Fuming Spirit of Nitre is another name for Fuming Nitric Acid, Fuming HNO3 or Fuming Aqua Fortis. The 'fuming' part of the description refers to the red or white fumes that are present when the Spirit of Nitre is in concentrations of over 86%. Red Fuming Spirit of Nitre contains Nitrogen Dioxide in concentrations of 10% minimum whilst White Fuming Spirit of Nitre contains Nitrogen Dioxide at 0.5% and no more thann 2% water.
Fuming Spirit of Nitre is a highly Corrosive and Toxic substance governed by strict legislation concerning its handling, use, packaging, labelling and transport, full details of which can be found on the relevant pages of this website. Because of its Hazardous nature, Fuming Spirit of Nitre is classified as a dangerous goods for transport and is Packing Group 1 with no Limited Quantities. White Fuming Nitric Acid is generally considered to be a safer alternative to Red Fuming Nitric Acid as it contain less or no Nitrogen Tetroxide which is a Toxic and highly volatile chemical. Both Red Fuming HNO3 and White Fuming HNO3 can be used as rocket propellants.
The history of the acid or Spirit of Nitre can be traced back to the Middle Ages when it was known as Aqua Fortis or 'Strong Water' due to its ability to dissolve many metals including silver. The early alchemist and philosopher Jabir ibn Hayyan is credited with the discovery of Spirit of Nitre, together with the discovery of Hydrochloric Acid and Sulphuric Acid. Spirit of Nitre was one of the most important materials in early alchemy and is still widely used both in industry and the laboratory.
The most widespread use of Spirit of Nitre is in the fertilizer industry and also the explosives industry. In the laboratory, Spirit of Nitre is used to dissolve metals for chemical analysis in Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry and OCPMS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry). the acid is also used to etch and clean glassware as it leaves no ionic residue unlike alternative cleaning methods such as Chromic Acid.
Due to its hazardous nature, it is essential that Personal Protective Equipment is worn when working or handling Fuming Spirit of Nitre. This should include approved eye protection such as goggles, glasses or face shield when handling large amounts of material. Protective clothing should include full body protection, nitrile gloves and safety shoes or boots. Fuming Spirit of Nitre should always be handled under fume extraction as the fumes released are particularly harmful to skin, eyes, the respiratory system and digestive tract. Severe and permanent damage can be caused by incorrect handling of the material. Even in dilute concentrations, eye protection and protective clothing should always be worn.
Please refer to the web pages entitled Fuming HNO3, Fuming Aqua Fortis and Fuming HNO3 for further information on safe handling of this material and its wide range of uses in industry and in the laboratory.