Preparation of Picric Acid from Aspirin

Section I

No. 21

Picric acid can be used as a booster explosive in detonators (Section VI, No. 13), a high explosive charge, or as an intermediate to preparing lead picrate (Section I, No. 20) or DDNP (Section I, No. 19).


  • Aspirin tablets (5 grams per tablet)
  • Alcohol, 95% pure
  • Sulfuric acid, concentrated, (battery acid - boil until white fumes appear)
  • Potassium Nitrate (Section I, No. 2)
  • Water
  • Paper towels
  • Canning jar, 1 pint
  • Rod (glass or wood)
  • Glass containers
  • Ceramic or glass dish
  • Cup
  • Teaspoon
  • Tablespoon
  • Pan
  • Heat Source
  • Tape


1. Crush 20 aspirin tablets in a glass container. Add 1 teaspoon of water and work into a paste.

2. Add approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of alcohol (100 mililiters) to the aspirin paste; stir while pouring.

3. Filter the alcohol-aspirin solution through a paper towel into another glass container. Discard the solid left on the paper towel.

4. Pour the filtered solution into a ceramic or glass dish.

5. Evaporate the alcohol and water from the solution by placing the dish into a pan of hot water. White powder will remain in the dish after evaporation.

NOTE: Water in pan should be at hot bath temperature, not boiling, approximately 160° to 180°F. It should not bum the hands.

6. Pour 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) of concentrated sulfuric acid into a canning jar. Add the white powder to the sulfuric acid.

7. Heat canning jar of sulfuric acid in a pan of simmering hot water bath for 15 minutes; then remove jar from the bath. Solution will turn to a yellow-orange color.

8. Add 3 level teaspoons (15 grams) of potassium nitrate in three portions to the yellow-orange solution; stir vigorously during additions. Solution will turn red, and then back to a yellow-orange color.

9. Allow the solution to cool to ambient or room temperature while stirring occasionally.

10. Slowly pour the solution, while stirring, into 1-1/4 cup (300 milliliters) of cold water and allow to cool.

11. Filter the solution through a paper towel into a glass container. Light yellow particles will collect on the paper towel.

12. Wash the light yellow particles with 2 tablespoons (25 milliliters) of water. Discard the waste liquid in the container.

13. Place particles in ceramic dish and set in a hot water bath, as in step 5, for 2 hours.

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