I travel a bit so am flexible where I live, and have taken a recent interest in chemistry to try to gain an understanding of physical reality. I find learning from textbooks to be good, but want to have the comfort of applying a lot of this knowledge in my own lab. To see and feel how it works first hand. From my understanding, the west has a huge paranoia with clandestine chemistry, which is of no interest to me. However, it seems a vast quantity of common reagents and catalysts in organic chemistry books are banned in western countries due to this.

Would someone know how it's possible to practice amateur chemistry from home, without fear of accidentally breaking the law by using some reagent I'm not supposed to? And if not, what would be the best way to gain hands-on experience like this, where I can have complete freedom to experiment with what I want to do? I find at university I'm limited to lab sessions, and if one day I gain employment with a lab I'd no doubt not be free to conduct my own experiments. I wish to emphasize, I'm financially independent from my chemical studies, so purchasing the equipment isn't the issue. It's the legality I'm concerned about.

Is there an option to do this, to pursue amateur knowledge in chemistry, or is it illegal? Is there a country in which it isn't illegal?

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    $\begingroup$ There aren't many reagents that are actually illegal to possess in the US. Scheduled compounds, which are mostly drugs, you would find trouble with, and manufacturing explosives might also get you into trouble. The big problem is really not violating local zoning laws. $\endgroup$
    – Jay Vogler
    Mar 12, 2015 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, thanks Jay. I was just doing a bit of research and saw some horror stories of people being monitored and raided for simply purchasing acetone and things like that, even without manufacturing anything illegal. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid. Would it be best to notify the local authorities if you're planning to setup a lab, or would this not be required do you think? $\endgroup$
    – user4779
    Mar 12, 2015 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because Chemistry.SE is not a place to ask a legal advice. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcat
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


Your question is basically too broad to be answered in full detail. I suggest that if you want a more detailed answer about a certain part, you should open a question for that matter separately. That being said, I'll try to summarize my own experience as a hobby chemist.

First of all, are you actually studying chemistry? IMHO, if this is within your possibilities, it is the best way to gain experience and also do your your own research. You will have supervision and the best equipment available. You will get the space to do research in your own areas mostly during your graduate studies, but here (The Netherlands) you will also get some space as an undergraduate.

Consider the following points (in no particular order):

  • You say that finance is not a problem, but do not underestimate the price of all the chemicals and equipment you will need to do any bit of serious chemistry. Scales, vacuum pumps, glassware, solvents, a dedicated fridge, a specially constructed cabinet to store flammables, a fume hood with explosion proof suction, etc (and I'm not even mentioning NMR, mass spectrometers, IR, all of which are available to you as student). To run any decent lab from your backyard be prepared to invest several thousands of dollars (or euros). This can be done of course a lot cheaper, but then you will be limited in your possibilities or you will have to exchange safety for money.
  • Almost every chemical you will ever need when doing a normal synthesis (i.e. no explosive making or pharmaceuticals) is legally available in most countries (I heard however that some states in the US are quite notorious w.r.t. hobby chemistry, like Texas). You are even able to obtain chemicals that are clearly dangerous and should not be sold to amateurs, like osmium tetroxide, sodium cyanide (not everywhere), gaseous hydrogen chloride in large 110L pressurized tanks. There are a few exceptions:

    • Common precursors and preprecursors to illicit drugs in large quantities. Most notably phenylacetone and derivatives, piperonal, piperidine, methylamine, benzaldehyde, nitroethane, etc.

    • Chemicals that can be used to manufacture explosives in large quantities. Examples include: nitromethane and ammonium nitrate.

    • Chemicals that are severely dangerous to the environment or can be easily abused to poison people, although oddly enough some of the most hazardous are freely available. Examples are: elemental mercury, a lot of (organo) arsenic and other heavy metal compounds, a lot of radioactive compounds, some cyanides (may be available though from mining suppliers), etc.

    Note: you are able to obtain most of the above mentioned chemicals (also in larger quantities) if you start a business and have it legitimately registered to the Chamber of Commerce. This business does not actually have to do anything, it can function as a facade. It still won't work for pharmaceutical precursors or very large quantities of chemicals however, but for a hobby chemist that is mostly no problem. Note 2: At least here in The Netherlands some pharmaceutical precursors and preprecursors can be legally owned and synthesized, they are just not available commercially because of the high change for abuse. These chemicals however (e.g. phenylacetone) can be used in many other legal synthesis and hence it might be useful to synthesize them yourself.

  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this hobby, both studying theory and doing practical work. Independently doing (serious) chemistry is not easy and you will have to rethink and adjust your setup a lot of times. Also the possibility of failure or accidents is higher without supervision. It is not entirely without risk.

  • $\begingroup$ I would add that hydroiodic acid is also a controlled chemical. Many others are on the list too, but HI is so simple and easily/accidentally prepared (just mix potassium iodide with an acid!) that it's worth knowing that its essentially illegal to do so in the US [unless you have clearances etc.]. $\endgroup$
    – Curt F.
    Mar 12, 2015 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @CurtF. I can buy HI here no problem. Albeit a bit expensive (€339,82 a liter). I guess Europe and the US are different what regulation concerns. Mostly I would not worry about legal problems unless you actually try to make explosives or illicit drugs. Last tip to add is of course that in case of doubt there is nothing against contacting the local police and inform about the regulation - if you really want to be sure. $\endgroup$
    – Jori
    Mar 12, 2015 at 22:32

In the USA there is a list of 41 special federally regulated chemicals.

Actually, there are two lists, list 1 having 30 chemicals and list 2 having 11 chemicals.

Many of these are common lab chemicals including:


Ethyl ether

Potassium permanganate


Hydrochloric acid

Sulfuric acid


If you are planning to use these, I would recommend studying

Title 21 parts 1300-1321 to make sure you are in compliance

There is also the Extremely Hazardous Chemical list that has seperate reporting requirements.

There is an EPA List of Lists that tries to catalog the laws and regulations that apply to various chemicals.

There is a relavent article Underground Science Chemistry hobbyists face a labyrinth of local and state regulations in Chemical and Engineering News Vol. 86, pages 38-40.

  • $\begingroup$ I never understood that list of extremely hazardous chemicals. It contains some very commonly encountered chemicals like ammonia, chloroform, cyclohexylamine, phenol, nitrobenzene... We had to work with nitrobenzene and phenol in our very first practical as an undergraduate (lol). I understand that they are nasty, but I would reserve the term extremely hazardous rather for things like osmium tetroxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Jori
    Mar 12, 2015 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Jori I think that legislation was in response to the Bhopal tragedy, so it is from an industrial scale point of view $\endgroup$
    – DavePhD
    Mar 12, 2015 at 22:45

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