The chemistry of fireworks

The colours in fireworks are produced by pyrotechnic stars which produce coloured light when ignited.
These stars contain five basic elements.

  • Metal Salts – To Produce Colour
  • Fuel – To allow the star to burn
  • Oxidising Chemical – To provide oxygen for the combustion of the fuel
  • Chlorine Donating Compound – To help strengthen the colours
  • Binding Chemical – To help hold the mixture together
NAME SYMBOLFIREWORKS USAGE
Aluminium AlAluminium is used to produce silver and white flames and sparks. It is a common component of sparklers.
Barium BaBarium is used to create green colours in fireworks, and it can also help stabilize other volatile elements.
Carbon CCarbon is one of the main components of black powder, which is used as a propellent in fireworks. Carbon provides the fuel for a firework. Common forms include carbon black, sugar, or starch.
Calcium CaCalcium is used to deepen firework colours. Calcium salts produce orange fireworks.
Chlorine ClChlorine is an important component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colours contain chlorine.
Copper CuCopper compounds produce blue colours in fireworks.
Iron FeIron is used to produce sparks. The heat of the metal determines the colour of the sparks.
Potassium KPotassium helps to oxidize firework mixtures. Potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, and potassium perchlorate are all important oxidizers.
Lithium LiLithium is a metal that is used to impart a red colour to fireworks. Lithium carbonate, in particular, is a common colourant.
Magnesium MgMagnesium burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework.
Sodium NaSodium imparts a gold or yellow colour to fireworks, however, the colour is often so bright that it frequently masks other, less intense colours.
Oxygen OFireworks include oxidizers, which are substances that produce oxygen in order for burning to occur. The oxidizers are usually nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Sometimes the same substance is used to provide oxygen and colour.
Phosphorus PPhosphorus burns spontaneously in air and is also responsible for some glow in the dark effects. It may be a component of a firework’s fuel.
Sulphur SSulphur is a component of black powder, and as such, it is found in a firework’s propellant/fuel.
Antimony SbAntimony is used to create firework glitter effects.
Strontium SrStrontium salts impart a red colour to fireworks. Strontium compounds are also important for stabilizing fireworks mixtures.
Titanium TiTitanium metal can be burned as powder or flakes to produce silver sparks.
Zinc ZnZinc is a bluish white metal that is used to create smoke effects for fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices.