Practical Survival Chemistry – Part 2, by 3AD Scout

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is one of the examples of where biology and chemistry cross over. Apple cider vinegar is mostly Acetic acid and is easy to make. The process starts with fermenting apples (biology) and ends with acetic acid (chemistry). Like baking soda there are many uses for vinegar, both in cooking and other applications. I now stock several gallons of white vinegar for cleaning rust off of items, especially if they are going to be used around food. For the price, this is the best method for getting rid of rust. If you want to know how powerful of an acid white vinegar is, just put a little steel wool into a jar and cover it with vinegar and watch it disappear over the next few days. Considering how versatile and easy to make vinegar is we should all know how to make it since at some point our stored vinegar will run out. Vinegar is also one of the few easy to come by acids.

Water Glass

Also known as Sodium Silicate. Water glass is basically a mixture of sand (quartz) and caustic soda and water. Probably the best survival use of water glass is in the long-term preservation of eggs without refrigeration by covering the eggs in a solution of one-part water glass to seven parts of warm water that has first been boiled to ensure there is no bacteria in the water. The water glass will stop air from penetrating the egg shell thus not allowing it to rot. Water glass is also a useful solution to help reduce water penetration into and through cement and stucco. Water glass can simply be made by dissolving 8 grams of sodium hydroxide by heating it in about 10 milliliters of water and then adding about 6 grams of crushed silica. Using distilled water helps keep the mixture from reacting to any impurities that could be found in well water.

Sulfuric Acid

Sulfuric acid is readily available as drain cleaner .  (Note that not all drain cleaners are sulfuric acid based). Sulfuric acid will come in handy post-TEOTWAWKI by helping to maintain and rejuvenate lead-acid batteries. Another survival use of sulfuric acid is to rejuvenating metal files. Putting your dual files into sulfuric acid will in effect re-sharpen them by eating away softer metal filings. One simple way to produce a solution of sulfuric acid is by burning sulfur mixed with saltpeter (dry powder) and allowing the burning fumes to mix with water vapor/steam. This is where lab glass and stands will come in handy so that the fumes and water vapor can be caught and funneled to mix together. When the steam/vapor mixture is cooled you will have a sulfuric acid. Use Ph paper to test the strength of the mixture.


There are different ways to make thermite and the differences in mixture are more about what you are welding or cutting. Again, thermite has been around for ages and is easy to make and use. Just be extremely safe with making and using it. Anything that can weld a railroad track together isn’t going to be forgiving when you make a mistake or throw caution to the wind. Thermite was discovered in the late 1890s so once again it is not a very difficult compound to make. Iron rust powder and powdered aluminum are the most basic ingredients. A strip of magnesium is a good way to help light the compound.


Sodium borate is another multi-use compound that has several survival uses including its use in laundry cleaning and in blacksmithing as a flux. Borax can also be used an antifungal and in several different ways to protect wool against moths.


Limestone is a basic form of lime that is made up of calcium carbonate. There are two processes that you can easily perform to make lime more useful post-TEOTWAWKI. The first involves super heating the lime up to about 1,650 degree to 1,830 Fahrenheit. That is hot but considering that the melting point of brass is 1,700 degrees and was melted hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth it is not impossible for us to reach those temperatures today even post-TEOTWAWKI. A kiln will need to be built to cook the lime in to make it “Quicklime” or calcium oxide. Quicklime is one of the main ingredients in mortar and can be used in making iron and steel.

Mixing quicklime with water makes it slacked lime or hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide). Personally, I find hydrated lime more useful than quicklime. Mixing 7 cups of hydrated lime with 2 cups salt and a gallon of water creates a slurry known better as “white wash”. White wash is commonly used in barns even today. My barn wood was being attacked by some wood boring pest. Knowing that I was going to have animals that we are going to eat living in the barn I did not want to use a chemical treatment that might get into our food chain. Besides white wash looking very nice and white, it forms a “crust” that then keeps bugs from attacking and any bugs already inside the wood die from lack of oxygen. The first time I used it I applied with a brush but next time I will be using a tank sprayer. Don’t be fooled when you first apply the white wash. Once it dries it will look much better and do its job. Hydrated lime is also very useful to use in outhouses to cover up the smell and help decompose the organic matter. You can apply it to your soil to adjust the pH level as well. Lime can be used in other ways as well just do your research.

Potassium Permanganate

This stuff will stain things including your skin. This is one of the first survival chemicals beside chlorine that I used. A small vial is worth its weight in a BOB. It can be used to treat fungal infections, clean minor wounds, purify water and even start a camp fire. A purple solution created by mixing about 1 gram of Potassium Permanganate with a quart of drinking water will treat foot funguses by soaking your foot/feet in the solution for about 20 minutes. Treat your drinking water by adding a tenth of a gram or roughly 3-4 crystals in a quart of water. Water you intend to drink that is treated with Potassium permanganate should be a light pink color never drink water that is purple or a darker pink. There are 2 ways to use it to start a fire. The first is by mixing equal parts of sugar and potassium permanganate together. Using a stick push down while twisting and the friction will ignite the substance. Have your tinder nest ready. The other way is by mixing about 10 grams of potassium permanganate crystals on your tinder nest and pour an equal amount of anti-freeze (glycerin). This will take some time for the reaction to start the fire.

Making Lye from Hardwood Ashes

If you have been a post-apocalyptic prepper then you probably know about making lye from hardwood ashes for soap making. Just using the lye for soap making is only scratching the surface of the many uses for lye. Lye created by mixing water (preferably rain or mineral free water) with hard wood ashes is also know as potash or potassium hydroxide. Lye can also be used in the making of bio-diesel which is something that preppers may want to consider for a true end of the world as we know it scenario. Your home-made lye can also be used to remove the hair from animal hides before tanning. Potassium Hydroxide can also be used to lower pH or neutralize acids. But remember a strong base and a strong acid will react very violently. If you mix with silica sand it will make water glass.

References and Guides

Two of my most prized prepper resources are a copy of “Dr. Chase’s Last and Complete Work” copyrighted in 1910 and “Dick’s Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes” copyrighted in 1878. These two books are a wealth of knowledge in how to make things with simple chemistry. Like everything we do as preppers, survivalist, or homesteaders, practicing our skills now is what will ultimately save us time, resources and perhaps lives when we find ourselves waking up to a world without modern technology. So other resources include:

Make sure you print out a pH scale for future reference.

The Pocket Reference book by Tomas Clover should be in everyone’s survival library.

A copy of the Periodic Chart may also come in handy.

The NIOSH Guide Book is free and is great to see if you need and what type of respiratory protection for certain chemicals.

The book The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm is a great book to get more information on historic uses of chemicals and chemical processes.

Also check out Project Gutenberg for free sources of chemistry books that were written when for a very less technologically advanced population. Look under “Chemistry”

Sources of Products

Some good sources of equipment and supplies for your survival lab are American Science & Surplus. Another place is United Nuclear.

Summary and Safety Warning

Chemistry is a very comprehensive subject that cannot be thoroughly discussed in a short article and the intent of this article was not to make anyone an expert on chemistry. The intent was to raise awareness of chemistry as a means to make life after TEOTWAWKI easier to survive by understanding that not all chemistry is complex nor out of our realm of capabilities. As preparedness-minded individuals we tend to focus on food, medicine and security but we should add chemistry to our abilities since chemistry can help us grow and preserve food, provide us with ways to maintain a healthy environment and help cure minor illnesses and can help us in many other facets of post-TEOTWAWKI life.

The best way to start is by reading and then doing. Good luck and stay safe!


  1. Luis Dartnell is an excellent author and I have completed most items in his book. Such as making soap, candles, a blast furnace, slag, coke, cement, charcoal, and gunpowder. There’s so much more from that book other than chemistry compounds to construct. Really is on my top ten list.

  2. Thank you, thank you, 3ADScout! This is very valuable information for those of us who may not be very science-oriented. You’ve taken some of the fear away and suggested some great resources.

  3. Agree, thanks for sharing! 10th grade chem class was a looooong time ago. This is great info. I especislly like the descriptions on how to manufacture some of the materials.

  4. “Burning” sulfur mixed with saltpeter (potassium nitrate) will generate a mixture of sulfuric acid with nitric acid, the proportions of which will depend on the proportion of sulfur to saltpeter. This could prove to be catastrophic in some situations. Reactions of mixed acid with organic material include spontaneous combustion and/or violent explosion.

    You would be far better off collecting old car batteries and boiling the electrolyte until white fumes begin to appear. In all cases, it would be prudent to wear a full face respirator with ‘acid gas’ cartridges (which are often yellow but not always) as well as PVC gloves and apron. If you are looking to rejuvenate batteries, it would also be a good idea to get a hydrometer and learn about the specific gravity of lead acid cell electrolytes. pH paper will not tell you the strength of the acid. Pure H2SO4 has a specific gravity of 1.84.

    Also, please note that anti-freeze is usually ethylene or propylene glycol, not glycerine.

    I do appreciate the author’s attempt to educate the readership about the usefulness of understanding basic chemistry. I do encourage everyone to pursue further research on the topics that may prove to be extremely useful in the future.

    1. Doc thanks for the diplomatic response and additional information. You are correct that most anti-freeze available on today’s retail market is not glycerin based. I totally agree that collecting Batteries would be easier but again the article was to bring awareness of chemistry as a prepper skill.

      I am a little confused on the Sulfur and potassium nitrate. Would the variable be the heat applied in the burning of the mixture? I would think that would be an extremely high temp? Any information on this would be much appreciated.

  5. Advise on Lye:

    When working with potassium or sodium hydroxide (lye, caustic, etc.) I find it helpful to have vinegar close at hand to neutralize any spills. The apple cider vinegar 3AD mentioned is acidic and will neutralize bases like the lye.

    Second, if you spill some on yourself it will not necessarily burn right away, but it WILL burn later. Wash it off or neutralize immediately, base burns are sneaky. Ask a cement mason.

    Lastly, lye reactions are exothermic, which is fancy chemistry speak for HOT.

    If you don’t have access to citric acid, you will need vinegar for canning.

    Thanks 3AD, I didn’t know several of these. Where can one source sulfur?

  6. Small quantities of sulfur can be found in some drug stores (except most of the national chains). Larger quantities (5 lb. bags) can be found at nurseries / garden centers.

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