View Full Version : Potassium Permanganate

22-07-11, 03:10 PM
Hi All,
one of the old favourites in survival literature seems to be potassium permanganate, due to it's ability to do three things
1.) act as an antiseptic
2.) Start fire when mixed with sugar and crushed
3.) disinfect water

I bought a bottle a few years ago and had a play with it, creating fires, turning water purple and a funky pink colour etc.
All good fun, but I question the practicality of carrying it for a few reasons.

As an antiseptic, it seems more fiddly than betadine or an antiseptic ointment. I wouldn't want to be mixing it to the correct consistency and then applying the watery stuff under stress!

As a firelighter, it works, but I can't think of a situation in which I would lose my lighter, firesteel, backup lighter and vasoline soaked cottonballs, yet be left with a vial of potassium permanganate, sugar and decent tinder. Is it fun to play with? Yes. Is it practical? Not in my opinion.

As a water disinfectant, I haven't found anything but anecdotal evidence of its efficacy. I read Roger Caffin's comments (maintainer of the bushwalking australia faq) of it being used on water in Nepal, but I haven't found any studies on how well it deals with bacteria, viruses or protozoa. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

A friend who runs bushcraft courses overseas maintained that it still had value for signaling in the snow (throw it over a large area of snow to create a big pinky purple blotch for a helicopter to see). I wouldn't know anything about snow signaling, living in the Blue Mtns! In the unlikely event of me ever being in that situation I'd pull my PLB, start a fire if possible and wave my space blanket around.

I'm interested to hear others views on this topic. When more convenient/ effective means are readily available, does potassium permanganate have any value in the bush?

22-07-11, 04:53 PM
PP is old school stuff...

"Traditional" uses:
- First Aid: Treat fungal infections, pour over snake bite after cutting wound, treat sore throat (gargle), treat yeast infection
- Water treatment (strong oxidizer which attaches to and kills organic matter) Still used to treat public drinking water, although more for taste and smell reasons now before chlorination
- Fire lighting: mix 50/50 with Glycerine/Break fluid for chemical reaction fire (works really well in wet conditions!), 50/50 with sugar and crush together
- Marine pesticide: used to kill any sea life in the bilges of ships and introduced shell fish in ports
- Algicide: Kills off algal blooms in waterways

It is still used in a lot of third world countries for treating well water and as an antiseptic.
We carried it in our Aid bags for treating foot fungus and for emergency fire lighting at the Jungle Warfare School, both here in Oz and Brunei... works faster than a lighter and inner tube rubber in wet/humid conditions... don't even need decent tinder for it to get your fire going...

However it isn't a common use item anymore, I have used it to treat water in many places where it would be suicial to not treat before drinking and never had a problem, however I have moved away from it and now use betadine/Iodine instead. BUT, if you have a sensitivity to iodine, pregnant or thyroid issues, iodine/povidone-iodine is a big NO-NO!... so as a back up option use PP instead...

As for studies into PP for stand alone water treatment... Bacteria Inactivation
High dosage rates were required to accomplish complete inactivation of bacteria in three studies.
Early research showed that a dose of 2.5 mg/L was required for complete inactivation of coliform Bacteria (Le Strat, 1944). In this study, water from the Marne River was dosed with potassium permanganate at concentrations of 0 to 2.5 mg/L. Following mixing, the samples were placed in a darkened room for 2 hours at a constant temperature of 19.8oC.

Banerjea (1950) investigated the disinfectant ability of potassium permanganate on several waterborne pathogenic microorganisms. The investigation studied Vibrio cholerae, Salm. typhi, and Bact. flexner. The results indicated that doses of 20 mg/L and contact times of 24 hours were
necessary to deactivate these pathogens; however, even under these conditions the complete absence of Salm. typhi or Bact. flexner was not assured, even at a potassium permanganate concentration that turned the water an objectionable pink color.

Results from a study conducted in 1976 at the Las Vegas Valley Water District/Southern Nevada System of Lake Mead water showed that complete removal of coliform bacteria were accomplished at doses of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 mg/L (Hazen and Sawyer, 1992). Contact times of 30 minutes were
provided with doses of 1 and 2 mg/L, and 10 minutes contact times were provided for higher dosages in this study. Virus Inactivation
Potassium permanganate has been proven effective against certain viruses. A dose of 50 mg/L of potassium permanganate and a contact time of 2 hours was required for inactivation of poliovirus (strain MVA) (Hazen and Sawyer, 1992). A “potassium” permanganate dose of 5.0 mg/L and a
contact time of 33 minutes was needed for 1-log inactivation of type 1 poliovirus (Yahya et al.,1990b). Tests showed a significantly higher inactivation rate at 23oC than at 7oC; however, there was no significant difference in activation rates at pH 6.0 and pH 8.0.

Potassium permanganate doses from 0.5 to 5 mg/L were capable of obtaining at least a 2 log inactivation of the surrogate virus, MS-2 bacteriophage with E. coli as the host bacterium (Yahya et al., 1989). Results showed that at pH 6.0 and 8.0, a 2-log inactivation occurred after a contact time of at least 52 minutes and a residual of 0.5 mg/L. At a residual of 5.0 mg/L, approximately 7 and 13 minutes were required for 2-log inactivation at pHs of 8.0 and 6.0, respectively. These results contradict the previously cited studies that potassium permanganate becomes more effective as the pH decreases. Protozoa Inactivation
No information pertaining to protozoa inactivation by potassium permanganate is available in the literature. However, based on the other disinfectants discussed in this report, protozoa are significantly more resistant than viruses; therefore, it is likely that the dosages and contact times required for protozoa inactivation would be impractical.

Chapter 05 page 06-
EPA Guidance Manual April 1999
Alternative Disinfectants and Oxidants

As my post on water treatment stated, it will help make water POTABLE by reducing the pathogen load to a minimal risk level, however it won't kill 100% of the pathogens...

22-07-11, 07:54 PM
Good information. I've used it and yes it works but it's very hard to find these days, not many if any chemist sells it anymore. Condies crystals Was the old name too.

I once heard a yarn that went something like, as a rule of thumb go, solid crystals for fire, purple for antiseptic, pink for water treatment. But I would take that with a grain of salt. I'm not game to try it.

I would use the info that Templar posted.

I think better things have come along. I looked into this a little for my trip but it became to impractical and in the end there are many products better. I do like having one thing to do many jobs but I agree that unless you have a sensitivity to iodine it's better and easier.

I always go for the boil it's reliable and safe. I know in the Aussie environment a fire is easy to make. That's why I always carry purification tablets for those rare occasions. My go to sources these days are Fire, iodine and tablets.

22-07-11, 08:04 PM
Here I was going to say that you HAD to carry it in Canungra in the battle wing days, was jungle fungal weapon of choice!

23-07-11, 11:38 AM
Exactly the info I was after regarding water disinfection. Thanks Templar.
It seems from that excerpt that it takes care of most bacteria and viruses, but not protozoa. Probably not a great backup method.
Apart from the coolness of having funky pink water, what was the taste like, in comparison to the bandaid water taste of iodine?

23-07-11, 05:15 PM
Hmmm... it has a somewhat metalic taste IMHO, it's not perfect but it works well enough for emergency use...

28-07-11, 12:44 PM
I have used Betadine to disinfect (clear) water in Nepal.
4 drops per litre, leave it sit for 30 min to 1 hour before consumption. IMO leaving the water longer and the iodine taste diminishes, so we would habitually dose up a bottle before bed, to use in the morning.

The benefit is that it was very cheap (per L) and compact (I used one of the small (10 ml I think) dropper bottles). However anyone who is pregnant, may be pregnant, breast feeding, has a thyroid condition or an iodine intolerance should avoid drinking iodine treated water, unless on medical advice. It is also not recommended for long term use.

If you do plan to use iodine, or any other additive, its probably best to try it at home before you head off on a trip and you are committed. Some people will find the task OK, others may hate it. It is also possible that you may have somk kind of sensitivity to the chosen product, so its better to get it sorted at leisure, at home, rather than in the field where you may have access to limited alternatives.

I do carry some water purification tablets, but Betadine is also something which is habitually in all my first aid kits, so it can server two purposed if necessary.

Disclaimer - This worked for me, seek medical advice - use it at your own risk

XT John
29-11-11, 12:25 AM
The only reason I have pp in the cupboard is to colour pieces of antler.

29-11-11, 12:32 AM
Gday john,

Welcome to the forum mate, good to have you onboard. Feel free to post up a little into about yourself here (http://bushcraftoz.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?39-Intros-and-Welcomes). What is the effect of the PP on the antler? Is it like a dye or does it affect the material in some other way also.

XT John
29-11-11, 10:33 AM
Hiya Blake & others, thanks for the welcome. I'll introduce myself in your link this evening (time permitting).
I use a solution of PP and water to create a nice brown colour to antler. It does not act as a dye but as an oxidizer. When first applied, the antler is purple (!) but soon turns brown. The more applications, the darker shade of brown you get.
One word of warning- don't get the solution on your hands, it will turn them a nice shade of brown too and takes ages to disappear.