this chemical in very pure form in the
plumbing section of hardware stores and home improvement centers as
root killer. (Make sure the bottle lists copper(II) sulfate as the only
ingredient). We bought a 2-pound bottle of Enforcer Drain Care Root Kill
for about $8 at Lowes. It lists an assay on the label as 99% pure copper(II)
sulfate, which is near reagent grade. Also available in pure form from
pottery supply stores for ~$3.50/pound. Copper(II) sulfate is used as is in
many experiments, and is also a useful precursor for making your own
copper(II) carbonate, copper(II) chloride, copper(II) nitrate, and other
copper salts. (four ounces or more)
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Citric acid you can buy citric acid inexpensively and in very pure form
(FCC) as sour salt in supermarkets. Citric acid is used in several
common experiments and is also useful for making up buffer solutions and
for synthesizing citrate salts. (one ounce or more)
Distilled water Water is a chemical just like any other. Youll need
distilled water for general lab use, including making up solutions, rinsing
glassware, and so on. You can buy it cheaply by the gallon at the
supermarket. Make sure the label says distilled rather than spring
water or something similar. (gallon or more)
Ethanol Ethanol is available in drugstores by the pint or quart in
concentrations from 70% to 95%, under that name or as ethyl alcohol or
rubbing alcohol. Note that most drugstore rubbing alcohol is actually
isopropanol rather than ethanol. Drugstore ethanol is USP grade, which is
extremely pure. Ethanol is useful as a general solvent, chromatography
solvent, reactant, and as fuel for an alcohol burner. (Buy at least a pint of
the 95% concentration, if available)
Glycerol sold under that name or as glycerin or glycerine (not glycin,
which is an entirely different chemical) in drugstores, glycerin is used in
some experiments and syntheses, but its primary uses in a home lab are
for lubricating rubber stoppers and as a temporary mounting medium for
microscope slides. (smallest available bottle)
Hydrochloric acid sold in hardware stores and home improvement
centers as muriatic acid, and is generally quite pure. Concentrated
hydrochloric acid from a lab supplier is about 37% (~ 12 M). Muriatic acid
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is available in several concentrations, from 14.5% (4.7 M, for lowering
swimming pool pH) up to 29% (9.4 M) or 31.25% (10 M), for cleaning or
etching concrete. The 29% or 31.45% concentrations typically cost a
couple bucks a quart or five bucks a gallon. Either can be substituted for
37% hydrochloric acid for most purposes. (one quart to one gallon)
Hydrogen peroxide the 3% hydrogen peroxide sold in drugstores is
useful for many experiments. You can also buy more concentrated
hydrogen peroxide at a beauticians supply store. A pint of 12% H O
(called 40 volume) costs about $3. The 12%/40-volume stuff is
concentrated enough to work in many experiments that specify 30%
hydrogen peroxide; simply use about 2.5 times as much 12% as is
specified for the 30% concentration. Higher concentrations, as much as
30% to 35%, are sometimes available in pool supplies stores, often under
the name Liquid Oxygen. (one pint of 3% or higher concentration)
Iodine formerly widely available in crystal form for water purification,
iodine is now a DEA List I chemical, which means its harder to find. Iodine
is used in many experiments, as a reactant, indicator, test reagent, or
microscope slide staining solution. For most purposes you can substitute
iodine tincture (a dilute solution of iodine and potassium iodide in ethanol)
or Lugols solution (the same, but uses water as a solvent instead of
ethanol). Although less used than formerly, iodine tincture and Lugols
solution are still widely available in one-ounce bottles (the DEA limit) in
drugstores. We picked up a one-ounce bottle of 2% iodine tincture at
Walgreens for $3. Be careful. Many vendors sell iodine tincture and/or
Lugols solution at outrageous prices. Weve seen prices of $20 and even
2 2
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$30 for a small bottle. (for use as an indicator, test reagent, or slide stain,
one one-ounce bottle; if you need iodine in larger amounts, you can easily
synthesize it yourself from potassium iodide.)
Iron used in many common experiments and syntheses, usually in the
form of iron filings. You can substitute soapless steel wool, which is
available inexpensively in the form of steel wool pads in the paint section
of hardware stores and home improvement centers. You can synthesize
various iron(II) (ferrous) and iron(III) (ferric) salts by reacting steel wool
pads with various acids such as hydrochloric, nitric, or sulfuric. These
syntheses can be tuned to favor the ferrous or ferric salts by keeping
either the steel wool or the acid in excess. You can also produce various
double salts, such as ferric ammonium sulfate, by using a calculated
excess of the acid and neutralizing the solution with ammonia. (one or two
pads)
Isopropanol sold in drugstores under that name or as isopropyl alcohol
or rubbing alcohol (some rubbing alcohol is ethanol rather than
isopropanol). Common concentrations run from 70% to 99%, with 70%,
91%, 95%, and 99% most common. Isopropanol is used in many
experiments as a general solvent, chromatography solvent, or reactant,
and is also useful as fuel for an alcohol burner. (one pint of 91% or 99%
isopropanol)
Lead carbonate (~ $3/pound from a pottery supplies store) is infrequently
used in pottery nowadays because of lead toxicity, so not all pottery supply
stores carry it. Lead carbonate can be reacted with acetic acid to produce
lead(II) acetate or nitric acid to produce lead(II) nitrate. (four ounces or
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more, if you want to synthesize lead salts)
Lithium carbonate (~ $7/pound from a pottery supplies store) can be used
to synthesize lithium acetate, lithium chloride, lithium hydroxide, and other
lithium salts. (four ounces or more, if you want to synthesize lithium salts)
Magnesium sulfate is used in several common experiments. The
heptahydrate form is sold in drugstores as Epsom salts for about a buck a
pound, and is of very high purity. (a few ounces to a pound)
Magnesium carbonate (~ $3/pound from a pottery supplies store) can be
reacted with mineral acids or organic acids to produce magnesium acetate,
magnesium chloride, magnesium nitrate, and other magnesium salts. (four
ounces or more, if you want to synthesize magnesium salts)
Manganese carbonate (~ $4/pound from a pottery supplies store) can be
reacted with hydrochloric acid to produce manganese chloride, with nitric
acid to produce manganese nitrate, or with sulfuric acid to produce
manganese sulfate. (four ounces, if you want to synthesize manganese
salts)
Methanol is useful as a general laboratory solvent, as a chromatography
solvent, and as a precursor in several common syntheses. Methanol is
sometimes used as fuel in alcohol lamps, although its invisible flame
presents an obvious hazard. Methanol is available in the paint section of
some hardware stores and home improvement centers, under that name or
as wood alcohol, but many do not carry it. Auto parts stores sell 99%
methanol in 12-ounce bottles for a buck or so as a fuel additive under the
brand name HEET. (Make sure to get original HEET, rather than ISO-
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HEET, which is isopropanol.) Methanol-based fuel additives contain about
1% rust inhibitors and other additives, which usually present no problem
for routine use. If you want purer methanol, you can distill HEET (carefully;
its extremely flammable). (one 12-ounce bottle)
Nickel carbonate (~ $30/pound or $3/ounce from a pottery supplies store)
can be reacted with acetic acid to produce nickel acetate, with hydrochloric
acid to produce nickel chloride, or with nitric acid to produce nickel nitrate.
(one ounce or more, if you want to synthesize nickel salts)
The Special Case of Nitric Acid
Concentrated nitric acid is difficult to find locally, and is expensive to ship
because shipping it in any quantity requires a hazardous material shipping
surcharge. If you can find it locally, buy it. Otherwise, one good source of
concentrated nitric acid is Elemental Scientific
(www.elementalscientific.net), which offers ACS Reagent grade
concentrated (68%) nitric acid in one-ounce, eight-ounce, and sixteen-
ounce bottles at a good price. There is a $20 hazardous materials shipping
surcharge, but Elemental can ship up to eight one-pint bottles for that one
surcharge. If you can get together with other like-minded DIY science
enthusiasts or home school families, you can combine your orders and
obtain a pint or more of concentrated nitric acid for a reasonable price. In
particular if you plan to synthesize your own chemicals and/or do
qualitative/quantitative analysis experiments, youll want at least a pint of
concentrated nitric acid on hand. Store separately from all other chemicals.
Oxalic acid is commonly found in relatively pure (95% to 100%) form in
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hardware stores as wood bleach. (Not all wood bleaches are oxalic acid
based; some use hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach. Check the label.)
Oxalic acid is used as-is in some experiments, but is primarily useful for
synthesizing oxalate salts such as ammonium oxalate. (an ounce or more,
if you need it)
Petroleum ether also known as ligroin, benzine (not benzene), and under
several other names, petroleum ether is an ill-defined mixture of various
alkanes, primarily pentanes and hexanes. In introductory chemistry lab
sessions, it is useful primarily as a non-polar chromatography solvent. For
most purposes, you can substitute toluene or xylene from the paint section
of the hardware store. (small can, if you will be doing chromatography
experiments)
Phosphoric acid is sold in hardware stores as a rust remover (Naval
Jelly) or for etching/cleaning concrete. It is also available in various
concentrations and degrees of purity from some brewing/winemaking
suppliers and hydroponics suppliers. Its primary use in a home lab is for
synthesis of phosphate salts by reacting it with carbonates. (a few ounces,
if you need it)
Potassium chloride is sometimes sold in very pure (FCC) form as
sodium-free salt in supermarkets (check the label). It is also available at
some garden-supply stores in 1-pound and larger bags as potassium
fertilizer. The pure form is sometimes useful as a source of potassium ions
in various experiments. Fertilizer-grade potassium chloride can be purified
by recrystallization or can be used as-is in synthesizing potassium chlorate
from chlorine laundry bleach. (one ounce or more, if you need it)
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Potassium dichromate in relatively pure form is sold by pottery supply
stores, either under that name or as potassium bichromate. Potassium
dichromate is used in many experiments and some syntheses. (one ounce
or more, if you need it)
Potassium nitrate is available in relatively pure form from garden stores
as fertilizer (under that name or as saltpeter) and from some pottery supply
vendors. It is used as-is in some experiments, and is also a component of
some test reagents. (a few ounces, if you need it)
Potassium permanganate is used as-is in some experiments, and is a
component of some test reagents. You can buy it from some aquarium
suppliers, either in crystal form or as an aqueous solution. Its also sold by
Sears, Tractor Supply, and other vendors for use in treating water to
remove iron. (one ounce)
Silver nitrate is used in many experiments as a test reagent, usually as a
1% to 10% aqueous solution. Its available in relatively pure form from
some pottery suppliers. (a few grams)
Sodium bicarbonate sold inexpensively and in extremely pure form in
supermarkets as baking soda, sodium bicarbonate is used in many
experiments as is and is also useful as a precursor chemical in
synthesizing other chemicals and to precipitate toxic heavy metal ions and
neutralize acid wastes before disposal. Finally, sodium bicarbonate can be
used to neutralize acid spills and to extinguish fires. We bought a 12-
pound resealable bag at Costco for $5. (large box or bag)
Sodium borate better known by its common name borax, is readily
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available in supermarkets. Its used directly in some experiments, but its
primary use in a home lab is the qualitative borax-bead test for various
metal ions. (an ounce, if you need it)
Sodium bromide available at some swimming pool supply vendors, either
by name or as bromine base. Can usually be substituted if an experiment
calls for potassium bromide. (one ounce)
Sodium carbonate For noncritical use, you can buy reasonably pure
sodium carbonate in supermarkets as washing soda or from pottery supply
stores as soda ash, but its easy to make very pure anhydrous sodium
carbonate simply by spreading a pound or so of USP sodium bicarbonate
(baking soda) in a thin layer on a baking pan and heating it in the oven for
an hour or so to drive off water and carbon dioxide. Heating 500 g of
sodium bicarbonate yields about 315 g of anhydrous sodium carbonate. (if
you buy it, one pound or more)
Sodium chloride ordinary iodized table salt is almost pure sodium
chloride, with potassium iodide added (the iodized part of the name) as
well as anti-caking agents. Popcorn salt and kosher salt lack the
potassium iodide. For most purposes, either of those can be used as is.
(one container of popcorn salt)
Sodium hydroxide is the most commonly-used base in a home science
lab. You can buy sodium hydroxide in pure form in some hardware stores
as crystal drain opener (make sure the label says 100% sodium
hydroxide). (several ounces to a pound or more)
Sodium hypochlorite is used in many experiments and is useful as a
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general-purpose strong oxidizer. Ordinary chlorine laundry bleach is a
5.25% to 6.5% solution of sodium hypochlorite, mixed with sodium
hydroxide and other contaminants, and is generally usable in any
experiment that calls for sodium hypochlorite. Oddly, the cheapest generic
chlorine laundry bleach is usually the purest. Name brand products include
whiteners, scents, and other contaminants. (a few ounces)
Strontium carbonate (~ $4/pound from a pottery supplies store) can be
reacted with mineral acids or organic acids to produce strontium acetate,
strontium chloride, strontium nitrate, and other strontium salts. (four ounces
or more, if you want to synthesize strontium salts)
Sulfur you can buy sulfur of variable purity at garden supply stores,
where its sold as a fertilizer, fungicide, and soil additive. The label may list
an assay. We have seen bags of sulfur from garden supply stores with
assays as high as 99%.
Sulfuric acid battery acid sold by auto parts stores is typically 35% (~
30% to 40%; ~ 5 M to ~7.5 M) sulfuric acid of reasonably high purity
(contaminants can easily poison a lead-acid battery). Some drain
cleaners are technical grade concentrated sulfuric acid, although they
often contain significant amounts of various contaminants. Sulfuric acid in
reasonably pure form is available from some art and craft suppliers, as well
as metal/jewelry-making suppliers. (several ounces to one pint or more)
Toluene formerly widely available in the paint section of hardware stores
and home improvement centers, but is now harder to find. We found it at a
Sherwin-Williams paint store. Toluene (methylbenzene) is useful as a
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general solvent and for chromatography. Xylenes (mixed dimethylbenzene
isomers), which are still widely available in hardware and paint stores, can
often be substituted as a solvent. (one pint)
Zinc you can obtain very pure zinc by carefully opening an unused zinc-
carbon battery (cell), removing the casing, and washing it thoroughly. The
casing is 99%+ zinc. US cent coins minted in 1983 or later are almost pure
zinc with extremely thin copper plating, which can be removed chemically
or by sanding or tumbling. Zinc is a reactive metal, and combines readily
with mineral acids to form zinc chloride, zinc nitrate, or zinc sulfate, or with
sodium hydroxide to form sodium zincate. (a few ounces)
Get em while you can
If you plan to synthesize chemicals, youll need storage containers for them.
One excellent solution is to use plastic 35mm film cans, which for now are
usually free for the asking at most drugstores. These cans are made of
chemical-resistant plastic, have tight-fitting lids, and are large enough to
hold 25 mL of liquid or 50 to 100 grams of most solid chemicals. Get them
while you can. The woman at the photo counter at our local Walgreens told
me that they used to get 100 to 200 film cans a day. Thats now down to
maybe five per day, as digital cameras kill 35mm film. I have a garbage bag
full of them, which I use for my own purposes and to make up science sets
for local kids.
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Specialty Chemicals
For some laboratory chemicals, the most practical source is a specialty
supplier. For example, such commonly used laboratory chemicals as
phenolphthalein, potassium bromide, potassium ferricyanide, potassium
ferrocyanide, potassium iodide, potassium thiocyanate, sodium thiosulfate,
and many others may be difficult to obtain locally or to synthesize. You can
buy these specialty chemicals individually from specialty laboratory supplies
vendors, including Maker Shed. For those who prefer to order these specialty
chemicals in kit form, weve put together the following two kits.
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Core Chemicals Kit
The Core Chemicals Kit contains 31 specialty chemicals that are used in
basic laboratory sessions in Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry
Experiments. You will need to supplement the contents of this kit with some
chemicals that are readily available in most households, such as table salt,
table sugar, and so on. Depending upon local availability of chemicals and
which lab sessions you decide to do, you may need to order small amounts of
a few other chemicals separately..
Kit Contents
Acetic acid, glacial (100 mL, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Acetone (100 ml, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Aluminum metal filings (25 g) (MSDS)
Ammonia, aqueous, 28% to 30% (100 mL, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Ammonium acetate (25 g) (MSDS)
Ammonium chloride (25 g) (MSDS)
Ammonium nitrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Charcoal, activated (25 g) (MSDS)
Copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate (100 g) (MSDS)
Glycerol (25 mL) (MSDS)
Hydrochloric acid, 37% (100 mL, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Iron metal filings (100 g) (MSDS)
Iron metal shot (100 g) (MSDS)
Magnesium sulfate heptahydrate (100 g) (MSDS)
Methanol (25 mL, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Mineral oil (25 mL) (MSDS)
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Mineral oil (25 mL) (MSDS)
Oxalic acid dihydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Petroleum ether (100 mL) (MSDS)
Phenolphthalein powder (5 g) (MSDS)
Potassium hexacyanoferrate(III) (potassium ferricyanide) (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium hydrogen tartrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium permanganate (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium acetate, anhydrous (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium bicarbonate (100 g) (MSDS)
Sodium bisulfite (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium borate (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium carbonate, anhydrous (100 g, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Sodium hydroxide (100 g, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Starch, soluble (25 g) (MSDS)
Sulfur (25 g) (MSDS)
Sulfuric acid, 98% (100 mL, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Supplemental Chemicals Kit
The Supplemental Chemicals Kit contains 35 additional chemicals needed to
complete advanced laboratory sessions. (Concentrated nitric acid is not
included because it incurs hazardous shipping surcharges. If you intend to do
lab sessions that require concentrated nitric acid, you will need to obtain it
locally or order it separately.) Purchase this kit (in addition to the Core
Chemicals Kit) if you plan to do all of the laboratory sessions in the Make:
Science Room.
Kit Contents
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Aluminum nitrate nonahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Ammonium heptamolybdate tetrahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Ammonium oxalate monohydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Barium chloride dihydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Barium hydroxide octahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Barium nitrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Calcium nitrate tetrahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Chloroform (25 mL) (MSDS)
Chromium(III) nitrate nonahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Cobalt(II) chloride hexahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Cobalt(II) nitrate hexahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Copper(II) nitrate trihydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Formaldehyde 37% (25 mL) (MSDS)
Iron(III) nitrate nonahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Iron(II) sulfate heptahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Lead nitrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Manganese(II) sulfate monohydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Nickel(II) nitrate hexahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Ninhydrin powder (1 g) (MSDS)
Potassium bromide (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium chromate (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium hexacyanoferrate(II) (potassium ferrocyanide) (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium hexacyanoferrate(III) (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium iodide (25 g, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Potassium nitrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Potassium thiocyanate (25 g) (MSDS)
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Typhoon ARF
Quadcopter Kit
Felix 3.0 3D Printer Kit LED Art Kit Mindwave Mobile
Starter Set
Silver nitrate (5 g, reagent grade) (MSDS)
Sodium nitrite (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium phosphate tribasic dodecahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium sulfate decahydrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium sulfite anhydrous (25 g) (MSDS)
Sodium thiosulfate anhydrous (25 g) (MSDS)
Strontium nitrate (25 g) (MSDS)
Zinc metal mossy (25 g) (MSDS)
Zinc nitrate (25 g) (MSDS)
IN THE MAKER SHED
Comments
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Alice says:
September 18th, 2009 at 2:32 am
awwhh perfect!!
finally a comprehensive list of the basics =)
thankyou very much this has been INCREDIBLY helpful
Gareth Branwyn says:
September 18th, 2009 at 4:26 pm
Thanks so much for your kind words, Alice. We hope youll enjoy the
future content well be posting to the Science Room in the coming
weeks.
chow says:
September 20th, 2009 at 4:27 am
Yes, very nice, thanks for the great series and list of items I never would
have thought of where to locate. Its articles like this that can change
someones life into going into a field that they never would have thought of
because of such a lack of interest and simple/modern tutorials/lessons
such as this.
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David Harris Electronic Integrated Systems Mechanic at Robins, AFB, GA
Bob, do you have a book on how to synthesize your own chemicals? Or does your book,
"Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments" already give detailed instructions on how to
synthesize your own chemicals? In addition to purchasing the standard and advanced chemical
kits listed on Elemental Scientific's website, I also plan to buy the chemicals you show listed
and the ones you had pictured that you purchased from Seattle Pottery Supply.
Reply Like April 6 at 11:30pm
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Dustin says:
September 22nd, 2009 at 9:03 am
I am just getting started with amateur chemistry, but theres something Ive
always wondered. I think chemistry is one of the coolest things out there,
but what exactly would I do with all of these things? I guess a better
question is, why do people get started with amateur chemistry? Are there
cool goals that motivate people? I just dont want to get all the equipment
and then sit there and think, hm, neat. Ive got a lab. Now what?
Bob Thompson says:
September 22nd, 2009 at 12:28 pm
Hi, Dustin
Good question. I think peoples motivations for getting involved in home
science differ greatly. Some do it purely for the learning experience, some
because they like to make things (I really enjoy synthesizing and purifying
my own chemicals, for example), some for the sense of accomplishmentI
actually did that instead of just reading about itand some for practical
reasons such as wanting to test household items for lead or learning how to
plate objects in copper or silver. And some, Im sure, just so they can sit
back and think how neat it is that they have their own labs.
I dont think you need to worry much about running out of interesting, fun,
educational things to do in your lab. We have a hundred or so lab session
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articles already in the pipeline, and probably twice that number that havent
been written yet. Youll find new stuff to do posted here every week for a
long time to come.
Cynthia says:
October 24th, 2009 at 11:14 am
Thanks SOOO much! We live in Canada and homeschool science and
have been looking for a place that supplies chemicals. However, everything
from suppliers is restricted to formal institutions, but now, thanks to this, we
know how to get our own!! And what is so cool, is learning from these
products how chemicals are part of our lives and all around us!
Bob Thompson says:
October 24th, 2009 at 11:42 am
I really, really hate to say this, but shipping restrictions mandate that Maker
Shed ships chemicals only to the continental 48 US states. (Although Im
not involved in the actual store operations, it appears that we ship lab
equipment almost anywhere; Ive seen orders from the UK, South Africa,
South America, and elsewhere for lab equipment.)
Fortunately, youre not out of luck. Several of the members of are
Canadian, and Im sure Ive seen discussions there about good sources for
chemicals in Canada. You can browse there without registering, but you
have to register if you want to post. Unfortunately, board spammers made it
necessary to turn off automatic registrations, but if you need to post, just
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email me at thompson at oreilly dot com and Ill get an account set up for
you.
RBT
Bob Thompson says:
October 24th, 2009 at 11:44 am
Okay, the board software wont let me enter a url, so Ill just spell it out.
The site is forums dot homesciencelab dot com.
Geoffrey2010 says:
June 18th, 2010 at 7:16 am
Hi all. Having just joined the site from the UK, I wanted to comment as a UK
member that there are still one or two good suppliers who will sell
chemicals and apparatus for home use.
For all kinds of apparatus: Rapidonline Essex UK
Chemicals: Silverlight a photographic supplier who send by post.
Both companies have a website and online ordering.
Just wanted to say in closing:
I got a copy of Bob Thompsons book through Ebay..great book. Havent
enjoyed anything so much since Chemistry Magic by Kenneth M.
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Swezey!! Ever read that Bob?
Geoffrey2010 says:
June 18th, 2010 at 7:29 am
Hi all. Having just joined the site from the UK, I wanted to comment as a UK
member that there are still one or two good suppliers for chemicals and
apparatus for the home hobbyist.
For all kinds of apparatus: Rapidonline Essex UK
Chemicals: Silverlight a photographic supplier who send by post.
Both companies have a website and online ordering.
Just wanted to say in closing:
I got a copy of Bob Thompsons book through Ebay..great book. Havent
enjoyed anything so much since Chemistry Magic by Kenneth M.
Swezey!! Ever read that Bob?
James Staggs says:
January 28th, 2012 at 10:25 am
I recommend Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab,
No Lecture (DIY Science) by Robert Bruce Thompson and the Chem Kit
that goes with it (available from
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http://www.thehomescientist.com/kits/CK01/ck01-main.html) I bought the
book and the kit and couldnt be happier! There was no way that I could
purchase the items separately for the price. My questions to customer
service were quickly and professionally answered. The author / owner is
closely involved in the company to ensure outstanding service and quality
control. I cant say enough other than Thank You for making the Learning
Chemistry Lab once again available for Hobbiests like me and
homeschooling families. You have a very satisfied customer.
Lindsey says:
June 29th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
Can you give me your opinion of the 0.01 scales from home science tools?
Thank you!
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