Potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter (saltpetre), niter (nitre) or nitrate of potash, forms naturally as deposits in caves where damp conditions combine with alkali, decaying organic material, oxygen and little sunlight and in cellars, dung heaps and other man-made areas where similar conditions exist. Chemical companies also mass produce potassium nitrate under controlled conditions as the oxidizing nature and chemical properties of potassium nitrate make it useful in a wide variety of industries and applications including gardening as a stump remover and fertilizer, fireworks and pyrotechnics, gunpowder production and metal treatment.
Determine the form of potassium nitrate needed for your application or project. Potassium nitrate, although forming within caves as white mineral fibers, crusts and crystals, can have impurities in its natural state (marked by colors in the crystal such as red, brown, yellow or gray). In mass production settings, companies can crystallize, break down and refine potassium nitrate for sale as powder, crystals and crystal granules with or without impurities or in a solution.
Go to a home improvement or garden store such as Lowes to buy potassium nitrate for stump removal, fertilizer or non-pure potassium nitrate applications or projects. Keep in mind that although a stump removal product, such as Spectracide, has 100 percent potassium nitrate as the only ingredient in a 1 pound container, the potassium nitrate granules will likely have impurities in this form. Potassium nitrate containing fertilizers come in bags sold by the pound or as amounts covering a specific square footage.
Buy "technical grade," high quality potassium nitrate from a professional fireworks and pyrotechnics chemical supplier such as Skylighter, Inc.. Most fireworks and pyrotechnics chemical suppliers sell potassium nitrate at heavily discounted prices by the pound as granular crystals similar in consistency to white table sugar.
Purchase potassium nitrate in crystal, powder or solution form through science education focused chemical suppliers and distributors. Keep in mind that other than chemical and drug vendors, you can buy the purest forms of potassium nitrate from science education focused chemical suppliers. These suppliers not only sell chemicals used in a wide variety of experiments or applications, but also any laboratory equipment and supplies you may need for a project that uses potassium nitrate.
Increase decomposition of organic material by exposing potassium nitrate to moisture or heat. If you're uncertain about how to handle, mix or use potassium nitrate for fireworks and pyrotechnical applications, many professional fireworks and pyrotechnics chemical vendors provide tips or sell publications about the chemical in relation to this field. Science education focused chemical suppliers also provide in-depth Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) outlining the correct handling and storage procedures for this and other chemicals.
Never handle potassium nitrate without gloves and store only in areas away from heat, moisture or any agents that can promote its oxidizing properties.