How to Make Flash Paper

Flash paper, or nitrocellulose, is tissue treated with nitric acid so that it will burn instantly with no smoke or ash when touched to a flame. Flash paper is used in theatrical special effects and by magicians. You can make flash paper at home by soaking paper in an acid mixture. However, working with strong acids is dangerous. If you don't have experience mixing chemicals in a laboratory environment, you should not attempt to make your own flash paper.


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    Don safety gear and work in a well-ventilated area. You need protective clothing, gloves, goggles and a respirator.
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    Open a box of baking soda and pour it into a bowl. Keep this on hand in case you have a spill or other mishap with the acids. Dumping baking soda on the acids will neutralize them.
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    Add 0.75 oz. (22 ml) strong sulfuric acid to 1 oz (30 ml) fuming nitric acid. Mix the acids in a glass beaker, stirring slowly with glass rods. The mixture will heat up.
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    Cut tissue paper into sizes that can fit into a Petri dish. While you are doing this, the acid mixture is cooling.
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    Pour the cooled acid mixture into glass Petri dishes. You need to pour enough to cover the bottom of each dish.
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    Place a square of tissue paper into each dish. Press them down with glass rods to completely saturate them with the acids.
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    Wait 10 minutes, then remove the squares using the glass rods. The squares will be jellied and much stronger than tissue paper.
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    Lay each square on a glass surface. Tilt the glass so the acid runs off into a glass container.
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    Use a squeeze bottle filled with water to rinse each square. Catch the rinse water in the glass container.
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    Allow the squares to dry on the glass. When they are completely dry, carefully peel them off the glass. Never heat the squares to try to dry them more quickly.
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    Neutralize the acid mixture with baking soda. Put baking soda into each Petri dish, in the beaker and in the captured rinse water. When the acid is neutralized, you can pour it down the drain.
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    Store the dried squares in a tightly closed container in a safe place.


  • If you have time, space and materials, you can make more than one batch of flash paper using the same acid that's already in the Petri dishes. Add more acid mixture from the beaker when necessary.


  • Flash paper can be dangerous. Store it away from flames or heat sources and keep it out of reach of children. It's a low-order explosive. Commercially made flash paper comes with a hazardous material warning.
  • You cannot scale the ingredients to make more flash paper or larger sheets of flash paper. Mixing the acids in greater amounts requires different methods and greater precautions.

Things You'll Need

  • Chemical-resistant gloves
  • Lab coveralls
  • Respirator
  • Goggles
  • Baking soda
  • Bowl
  • Strong sulfuric acid
  • Fuming nitric acid
  • Glass beaker
  • Glass rods
  • Petri dishes
  • Tissue paper
  • Glass surface
  • Glass container
  • Water
  • Squeeze bottle
  • Container with tight lid

Article Info

Categories: Making and Transforming Paper