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Spontaneous Combustion

I am wanting to do a science experiment on spontaneous combustion of an inanimate source. Please share any information that you may have on this subject. Thanks!




Thank goodness it is to be an inanimate source. I don't think we want to discuss spontaneous human combustion here :-)

Chemical reactions, including such simple things as the reactions in a compost pile or garbage pile, or a solvent soaked rag exposed to the air, generate heat. If the heat generated by the chemical reaction reaches the ignition point of the material, you have spontaneous combustion. Oxidizing agents reacting with organic materials can also cause spontaneous combustion as some metal finishers who have sopped up nitric acid with newspaper have discovered.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey


Hi Sherry,

Yup, what Ted says is right.

For more info, go to the archives and type in # 11868

Mind you you can get some lovely bangs by just touching certain things with the end of a feather.

Try Iodine crystals and ammonia. Pass it through some filter paper. Let it dry. But don't EVER LOOK AT IT when you caress it gently. B A N G. I did this when I was your age and hurt my eyes.

freeman newton portrait
Freeman Newton [deceased]
(It is our sad duty to advise that Freeman passed away
April 21, 2012. R.I.P. old friend).


Dear Sherry:
Please take my advice and do not mess around with iodine and ammonia [on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] until you are an adult (if you must). This is an extremely dangerous material and extremely unstable. A piece the size of a pin head is dangerous and one the size of a pea would do you very serious harm. As a PhD graduate student handling some other very unstable and cancer causing material I stepped on some ammonium tri-iodide and the dangerous material I was handling blew up. The nitrogen tri-iodide was put on the floor by a "friend" of mine as a joke. Believe it was no joke. Please take my advice. And to others reading this-- some chemicals are just too dangerous to make and play with. Nitroglycerine is another good example.

Dr. Thomas H. Cook
Hot Springs, So. Dakota

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