Available in some pet stores, hardware stores, and pool supply stores, potassium permanganate (KMnO4) is a purple-black powder that combines manganese oxide ore with potassium hydroxide. It is the chemical compound’s four oxygen atoms – and therefore, its ability to oxygenate is what makes it so useful.
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WARNING: You must use this compound with care. Undiluted potassium permanganate may cause burns. When not diluted enough, the mixture is purple. When diluted properly, the solution is pink.
Here are some of the survival uses for potassium permanganate.
1. Wound Disinfectant
The reason you might find the chemical in pet stores or aquariums is that potassium permanganate is often used to treat bacterial infections in fish. Those same properties make it useful for cleaning and disinfecting human wounds and sores.
Apply potassium permanganate in a ratio of 1 unit of the chemical to 10,000 units of water to a bandage and apply it a wound. Change the dressing several times a day.
Potassium permanganate can help treat athlete’s foot, impetigo, and other fungal infections. It can also help dry out eczema. Diluted potassium permanganate solutions can be used to soothe mouth ulcers (canker sores). Avoid swallowing the solution and be sure to keep it away from your eyes.
You also can use powdered potassium permanganate as a fire starter. All you have to do is carefully mix a small amount (about a half-teaspoon) with a few drops of ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is found in automobile brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, and antifreeze. You also could use glycerin, which is sold in pharmacies.
After you have applied the drops of fluid, stand back from the elements, and wait because it will ignite violently. Then you can use this very hot flame to start a larger fire. Here’s a video that shows how to start a fire with potassium permanganate.
3. Fruit and Vegetable Preservative
Potassium permanganate crystals neutralize the excess ethylene gas that fruits and vegetables give off as they ripen. Therefore, putting a mesh bag filled with potassium permanganate near your produce can help keep them fresh longer.
You can also use the chemical in a solution to wash raw fruits and vegetables. Mix one crystal potassium permanganate in water or just enough to give it a light pink color. Soak fruits and vegetables in this solution for two minutes and then rinse well with clean water to remove bacteria, pests or pesticides.
4. Water Purifier
It’s best to carry a water filter or water purifying tablets with you in event of emergency, but if you need a survival water purifier, potassium permanganate will do the job.
Place just one or two potassium permanganate crystals in one liter of water and wait for 30 minutes or until the water turns bright pink. This video shows the process. For larger quantities of water, the FDA recommends the ratio to be one unit of potassium permanganate per 10,000 units of water.
5. Signal For Help
One of the drawbacks of using potassium permanganate is that it will stain anything it comes in contact with purple – your hands, your clothes, cups or glassware, or your backpack.
However, a positive aspect of this bright color is that it could be used to signal for help. You could spell out an SOS in the snow or stain pieces of cloth with a solution of potassium permanganate to attract attention in an emergency.
(By the way, stains on your skin or nails from using potassium permanganate usually fade within a few days.)
Your grandparents may remember a cup of pink solution sitting by the examining chair in the dentists’ office when they had a check-up. It once was common for dentists to have a solution of potassium permanganate on hand for patients to use as a mouth rinse.
While dentists use other solutions now, you could use diluted potassium permanganate to rinse your mouth and teeth in a survival scenario. Its oxidizing properties make it useful as an antiseptic gargle. Be sure to spit out the solution after rinsing.
History of Potassium Permanganate
German chemist Johann Rudolf Glauber, who is better remembered for discovering “Glauber’s salt” or sodium sulfate, didn’t really know what he had when he found potassium permanganate in 1659. And the volatile black-purple crystals were all but forgotten for two centuries.
In 1857, British industrial chemist Henry Bollman Condy began using potassium permanganate to make commercial disinfectants. “Condy’s Crystals” and later “Condy’s Fluid” were quite successful as cleaning products even though they were little more than an already discovered chemical that was packaged and marketed to the public.
Among other uses we have already discussed in this article, Condy’s products were advertised to:
- Deprive night-chairs of offensive odor
- Purify the atmosphere of rooms for the visits of undertakers and jurymen
- Sweeten musty odors
- Extirpate from fowl-houses and to preserve the health of fowl
- Disinfect the sail while emptying cesspools.
Potassium permanganate is highly corrosive and flammable, so be careful when handling this useful chemical. A little goes a very long way. Ingestion of undiluted potassium permanganate may cause damage to the upper gastrointestinal tract or have other toxic effects on the body.
You can buy potassium permanganate on Amazon in small portable bottles that are good for your bugout bag or in bulk quantities to have on hand.
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