You just realized that the gunpowder you have kept for years in your reloading area is no longer safe for use. Perhaps it was even discontinued. Either way, you are looking for a way to dispose of whatever you have.
And yes, you very well know that gunpowder can be death in disguise when mishandled. But unfortunately, you don’t have much information on how you can safely get rid of it. You have an idea, though – you want to flush it down your toilet. But is it a safe thing to do?
Now, if that’s what you are asking yourself, we’ve lined up here everything you need to know about disposing of gunpowder – whether smokeless or black gunpowder. Let’s set the ball rolling!
What is Gunpowder?
And as usual, before we answer the pending question on whether or not you can flush gunpowder down the toilet, let’s tackle first things first.
So what’s gunpowder, anyway?
Gunpowder is a powdery concoction featuring saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. Saltpeter is the other name for potassium nitrate.
The discovery of gunpowder has a pretty interesting story behind it;
It all began when a group of Chinese alchemists ganged up to search for an elixir for eternal life. The group combined saltpeter, sulfur, charcoal, and honey. To their surprise, it turned out that this combination doesn’t equal a recipe for immortality but rather the world’s first chemical explosive – GUNPOWDER!
However, down the road, the Chinese discovered that honey wasn’t an essential ingredient for the production of gunpowder – and that’s how the number of elements used for the production process dropped to three – saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal.
Now, none of these three components are combustible on their own. But combined in the appropriate proportions, saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal will burn rapidly and may even explode depending on a few other factors.
Ideally, gunpowder consists of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. Potassium nitrate acts as a supplier of oxygen needed for combustion. Charcoal serves as the primary fuel. The last ingredient – sulfur – comes in as a catalyst. But it also serves as secondary fuel, with its low melting point (115oC) lowering the overall temperature at which ignition happens.
What we’ve covered so far explains the rapid burning of this gunpowder. But how about the explosion sound? Where does it originate?
Well, just to clear things over, an explosion doesn’t occur every time. It’s only bound to happen under certain conditions are met – and we will be looking at that later on!
Basics aside and back to the situation at hand – is it okay to flush your gunpowder down the toilet?
Well, let’s find out in the section below.
Is It Safe To Flush Gunpowder Down The Toilet?
Maybe it’s safe to flush that gunpowder down the toilet. But if you meet the conditions for using this disposal method, be careful with how you go about the process. Only flush it bit by bit and not the whole amount at once.
Flushing things down the toilet is a common practice for homeowners. When we have that one thing we don’t think needs to go in the trash bin, flushing it down the toilet is one of the things that come first into our minds.
And yes, for some items, this method works just fine. For others, however, it doesn’t. But speaking of gunpowder, flushing it down the toilet is only recommendable in certain conditions.
Now, whether or not to dispose of your gunpowder through the toilet depends on the amount of this substance.
If small – less than a pound worth of weight of gunpowder, for instance – it’s okay to flush it down like you would any other thing. But as we’ve said, there’s no way you will work with the whole amount all at once. That’s where the issue of bits comes in. So yes, only tiny amounts of this product should go down your toilet at a time.
Again, the flushing needs to be adequate to dilute the potassium nitrate element in the product. Otherwise, you risk having the ingredients react with pipes and other components in the bathroom plumbing system.
If the amount we are talking about is large (weighs more than a pound), we strongly recommend that you opt for other disposal ways. In large quantities, the components in gunpowder are likely to reach the pipes and water supplies. Where they get to the local water bodies, these ingredients may cause an environmental catastrophe.
Will Gunpowder Clog a Toilet?
One thing that keeps people from flushing gunpowder down a toilet is the fear that it could cause clogs. Perhaps that’s why you also needed to know whether it’s okay to have this explosive product go down your toilet.
Now, gunpowder is unlikely to make your toilet clog. The blockage can still occur, but the chances of that happening are minimal. You see, gunpowder comes in fine-ground particles that will hardly clump up when they get down there.
But to play it safe, you should refrain from flushing big amounts of gunpowder. It’s the surefire way to avoid clogs emanating from this substance and will save you from lots of other troubles discussed earlier.
What Causes Gunpowder To Explode?
We already said that the three ingredients that go into gunpowder – potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur – are responsible for the rapid burning of this substance. But how about the explosiveness of this substance?
Now, before we proceed, let me remind you of something we said earlier on – gunpowder won’t explode all the time. It can as well burn quietly. In other words, an explosion only happens with the fulfillment of some conditions.
Precisely, if gunpowder has to explode, the ingredients have to burn in a confined space. Now, during combustion, the solid matter – which doesn’t require a lot of space – turns into gases – which do.
The resulting gases need about 1000 times the original space of the mother ingredients. When they can’t find it, the pressure created from within forces the place of confinement (as in firecracker or riffle barrel) to burst for the gases to find more room. All that happens in a thousandth of a second.
Can Gunpowder Be Used as Fertilizer?
You might have heard about using gunpowder as fertilizer. And yes, it works great for this job. But if you have to deploy it for this purpose, there are precautions to follow. With improper use, gunpowder can easily cause fire accidents.
To begin with, converting gunpowder to fertilizer is a brilliant idea. Once you sprinkle gunpowder in your vegetable garden or lawn, the nitrogen part in potassium nitrate will help the plants grow healthy.
But again, ensure that you only use it in small proportions. Too much of this chemical in your soil would make some sneak into the air. When that happens, it may cause health hazards to the one exposed.
Also, ensure that you immediately water the applied area. That way, you’ll have reduced the chances of it causing accidents and fire hazards.
How To Dispose of Smokeless Gunpowder?
While they all are gunpowders, how you dispose of one type of gunpowder is sometimes quite different from how you need to get rid of the other. Sure, we have several disposal techniques that cut across the two types of gunpowders. But still, we have several that don’t.
If you have smokeless gunpowder, here are several ways you can use to dispose of it;
1. Light It Up
One of the ways you can dispose of smokeless gunpowder is to burn it. The best place to carry out this is in the backyard. But before you light it up, ensure that you follow all the safety precautions to avoid accidents.
For this method, there are two ways you can carry it out;
Run a Line of Powder: This involves pouring the powder in the backyard and then making a thin trail to it. The essence of creating a thin line of powder is to keep you from the mass.
Create a Ditch: This method involves creating a ditch that’s deep enough to accommodate the flames. It should be far from trees as they may catch fire.
Now, whether you are opting to make a trail or create a ditch, always ensure that you only work with a small amount of powder at a time. For instance, you can consider burning one pound of powder each time. That will make the flames more manageable should anything unexpected happen.
2. Use as a Fertilizer
We’ve said that gunpowders make good fertilizer. If you don’t want to light it, you can as well use it for your garden or lawn. Spread well and watered, smokeless fertilizer will enrich the soil with nitrogen, one of the healthiest foods for plants.
Safe Ways To Dispose of Black Gunpowder
Black gunpowder is even more dangerous than the smokeless type. It’s also highly volatile, so there’s no way you can have it go to your trash bin. However, we have several ways you can use to get rid of it;
Like the smokeless gunpowder, you can burn black gunpowder. Follow the same procedure and precautions provided earlier. Only be more careful since this type of gunpowder is even more flammable and can burst into flames faster than you can move your hand.
Use It As Fertilizer
The black gunpowder makes even a better fertilizer than the smokeless kind. So yes, like its counterpart, you can sprinkle it on your flower garden or lawn. But again, as we’ve already said, ensure that you only apply it in small amounts and immediately soak the place with water.
Visit a Gun Dealer
If your gunpowder is still viable, visit your nearby gun dealer and let them know that you are disposing of the black gunpowder. The gun dealer may buy it if they need it. If not, they will help you get a buyer from their client.
Mix With Damp Dirt
If none of the above disposal methods seem suitable for you, you can think of mixing the powder with damp dirt. This way, the gunpowder will lose its reactivity, making it less dangerous.
Gunpowder can be dangerous when not disposed of appropriately. The main threat here is potassium nitrate. But again, it’s the same ingredient that makes gunpowder effective for use as a fertilizer.
If you don’t intend to use it on the farm, you can still think of other disposal techniques. For instance, you can think of burning it, selling it through a local gun dealer, and more.