Our chemistry club has, for the last few years, been showing off some reactions to prospective students. One of the most popular tricks we have is a bit of an explosive one: we mix some potassium permanganate with ethylene glycol in a small bottle. The permanganate oxidizes the glycol, and we usually end up with an intense, three foot flame that shoots out of the bottle, followed by some popping, and finally, the whole thing burning to the ground.
Recently, we've been using the exact same mixtures with the same ratios and getting wildly differing results. This entire week, all we've gotten is the glycol bubbling a little and maybe spitting out some of the permanganate, and not much more. The ratios we use are almost the same, so I'm not sure what could be causing this.
Is this reaction sensitive to age of the reactants? Ambient temperature? Humidity? What could cause the reaction to not work normally?
P.S. In spite of the home-experiment tag, the chemicals used here are lab-grade (from Sigma-Aldrich), though I'd be interested in how the purity might affect the reaction as well.