I’ve stumbled across a rather peculiar recipe for a allegedly ‘health’ potion in a computer game, composed of an unspecified amount of each of the following:

  • rust (iron oxide)
  • saltpetre (potassium nitrate)
  • oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid)
  • aqua vitæ (ethanol)

To make things clear: I’m not suicidal, I do in no way intent to actually mix that stuff (the initial tagging was maybe a bit misleading), but I’m interested in what would happen if someone actually would. Drinking such a potion vile concoction is of course out of the question because of the sulphuric acid alone.

From what I know from highschool chemistry (and a generous helping of Wikipedia), saltpetre and sulphuric acid would be used to make explosives by way of nitrosulphuric acid. Oversimplifying, by adding cellulose or tuluol one would end up with nitrocellulose or TNT, respectively.

But I lack the terminology to go further than that. What would be the result of adding alcohol to that, and then iron oxide, or the other way round? Is there some known mixture that would fit, however roughly, along those lines? From the context of where that formula came from that wouldn’t surprise me. It may of course as well be that the formula was simply chosen because of it’s obvious unhealthyness.

I hope this clarifies the intent of my question. The idea may have come from a pseudo-fantasy/alchemy setting, but I’m interested in the ‘real’ chemistry behind it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is such a question even on-topic? I’m not really sure—if not, please don’t hesitate to tell me, then I’ll take it down myself. $\endgroup$ – Vucar Timnärakrul Nov 21 '14 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Chemistry.SE! To acquaint yourself with this page, take the tour and visit the help center. Furthermore this tutorial shows you how math and chemical formulae can be nicely formatted on this site. Finally, we have an important policy: your questions (especially homework questions), should show your own work or thinking that you have already done in an initial attempt to answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 21 '14 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question is ok even though it might be considered a little borderline. We generally don't give any medical advise but in this case you are not really asking for that. Discussing the potential dangers (or safety) of such a mixture should be on-topic here. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 21 '14 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp Absolutely agreed. I added the safety tag to emphasize this. || On the account of the potion, I would not expect sulfuric acid to have any nice effect on the body at all. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Nov 21 '14 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp: You are right, I should have explained how far I have gotten by myself. I’ve tried clarifying my question. $\endgroup$ – Vucar Timnärakrul Nov 21 '14 at 20:51

Explosives: It is true that sulfuric acid and sodium/potassium nitrate are used to make various explosives (by creating nitric acid), but the key is something to nitrate. The worst this mixture could generate is nitrated ethanol, and I was unable to find any source suggesting that could be done with nitric and sulfuric acid alone. Nitrating a molecule that small with that simple of a structure seems unlikely without extreme conditions or reagents. If it were possible, the most likely product does seem to be something unpleasant.

Poisons: What definitely would be produced is nitric acid, and the production of nitric acid via sulfuric acid and a nitrate salt produces nitrogen dioxide, a poisonous and caustic gas. This is some seriously bad stuff you do not want to come in contact with.

Based on that, I'm going to conclude this mixture is probably not explosive, but definitely could become so if an easily-nitrated compound was a contaminant. Those are more common than you might imagine. It definitely would create a nasty gas.


A concoction quite like this (with Fe-EDTA complex instead of iron sulphate) is sold as aquarium fertilizer. Dosed in small amounts it would at least promote plant growth...


A glass of that would just kill you on the right proportions, not much of a health potion...

(Honestly, I was worried about you when I first saw the title, the list and the home-experiment tag)


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