The OTC Chemical Database
A comprehensive list of 117 chemicals that can be found at local stores.
Acetic Acid: Acetic acid is sold as vinegar in 5% concentrations. To turn this into a higher concentration, please read my organic synthesis page.
Acetone: Acetone is sold as acetone (whooda thunk it) in hardware stores and supermarkets. Do not assume it is 100%. For calculations, assume that it is ~90%
Acetylene: This is somewhat harder to come by, but usually doesn't require the internet to purchase it. It is sold at welding supply stores in cylinders. Since these cylinders are big and expensive, it is often more economical to produce your own acetylene. It can sometimes be found in some of the bigger hardware stores, as they carry mini tanks for smaller, portable welders.
Aluminum metal: The most popular OTC source of aluminum is aluminum foil found in the food storage section of grocery stores. This is usually of great enough purity.
Ammonia: This is easily found as ammonia water. You must look for a clear, colorless liquid when looking for ammonia. Usually found as "clear ammonia". A titration proves clear ammonia at my local grocery store to be at a concentration of 8.5%.
Ammonium Hydroxide: See ammonia
Ammonium Nitrate: This can be found as a fertilizer in most gardening sections of large chain supermarkets. Unfortunately it is slowly getting phased out, due to it's illicit use in bombings and 'terrorist' activities. It can also be found in instant cold packs. Be careful when opening those up however, if the water packet breaks and mixes, it's a pain in the butt. Some of these cold packs contain urea.
Ascorbic Acid: Ascorbic acid is the chemical name for Vitamin C. It can be found in almost 100% purity in vitamin C tables. Check the ingredients to be sure.
Benzaldehyde: The only place I have been able to locate this was in imitation almond flavoring. This is found in 2oz bottles in the baking section of grocery stores. Unfortunately, they are usually over $2-3 per bottle. An easy way to determine the maximum concentration is through a quick glance at the ingredients list. It will say water, alcohol (xx%), benzaldehyde. Ingredients are always listed first to last, in order of concentration in the product. Since water is first, it is the largest amount of any single ingredient in there. Alcohol will always give it's percentage in food items. At the local grocery store, it is listed as 23%. Since there will always be less of the last ingredient, there is a maximum of 22.99% benzaldehyde in that whole container. This means that the 2oz bottle contains at most, 13.6ml of benzaldehyde. Fortunately, you can always buy more than one bottle, and it would be easy to separate as benzaldehyde boils at 178C while water boils at 100C and alcohol at 78C.
Bismuth Metal: Bismuth can be found as lead replacements for both firearms and fishing sinkers. However, they are often alloyed with tin, so be sure to check (if you can).
Borax: This can be found in the same aisle that detergents are located in. It's quite useful in the home, so it can often be found in large quantities. Since it performs it's job so well, it needs no adulterants, and because of this it is almost always completely pure.
Boric Acid: Boric acid is the main ingredient in some pesticides aimed and ants or cockroaches. It is often very high purity, but sometimes needs to be purified.
Calcium Carbonate: Calcium carbonate is the primary ingredient in regular chalk. White chalk is the best to use since it contains very little impurities. Since it is insoluble in water, it can't be ground in a mortar and pestle unless you don't mind getting calcium carbonate in the next few things you grind in there. The best method is to grind it against a steel sieve. You can put a piece of chalk in the chuck of a drill (only hand tighten it, otherwise it will crumble) and drill this into the steel sieve. This is of high enough purity to be used for almost anything.
Calcium Chloride: Calcium chloride can be purchased as a salt-substitute for a driveway-deicer. Make sure you get the one that says "calcium chloride" on it. This will be mostly pure and anhydrous calcium chloride in prill form. I found a 9 pound bottle for about 15USD at a hardware store nearby.
Calcium Hydroxide: Calcium hydroxide is a chemical that is somewhat hard to find, but it does exist out there. It can be made if all else fails, but it is available. It is sometimes found in mortars, whitewash and plastering applications. It can also be found as a water treatment chemical.
Calcium Hypochlorite: Calcium hypochlorite can be found in a variety of places. One such place is the detergent section of a grocery store. It is often sold as powder bleach, bleaching powder, or similar. Another place would be pool/spa stores and even the pool section at walmart during the warm months. It is sold as a pool chlorinator. One important thing to note is that this is rarely sold in it's pure form. It is typically around 50% concentration.
Calcium Oxide: This was once readily available at most hardware stores as "lime" or "quicklime" but unfortunately it is another chemical that is leaving the ranks. Wont hurt to search though.
Calcium Sulfate Hemihydrate (half hydrate): The hemihydrate of calcium sulfate is plaster of paris. From this, you can make the dihydrate of calcium sulfate (by adding to water) or anhydrous calcium sulfate (by heating past 180C)
Camphor: This is exceedingly hard to find in pure form, however it is often found in low to moderate concenrations in topical anesthetics and breathing assistants. It is possible to also find it as a moth repellant, but you will most likely find the other two popular types.
Carbon Dioxide: Carbon dioxide can be found in a few places. At welding supply stores and carbonated beverage supply companies, it can be bought in tanks of liquid carbon dioxide. These are usually heavy and expensive, so fortunately there are other places to find it. Most ice cream shops will sell dry ice, such as baskin robins or TCBY. You can also get dry ice at refridgeration or shipping companies sometimes. As this warms up, it will produce pure carbon dioxide gas.
Cellulose: Cellulose is what cotton is made of. Cotton balls or pads can be found in almost any pharmacy or grocery store.
Charcoal: See carbon
Copper Metal: Copper is very easy to find, even in it's pure form. All water source pipes in a house are made of copper tubing. Most american coins greater than one cent have copper as the majority, with the nickel having the least copper (at 75%).
Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate: This is available as an algae killer in home and garden type stores. It is a bright blue crystaline substance. Anhydrous copper sulfate is a white powder, which can be formed by heating the pentahydrate to around 150C.
Cyanuric Acid: Cyanuric acid, commonly abbreviated CYA, is available at any store that sells pool chemicals, including walmart. It is sold as a pool chemical stabilizer and water conditioner, usually in high purity (>99%).
Dextrose: Dextrose can be found in some of the larger grocery stores, and in health food stores.
Dichloromethane: See methylene chloride
Diethyl Ether: This is available and any hardware store or autoparts store, and even some of the larger supermarkets as starting fluid. Don't get this confused with lighter fluid though. It is sold in aerosol cans, and is usually a mixture made largely of ether, with heptane and oils. All compressed with carbon dioxide. To remove the ether, one can turn the can upside down and spray until all the CO2 is evacuated. Then punch two holes in the top of the can, opposite eachother, and pour this into distilation equipment.
Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO): This can be found in a variety of healthfood stores for treating wounds. My trips to a healthfood store are far and few between, so I have not been able to locate this so far. However, if one looks hard enough, it shouldn't be hard to find.
Ethanol: Ethanol can be found in a variety of things. One obvious place is drinking alcohol. Most vodka's contain up to 40% ethanol which can be distilled off. Everclear is a brand name for 95% ethanol or grain alcohol. There is nothing else but water in there. There is also denatured alcohol which is usually ethanol, methanol, and some other nasty poisons to make you not want to drink it. This is fine for reactions such as mercury fulminate. Lastly, there is rubbing alcohol that contains it. It will say on the bottle N% Ethyl Alcohol (N represent the range of concentrations that you might find it in). There is also acetone in here and some stuff that has a boiling point higher than water. Even if you distill the ethanol off this, do not drink it as it might form an azeotrope with one of the poisons in there.
Ether: See Diethyl Ether
Ethyl Alcohol: See Ethanol
Ethylene Glycol: Most bottles of car antifreeze contain relatively pure ethylene glycol (around 98 to 99%) as long as it's not a 50/50 premix. The green dye will usually not affect reactions - at least in the few that ethylene glycol is called for.
Formic Acid: Formic acid can be found around a 5% concentration in some of the dual action toilet bowl cleaners. One popular brand is clorox. The blue chamber has formic acid in it. This can be seperated and purified.
Fructose: Fructose is available at most grocery stores as sugar from fruits. It has a fruity taste/smell to it, and is mostly glucose.
Glucose: See dextrose.
Glycerol: See glycerin
Gold Metal: Gold metal is found in largest concentrations in gold jewelry, however it's also found as a gold plating on high end elelctronic devices and also gold leaf, found in craft stores (with a glue back). Pure gold is never found in jewelry, as it is too soft, but the karat rating of pure gold is 24k. Gold, unlike silver or copper, can not be dissolved in nitric acid. Thus, an allow (such as 10k gold, or 18k gold) can be dissolved in nitric acid, leaving a very fine gold powder on the bottom of the reaction vessel. However, gold metal is used in very few syntheses and it is not recomended to destroy good jewelry for an experiment. Gold prices at the time of writing this are $807 per troy ounce.
Helium: Helium can be found in small tanks at some party stores. Very few contain pure helium however, they are usually mixtures of air and helium. This makes them relatively useless, but Worthington Industries is said to have pure helium.
Hexamine: Hexamine can sometimes be found in camping/sporting goods stores as fuel tablets for emergency stoves. Also, in the 'stove' that comes with MREs (Meals Rejected by Ethiopians). If not found, it must be made.
Hydrochloric acid: Hydrochloric acid can be found in a number of chemicals, of ranging concentrations. At hardware stores, It can be commonly found as Muriatic acid, which is at a concentration of 31.45%. Many toilet bowl cleaners can be found around 20% concentration
Hydroflouric acid: This can be found in hardware stores as glass etching solutions and sometimes as rust removers. Fortunately it is in very low concentrations. Always be careful when handling hydroflouric acid.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Another chemical that can be found in many concentrations with many uses to it. In pharmacies, it can be found in 3% concentrations as a medical grade topical antibacterial. It can also be found in 6% concentrations as hair bleaching product. In pool/spa stores, it can be found as a chlorine free pool shock, usually in 27% and 30% concentrations. Because of this, all syntheses dealing with hydrogen peroxide give values for both 27% and 30% concentrations, on my web site.
Iodine: Iodine is easily found in 'Tincture of Iodine' which is typically a 2.0% concentration of iodine dissolved in alcohol. There are millions of ways to get this out described on the internet, almost all of them do a great job of failing and wasting your money. Some very high end camping stores will sell the crystals for water purification
Isopropyl Alcohol: Isopropyl Alcohol is the most often seen ingredient in rubbing alcohols. Most concentrations are seen at 70% and 91%, but occasionally there will be a 99% concentration seen.
Iron metal: Obviously, iron is all around us. However, iron suitable for reactions is somewhat harder to find. Steel wool is pure iron, and can be had in a variety of grades. This will work well for anything that requires iron.
Iron (III) Oxide: This is just rust. Fortunately, there's not a large amount of rust on anything. It can be found as mortar coloring though in hardware stores.
Iron (II/III) Oxide: This is called black iron oxide. In the mineral form, it's called magnetite. It is found in black sand, which isn't exactly OTC for all of us, but it's worth mentioning.
Lead Metal: This can seem harder to find, as lead has been purposely removed from most products, but if one thinks hard, it can easily be located. Almost all pellets, for pellet guns (not BB's, but pellets) are made of pure lead. Not an alloy, but 100% lead.
Lithium Metal: Lithium metal is actually next to impossible to find even at a chemical supply house. It can be found OTC though. The new line of lithium batteries actually contain a decent amount of lithium. Disassemble them and remove the lithium centers, quickly placing in oil or any other oxygen free environment.
Magnesium Hydroxide: This is sold as an antacid in grocery stores as milk of magnesia.
Magnesium Metal: In camping stores, you can buy a fire starter type device. This will usually have a small rod of flint stuck to a big brick of magnesium. This is pure magnesium.
Magnesium Silicate: Found in most grocery stores and pharmacies as talcum powder.
Magnesium Sulfate: Magnesium sulfate can be bought at your local grocery store as epsom salts. These are the hydrated form though (magnesium sulfate heptahydrate) so you must make them anhydrous. To do so, put it in the oven at 99C (210F) for 2-3 hours. This should be anhydrous now. The weight should decrease by half going from heptahydrate to anhydrous (so if you put in 1 pound of MgSO4*7H2O, you will get 226grams of MgSO4)
Manganese Dioxide: This is found in many batteries, commonly the carbon electrode type. It's purity ranges, but the purity is often sufficient for your needs. It is the brown/black powder found around the outside when disassembling batteries.
Mercury Metal: Mercury metal can still be found, despites it's toxicity fears. In many old thermostats, there was a mercury switch. This often contained between 1 and 10 grams of mercury, sometimes more. Mercury thermometers are no longer sold in stores, but you can still come across them in various locations. Fluorescent lighting fixtures contain very small ammounts of mercury in them. If you happen to be getting rid of a few, break them open (carefully) and dump the mercury out. Usually less than a gram is present.
Methane: Natural gas, used to power most stoves, is methane. Some residences use propane instead, be sure you know what you have.
Methanol: Methanol can be found in the automotive section, sold as a gasoline/water emulsifier. One name brand is HEET; it comes in yellow bottles that have child and adult proof caps on them (you'll know what I'm talking about). This is very high purity and usually only contains a small amount of water with it.
Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK): MEK can be found in hardware stores or paint stores as a solvent, paint stripper, and adhesive remover. It is often of sufficient purity and needs no purification. Nor is it neccesary to isolate from mixtures.
Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide (MEKP): MEKP can be found in few places, but it is available. It is often used as the hardening catalyst for fiberglass resins. Boating stores have this in largest amounts, but some automotive suppliers will sell fiberglass resin with it's correspond hardner (in small amounts).
Methylene Blue: Methylene blue can be found in pet stores that cater to fish. It is used as a treatment for ich and other fungal infections.
Methylacetylene: Methyl acetylene is one of the main ingredients in MAPP gas. It is usually combined with allene, and propane. When a synthesis calls for methylacetylene, MAPP gas will almost always work. MAPP gas can easily be found in hardware stores that sell small welding outfits. It is usually right next to the small oxygen cylinders, and is in a yellow cylinder (in North America).
Methylene Chloride: Methylene chloride can be found in very high concentrations at hardware stores or paint stores. It is sold as a paint and/or adhesive remover. In the picture, it is only mixed with methanol in that can, which can be separated by simple distilation. Read the ingredients list, and find the can with the least amount of adulterants.
Naphthalene: This can be found in many grocer stores, super markets, and hardware stores as moth balls. Be sure to read the ingredients of the mothballs, because some do not contain Naphthalene. "Old Fashioned" moth balls are of the naphthalene type.
Nickel Metal: The only OTC source of pure nickel is canadian coins made from 1922-1981. The rest of the nickel is all alloyed and not easily seperated.
Nitrogen: Nitrogen can be bought at welding stores, but it comes in heavy tanks which are often expensive. Liquid nitrogen can sometimes be found, which is far more interesting than gaseous nitrogen.
Nitromethane: Nitromethane is available at most hobby stores that contain remote control vehicles. The gas powered remote control vehicles typically run on a mixture of methanol, nitromethane, and oils and dyes. The concentrations of nitromethane can be from 10-30% sometimes higher. Since methanol boils at 65C, Nitromethane at 100C, and the oils possibly never boiling, it would be easy to isolate pure nitromethane from this through fractional distillation or even simple distillation. Note: buy the cheapest brand - They all contain the same nitromethane
Nitrous Oxide: Nitrous oxide is the propellant used in most aresol whipped cream canisters. In this it is usually pure. Also, in the automotive world, Nitrous (commonly called NOS by the ignorant, which is a brand name) is mixed with chemicals to discourage inhalation (such as hydrogen sulfide or methanethiol)
Oxalic Acid: Oxalic Acid is in a variety of household chemicals. It can be found in a product called "Bar Keepers Friend". From this, it can simply be dissolved out as it is the only water soluble chemical in bar keepers friend. It is also in very high concentrations in radiator cleaners, found in automotive supply stores or hardware stores.
Oxygen: This can be found in welding shops, but is often sold in tanks which are big and expensive. However, it is quite common in hardware stores that sell small portable gas welding outfits. It can be found in small, red, 8oz cylinders.
para-Dichlorobenzene: This ingredient is a naphthalene substitute in mothballs. Check the ingredients list of moth balls to tell which chemical they are made of.
Phosphoric Acid: Phosphoric acid can be found as a pH down in some pet stores that cater to aquariums. It is often in dilute concentrations, but is quite pure. It can also be found in some rust removers, but it often adulterated with other ingredients.
Potassium bitartrate: Potassium bitartrate is sold at grocery stores and supermarkets as "Cream of Tartar". Unfortunately, this is often quite expensive.
Potassium chloride: This can easily be found in grocery stores in the baking/cooking aisle. It is sold as a salt substitute for sodium free diets. However, it is often more expensive than sodium chloride, and in smaller packages.
Potassium ferroferricyanide: This can be found in the detergent section of grocery stores and super markets as Mrs. Stewart's liquid laundry bluing solution, sold in a blue bottle. Ironically it's used to whiten whites, despite it's name and container color.
Potassium Hydrogen Tartarate: See potassium bitartarate
Potassium nitrate: The story was that you could find this as 'Saltpeter' at a pharmacy. This is no longer true and it has been almost impossible to find it like this. In fact, if you do find it like this, don't use it but save it. Potassium nitrate is now most commonly found as a tree stump remover. A brand called "Scotts Stump Remover" is often seen at hardware stores like Sears.
Potassium permanganate: Potassium Permanganate can be found in some water treatment sections of certain stores. It is used to clear water up and remove it's odors, and because of this, it is often found as "Clearwater" in 50% solutions.
Propylene Glycol: Propylene glycol is seldom needed, but just incase - It is usually found as a low toxicity antifreeze. Check the ingredients when you pick up a bottle of automotive antifreeze. It will usually say either Ethylene Glycol or Propylene Glycol.
Propyne: See methylacetylene
Silicon Dioxide: Silicon Dioxide is the major constituent of sand, as well as glass.
Silver Metal: Silver is quite abundant in the jewelry world and a decent amount of silver can be had for a relatively low price. Also, american quarters made in 1964 or earlier are made of pure silver. They can actually be detected in a handful of change just by the different sound they made when jingled. This is how I came upon two of them at work, a customer used them to pay for his food, unknowingly. Now days, these quarters are worth more than their weight in gold if in good condition, so it's recomended to keep them. At the time of writing this, silver prices are $14.48 per troy ounce.
Sodium Acetate: Some handwarmers contain sodium acetate, but this can become expensive if any apreciable amount is needed. It is more economical to make it.
Sodium Biphosphate: Sodium biphosphate can be found at pet stores that cater to aquariums. It is used as a pH down type chemical. Read the ingredients as always.
Sodium bisulfate: This can be found at pool stores as a pH down type chemical.
Sodium Borate: See Borax
Sodium Chlorate: This is getting harder to find and is slowly being replaced, but it is still available. It can be found in garden stores or garden sections of hardware stores and super markets. It is a kill-all type herbicide, meaning anything green will die. This is the reason why it is getting replaced by other herbicides.
Sodium Hexametaphosphate: This is the main ingredient in Calgon brand water softener. Found in grocery stores/supermarkets and hardware stores.
Sodium Hydroxide: Sodium hydroxide is also sold as a drain cleaner but is a solid material (usually). It is generally mixed with other crap but there are some brands that sell the pure stuff. Red Devil Lye is pure sodium hydroxide, however it's being taken off the shelf. Rooto brand 100% lye drain cleaner is making it's way on the shelves however.
Sodium Metal: I wouldn't call this exactly an OTC source, but it's obtaining it without purchasing on the internet, so I'll explain it. Many power companies use sodium metal in their underground power lines (Don't challenge their logic, it's obviously been working for them for a long long time). I do not suggest digging one of these up randomly, but if you happen to see construction work occurring, with many thick black cables sticking out - check them later to see if there is a white crust on the end. If it's sealed up, remove the sealant if you can, or cut the cable a centimeter down to see if you can see the bright shiny sodium metal. If so, consider your options before you steal anything. We don't want to have this hobby associated with any bad names. This is actually where I got my sodium metal. I did not steal it however, my ex girlfriend's father works for the power company - he stole a 3ft section of it and didn't want it any more. It's a pain in the butt to get it out, but quite worth it. After all, it is pure sodium.
Sodium Phosphate: This chemical can be found at hardware stores as a cleaning agent before painting. It is sold as trisodium phosphate, or TSP.
Sulfur: Sulfur can sometimes be found in garden stores. It is used to lower the pH of soil. It can sometimes be called Sulfur Flour, and many other names. This has a purity usually greater than 90% so it will work well with most needs.
Sulfuric Acid: Sulfuric acid is now found as a drain cleaner. It is usually sold in high concentrations and can be found at almost any hardware store. When buying sulfuric acid drain cleaner, never get anything that is pure black or comes in a clear container. The best out there right now is ROOTO, which I am currently researching. ROOTO can be found at any ace hardware store and is a very high concentration. Also is fairly clear which is uncommon in sulfuric acid drain cleaner. ROOTO has a density of 1.83g/ml for those who wanted to know.
Tetrachloroethylene: Tetrachlorethylene can be found in many automotive stores and hardware stores as break parks cleaner in aerosol cans. It is usually the main ingredient and can be removed from the can similar to diethyl ether.
Tetrafluoroethane: This can be found in canned air, used for dusting computers or other electronics. It can be found in almost every grocery store/super market and hardware stores. When turned upside down, it will spray out liquid TFE, which is commonly mislabeled as liquid carbon dioxide by the ignorant. If it were carbon dioxide, it would form dry ice as soon as the nozzle was depressed - even if the can was upright. Check the ingredients if it's available, sometimes other chemicals are mixed in.
Thiamin Hydrochloride: Thiamin is vitamin B-1, so artificial supplements will contain the water soluble salt, thiamin hydrochloride. Unforutnately it is usually mixed with other ingredients, so some effort is required to acheive the pure product. This can be found in pharmacies and grocery stores. Any place with vitamins.
Thiourea: Thiourea can be found in many silver cleaning chemicals. Tarn-X and hagerty often use thiourea as the only active ingredient. These can be found in many grocery stores and hardware stores in the cleaning aisles.
Thymolphthalein: Thymolphthalein is the magic ingredient found in "Magic Ink" or "Disappearing Ink". It is mixed with sodium hydroxide to be purple, but once exposed to air, the carbon dioxide turns the hydroxide into carbonate, which alters the pH, turning it clear.
Toluene: Toluene can be found in hardware stores, and paint stores as a paint stripper, adhesive remover, etc. It can usually be found pure, so no need to distill from mixtures. It will often be called Toluol
Toluol: See toluene
Trichloroisocyanuric Acid (TCCA): Trichloroisocyanuric acid, or TCCA for short, can be found at almost any hardware store or walmart in the pool section. It is a type of pool chlorinator, usually sold in large tablets. Read the ingredients list and attempt to find some which is pure, as some brands will contain a few percent of impurites, like copper sulfate pentahydrate. Note: It can also be called "1,3,5-trichloro-1,3,5-triazinane-2,4,6-trione" or similar.
Tungsten Metal: Tungsten metal in it's pure form is hard to find OTC, but it can be found as alloys quite easily. Incandescent light bulb filaments are mostly tungsten. High power halogen bulb filaments are also tungsten.
Turpentine: Turpentine is a solvent found at many hardware stores. It will be around the paint and other solvents.
Urea: Urea can be found as fertilizers in my garden sections of supermarkets, or at garden shops. Some brands claim to be almost 100% urea, one of those being 'Bonide Azalea'. It can also be found in some single use instant cold packs (like ammonium nitrate). Be careful not to cut the water packet open when disassembling these.
Xylene: Xylene can be found in hardware stores, and paint stores as a paint stripper, adhesive remover, etc. It can usually be found pure, so no need to distill from mixtures. It will often be called Xylol
Xylol: See Xylene.
Zinc Metal: American Pennies are 97.5% zinc, the rest is copper (made from 82 and later). To isolate the zinc from these as zinc chloride, you can sand the outside edge of copper off, then place the penny in hydrochloric acid. The hydrochloric acid wont react with the copper metal, but will dissolve all of the zinc out, leaving a copper shell.