Part of prepping is gathering the tools, materials and resources you think you’ll need to survive a disaster, or long- or indefinite-term SHTF situation.
When there is no telling what sort of problem you’ll need to solve next using your own ingenuity and the items you have close to hand, you’ll need to be adaptable, flexible and most of all creative.
Some preppers cling to the notion of having the one, true tool or other solution for any problem that might befall them.
Others rely on ingenuity, improvisation and clever, lateral thinking to innovate their way out of a crisis. Both approaches are viable, but the latter approach will allow you to do more with less investment, both financially and in terms of storage space.
Of all the supplies that preppers rely on for disaster preparedness, one chronically underutilized sector is that of simple chemicals and chemical compounds.
A variety of chemical compounds can furnish surprising flexibility, usefulness and longevity for preppers who have the skills and expertise to handle them safely, or combine them in creative ways to take care of entirely different problems.
One of the best known and most useful compounds for survival is potassium permanganate. Sometimes regarded as hazardous or unstable, it is actually a simple affair to utilize this compound safely and effectively for a variety of survival purposes.
We will share seven with you in this helpful introductory article.
Potassium Permanganate Production and Properties
Potassium permanganate is a common and widely employed chemical compound.
Inorganic, but possessing significant antiseptic qualities, it is a strong, inorganic oxidizer, typically appearing as tiny crystals similar to coarse sand or salt. Its most notable visual characteristic is its remarkable royal purple color, ranging nearly to black.
Dissolving potassium permanganate in water will produce a solution ranging anywhere from light pink to midnight purple depending upon the concentration.
Though hardly prescribed laboratory procedure, it is possible to produce reasonably accurate determinations of concentration based upon the color of the resulting solution.
Potassium permanganate is perhaps most notable for its potent oxidizing qualities, particularly that it does not produce any reaction byproducts that are toxic.
Combined with its innate antiseptic qualities this has seen its widespread use and integration in various medicinal and industrial settings. In fact, it is in use worldwide as an essential medicine.
Worldwide production of potassium permanganate averages about 30,000 tons per year, derived from natural sources or man-made ones.
It is typically extracted from manganese dioxide, but maybe oxidized from chlorine through exacting and laborious processes, although this is typically only done incidentally owing to poor yield and dramatically increased cost and complexity.
For our purposes, you should know the potassium permanganate is generally safe to use at the individual and household level, at least compared to other common oxidizers in this category.
Nonetheless, foolhardy or careless handling can produce injury and a significant fire hazard when combined with other compounds or products. Before we delve into our list, we will go over Safe handling and storage procedures so you can be properly equipped to use it.
Proper Handling Procedures and Cautions
Potassium permanganate is a potent oxidizer, and incidental contact will turn your skin a dark brown color. Prolonged contact will create significant burns or even corrode your flesh entirely.
Although not typically encountered in a form fine enough to go airborne, inhaling dust or combustion byproducts can seriously harm your lungs. More details below.
Symptoms and Effects of Exposure
Potassium permanganate can hurt you through contact with skin or eyes, inhalation or ingestion.
Typical symptoms resulting from skin contact include an irritating or tingling sensation, the aforementioned brown staining, and after prolonged, constant contact burns or total corrosion of tissue in the affected area.
If this stuff gets in your eyes you’ll be facing significant inflammation and, once again, corrosion of eye tissues. Prolonged contact is likely to result in permanent eye damage.
Inhalation causes a host of respiratory tract issues, with small or weak concentrations resulting in a sore throat or irritation of the respiratory tract.
Higher concentrations that are inhaled can significantly irritate mucous membranes, create breathing difficulties and result in long-term lung related health risks such as edema. Ingestion is less of a concern, with ingestion of significant concentrations causing nausea diarrhea and significant irritation of the stomach and intestines.
Even larger quantities can result in perforation of the esophagus, erratic heartbeat, shock, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and spasming of the larynx.
This all sounds pretty frightening, but don’t worry: safe handling rarely requires anything more than decent chemical gloves and proper eye protection.
First-Aid for Potassium Permanganate Exposure
It is simple enough to perform first-aid for exposure to potassium permanganate in most instances. Now, as always, if significant exposure has occurred or major symptoms are evident you must contact emergency medical care immediately.
If potassium permanganate has been inhaled, move the affected person to fresh air and keep them there. If it has made contact with eyes or skin remove all contaminated clothing as quickly as possible if it will come off easily. If it does not, do not force removal as it might already be melded to skin.
Regardless, flush the affected area with cool water continuously for at least 15 minutes. In case of ingestion, give the affected person plenty of fresh, cool water to drink.
***Under no circumstances should vomiting be induced or any neutralizing agents utilized externally or internally. Only use water to neutralize and treat exposure to potassium permanganate! Any other substance may result in a dangerous reaction! ***
Personal Protective Equipment Required
All you’ll need to safely handle potassium permanganate are likely pieces of gear you already have. Chemically resistant gloves and a face shield are ideal, but chemical resistant goggles may be substituted if it is handled cautiously.
Chances are the potassium permanganate you’ll be working with as part of your survival stash will be the course, crystalline form that is commonly encountered. This represents a minimal dust or inhalation hazard unless it is crushed or otherwise agitated into the air.
Breathing protection is not typically required, but just in case you were ever working in a setting or potassium permanganate represents an atmospheric hazard in any form a gas-tight suit and breathing apparatus will be required.
If you need more information check out the safety data sheet for potassium permanganate.
Potassium Permanganate Storage Requirements
Okay, so we know potassium permanganate is a strong oxidizer, and is capable of hurting us or reacting badly with other materials if mishandled. How do we store this stuff? It must be pretty challenging huh?
Actually, no, it isn’t very challenging and does not present much undue risk. Because this stuff is an oxidizer it should be stored in a container that will resist those qualities, particularly one made of glass, porcelain, steel or aluminum.
This container should have a tightly ceiling lid fitted to it. All that is them required is to keep it out of and away from direct sunlight, moisture and any heat sources.
Also, never store potassium permanganate near or with any alcohol, peroxides, cellulose or materials high in cellulose, metallic powders or organic materials.
So long as you take just a little bit of care in storage you want to have a single thing to worry about keeping potassium permanganate handy and you can be assured that it will maintain its chemical characteristics for a very long time.
Disclaimer: These uses are not medical advice, take a live first aid class that will teach you how to do this, and talk to your doctor!
7 Uses for Potassium Permanganate
#1. For Starting Fires
If you read the companion article to this one about glycerin, you will already know that potassium permanganate is an excellent fire starter when combined with that compound.
All you need to do is mix roughly equal parts potassium permanganate and glycerin and in a few moments the result will be an eruption of wicked looking purple flames capable of igniting even the most recalcitrant of kindling.
There’s nothing to it. Simply prepare the site of your fire, your tinder and your kindling as usual. Carefully place the prescribed portion of one of the chemicals beneath or on your kindling and then, using a completely fresh, separate tool measure out the same portion of the other and add them together. Move back quickly and be ready for flames, because they will appear in just a second!
That is really all there is to it, though clever preppers will no doubt like to know that you may use antifreeze in a pinch as an alternative to pure glycerin, but you have to be on your toes if employing this method since the reaction is somewhat more, you might say, energetic.
Be ready for sparks, popping and spitting if you use antifreeze with potassium permanganate.
Just to be perfectly clear, never, ever use a tool that was used to scoop out one part of the chemicals to scoop out its opposite number, since you will create a powerful and uncontrollable chain reaction that is likely going to result in a nasty accidental fire.
#2. As a Fruit and Vegetable Wash
The comparatively easy handling of potassium permanganate in conjunction with its disinfectant qualities makes it an effective wash for fruits and veggies.
The compound has also shown surprising effectiveness at vanquishing cholera, an altogether too common germ that is responsible for a large portion of food borne illnesses, especially in undeveloped parts of the world.
To employ potassium permanganate in this way, you will simply dissolve the crystals in water, paying attention to add only one, tiny crystal at a time before stirring. This should be done until the given quantity of water changes from clear to a medium purple tone.
Then all you need to do is dip a cloth in the solution, and wash the fruit or vegetables down. Alternatively, you may dunk the produce before rinsing it off with fresh water and then drying them.
This is more than enough to insure any lurking germs are vanquished and will be safe eating.
#3. Against Fungal Infestations
Another of potassium permanganate’s best uses at the individual level is as a fungicide, since the compound will attack and eliminate a great variety of fungal species.
If you have a fungal infestation on your feet or beneath your toenails or fingernails you can mix up another solution of potassium permanganate with water just like we did for the fruit and vegetable wash, only this time you will soak the affected area for up to 10 minutes at a time.
This method is effective against the vast majority of fungal infections, just take care to discontinue use immediately, and assess the situation should discomfort or irritation arise. And talk to your doctor first, to confirm you’re doing it right.
Also do take note that any potassium permanganate solution is likely to stain cloth and skin, so make sure you are set up to administer this treatment in an area where a major mess will not result and clean up will be expedited.
#4. As a General Wound Disinfectant Wash
Potassium permanganate is so effective as a general disinfectant, and so easy to mix up, it is no wonder that it has become something of a go-to medicine in austere areas.
These qualities shine even brighter when you consider the potassium permanganate does not react to produce any toxic byproduct with other commonly encountered chemicals or medicines.
Again, owing to its efficiency at eradicating a host of germs, cholera among them as mentioned, you can use it to rinse out scrapes, small lacerations and other injuries to prevent infection.
Once more, you will simply mix potassium permanganate crystals into a given quantity of water a single crystal at a time, stirring to dissolve them completely, until the solution you have is a nice, medium purple color.
You can then transfer the solution into an irrigator bottle or other applicator to rinse the wound and surrounding area. Note that this is likely to sting, and will again significantly stain clothing and skin so be prepared.
#5. For Alleviating of Persistent Skin Conditions
The antimicrobial properties of potassium permanganate can easily be put to use dispatching germs topically, but what about more persistent bacterial and viral aggravations?
It can work on these also, and if you are suffering from difficult to defeat conditions like impetigo, pemphigus or dermatitis regular treatment with solution may be called for. It can even be used to treat a variety of ulcers.
Note: Though you will mix up potassium permanganate solution using the same procedure that you did for other uses, you don’t want it quite so concentrated for this application.
This time you are shooting for a medium pink color, once again achieved by adding potassium permanganate crystals one at a time and stirring to dissolve entirely before adding more. Stop once the appropriate color is achieved.
The solution can be rinsed over the affected area or applied using a compress soaked in the solution. Application time is anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, and be sure to stop if significant irritation or burning results. Rinse with clean, cool water when you are done.
#6. Making Marking Dye
We have mentioned several times throughout this article both the impressive, vivid purple color of potassium permanganate as well as its propensity to stain pretty much everything it comes in contact with.
This is more of an annoyance than a feature in typical use, but there is a use for this stark coloration in a survival setting.
By mixing up a solution that is a light or medium purple, you can use it to stain a light colored background, particularly snow, drastically increasing contrast with the surrounding environment, and greatly raising the chances that you will be spotted by rescuers, particularly from the air.
Used in conjunction with a highly noticeable symbol or a traditional SOS marking, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting out of a bad situation.
Potassium permanganate is especially suited for this purpose because a comparatively small quantity of the chemical carried in a survival kit can make quite a large batch of “dye” solution for the purpose.
#7. For Purifying Water
Believe it or not, potassium permanganate can even be used to purify water, showing particular effectiveness at safely eradicating bacterial threats, and also proving effective, and safe, at eliminating contaminating viruses, though considerably more care and use must be employed to assure safety for the latter.
Before using potassium permanganate for this purpose, it is imperative that significant caution be employed in the process, as too high a concentration in the drinking water can create a significant health hazard.
Generally, one may safely employ potassium permanganate for this purpose by adding crystals one at a time to the water source to be treated and stirring to dissolve them completely before adding another.
When the water barely turns pink, it is of an adequate level to kill the vast majority of bacteria. Add no more, wait 30 minutes agitating periodically and then the water will be safe to drink.
If viral contamination is a significant threat, more potassium permanganate may be added but only a single crystal beyond the prescribed standard above, and no more!
Again, it is far too easy to add too much potassium permanganate to water in a worthy but misguided quest to nuke viruses, only to wind up making yourself sick from drinking it due to excess potassium permanganate.
If you have the tools needed, you are well advised to carefully measure both the amount of water you are treating and precisely measure how much potassium permanganate is being added in order to assure both efficacy and safety. See this link for more.
Potassium permanganate is an oxidizing compound with promising capability for disinfecting skin, wounds and water.
A solution of potassium permanganate can be created with water to serve as an excellent fruit and vegetable disinfectant wash, a fungicidal dip or bath for stubborn infestations ,and even a vivid marking dye to help you get rescued from a remote and snowy area.
Potassium permanganate combined with glycerin will produce a roaring flame in a very short period of time, lending it towards emergency fire starting.
This is a versatile chemical that deserves a place in your supply room if you’re a more advanced prepper, so long as you use a little caution in employment and storage!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.