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Red Phosphorus

-From Matchbook Strkers-

Red phosphorus is undeniably one of the most sought after chemicals. It has uses in pure pyro world (Armstrongs mix), organic chemistry (chloroacetic acid), pharmaceuticals (methamphetamines), nerve agents (Sarin), and many other uses - such as converting it to white phosphorus. The biggest problem with it, is it's ridiculously hard to obtain. The only chemical suppliers that will sell it to you are those that you must sign your identity away to, and it's also quite hard to make without lots of energy and heat. For those who don't know, Red phosphorus is one of the three main allotropes of phosphorus (including white, red, and black)

For obtaining red phosphorus, this is probably the worst and best method at the same time




Obviously its your call if you think the pros outweigh the cons. I had to do this, otherwise the pictures wouldn't be here, and I was left with some nice red phosphorus afterwards. Buying 5 boxes of matchbooks at one time might also be a tad suspicious, but if you come up with a BS excuse, it'll work grand. Last time I was questioned, I claimed "My friend smokes a lot, but never seems to carry a lighter with him, and it pisses us off. I'm buying these so he gets the hint and as a joke at the same time". Worked flawlessly.

Note: This process will not work with honeycomb style matchbook strikers. Only the solid strips will work, and brown is the preferred color of the strip.

Note 2: This is a vague, yet detailed procedure. I did not give very many specifics, because the amounts don't matter, and I want you to use as much or as little as you like. However, I give much detail on the process in general, or what to expect. If you don't want to read the whole thing, just read the summary directly below


The striker strips are separated from as many matchbooks as necessary. This is done with as little cardboard attached to the strips as possible. They are then submerged in acetone to dissolve the glue. Strong agitation is brought upon this suspension, such as a drill and paddle shaped drill bit, to loosen the phosphorus. The cardboard remnants are filtered from the red suspension with a thick mesh screen. The phosphorus is purified first with acetone, then boiling hydrochloric acid, then distilled water. Finally it is filtered out and dried.

Obtaining Matchbook Strikers:

To start, unwrap your box of matches. Usually a box comes with 50 books. Spread them out in any fashion you'd like, then begin removing the matches from the cardboard books. Usually you just pull the matches one direction, then the opposite to rip the staple out completely. No need to dick around with pliers to remove the staple. Once you've separated all the matches, you should begin removing the strips from the cardboard books that remain. Stack 5 or so together, all uniformly, and first remove the bottom (smaller) section, then cut the strips onto a paper plate. Don't cut too close, or you'll cut into the strip, it's okay to leave cardboard around it. Then simply discard all the waste cardboard. Save the matches for whatever you want though. To avoid getting bored, maybe time yourself, then try to beat your score.

Extraction of Red Phosphorus

Once you've obtained what you feel is a decent amount, you may begin extracting. I decided to use 1000 strikers, which is 20 boxes of matchbooks (roughly 5g theoretical). Add them to an appropriately sized vessel, and cover them sufficiently with acetone. You can see below, I used a plastic bucket. Then, use assisted stirring (as in a handheld mixer, or drill) and thoroughly agitate the mixture for 15 minutes, with 5 minutes breaks every 5 minutes. I used an 18" long shank wood boring bit. This worked quite phenomenally, but also made a mess. You have to beat the absolute shit out of the strikers to get the phosphorus to come off. Below is what the acetone will look like after the phosphorus has begun to come off the strikers.

As you can tell, there is a bit of splashing going on. The suspension is splashing on the sides, and leaving valuable red phosphorus. Attention to detail at this small of a scale is crucial. This can be obtained in multiple ways. The most resourceful is to use one of the waste matchbook covers left over to scrape it off. Wet it with acetone, then scrape it, and repeat.

However, the cardboard eventually saturates with acetone, and then it's useless. But, I'll tell you a method to get that off easily, later. Once 99.9% of the matchbooks are free of the red phosphorus stripe, we can begin separating. To do this, all we need is a large mesh colander, or steel window screen. I used a colander with 3/16" holes. Agitate the mixture, then quickly dump it into the colander which should be placed above a bowl or something similar. Most of the red phosphorus suspension will fall right through. Some, however, will become hung-up on the cardboard. It is necessary to pour some acetone over this again to loosen it. Once it drains through, mix the cardboard up and repeat. You should now be left with a bowl full of muddy/red liquid:

To get the residual red phosphorus out of the bucket, add some acetone to it. Take a small brush, and dip it in the acetone. Bring it up to the walls and scrub the phosphorus off. Bring some acetone up to it with the brush to rinse it down. Repeat until it is mostly clean. It might be necessary to renew the acetone once or twice. Just dump this acetone right into the bowl with the rest. Pour this red P suspension into some clear glass bottles, and leave them sit over night for the majority of the red phosphorus to settle out.

Decant as much fluid as possible (save it though, more settle out). Then, combine all the reduced volume red-P solutions. Using acetone to drain any that stuck in the vessels. Once it is in a smaller, and more manageable container, add some more acetone to it. Quite a bit, actually. Then, once again, let it settle to the bottom. Repeat the decanting/refilling until the acetone is mostly clear, and somewhat free of any dyes. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the closer the better. Then finally, decant off as much of this last flush as possible.

All of these extractions and purifications use lots of acetone. This is why you keep all the portions you decanted off. Distil it, to obtain clean and pure acetone, and at the same time you'll concentrate the red phosphorus suspensions to a much more manageable volume. I recovered roughly 3/4 gallon through distillation (using 1 gallon for the extraction). For the concentrated suspension, do the decanting/refilling step the same way as the rest of the red phosphorus. Then combine the two amounts of red phosphorus. Once again, distil over any excess acetone to manage costs. Dispose of the stuff that didn't distil over this time though. You could increase your yield about half a gram to a gram by doing this, of course depending on how careful you were with decanting.

You now have red phosphorus, of moderate purity. However, I wouldn't use this for anything until it has been purified.


Well most or all of the glue should be gone now, due to the repeated flushes with acetone. However, there might still be some paper fragments, and metal pieces left in there. To clean this out, I simply added a large volume of 31.45% hydrochloric acid to the red phosphorus/acetone slurry from the previous step. No exact amounts are necessary, just cover well so it has plenty of room to boil down. At first, it should foam/bubble a lot, so add it slowly. Then, you can add it quickly afterwards. Stir it up very well, and begin heating it strongly. It is now advisable to either do this outside, leave the area, or start any ventilation implements if you have not done so already. Profuse amounts of hydrogen chloride gas will be given off as the temperature increases. Keep heating it, until it hits 110C. Let it sit at that temperature and boil for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it gradually cool. Once it has cooled, add water to fill it back up. Let the phosphorus settle out, and you should now see lots of paper flakes floating at the top (unless they dissolved). Decant the fluid off, and refill with clean water. Repeat this, until the water is almost 100% clear/clean. Then filter it out. You now have red phosphorus of sufficient purity for most reactions. My final yield from 1000 matchbooks is 6.7g, so I'm up 1.7g from theoretical. However, there is sometimes crushed glass mixed in, which wont come out through any purification techniques. In the picture below, you can see my yeild. Note - this coffee filter weighed 1.1g.