Spirit of Nitre, Aqua Fortis, Nitric Acid and HNO3 are all names referring to the material Nitric Acid. Apirit of Nitre or Nitric Acid is a strong mineral acid with a wide range of uses both in industry and in the laboratory. Its discovery is attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan (also known as 'Geber'), the great alchemist from around 800 AD. He not only synthesised the acid for the first time, he also is credited with the discovery of Sulphuric Acid and as well as being one of the foremost early alchemists, was a learned hilosopher, engineer, astronomer and geologist. His further practical experiments resulted in the discovery of Hydrochloric Acid and Aqua Regia, one of the few substances capable of dissolving gold. Jabir ibn Hayyan is widely recognised as the 'godfather' of chemistry and his work paved the way for much of modern chemistry.
Spirit of Nitre production can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. At this time, it was made by mixing Saltpeter with sand and then distilling over fire. As the gas cooled and condensed, the remaining liquid became known as Aqua Fortis (literally translated from the latin as 'Strong Water') or Nitric Acid. Aqua Fortis or Spirit of Nitre was capable of dissolving many metals with the exception of gold and platinum.
Spirit of Nitre is widely used today in the laboratory for its ability to dissolve metals, especially in Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry and ICPMS (Inductely Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), where it is capable of dissolving metals into solution for chemical analysis. Spirit of Nitre is also used to clean glassware as it leaves no ionic residue unlike the alternative cleaning material, Chromic Acid.
In industry, Spirit of Nitre is widely used in the production of fertilizers and in the explosives industry, further details of both being available on our Nitric Acid Uses and the acid in the laboratory webpages of the website.
As a highly Corrosive and Toxic mineral acid, strict legislation governs the handling of Spirit of Nitre and its potential hazards should be clearly understood before working with or handling the material. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should always be used as exposure to Spirit of Nitre can cause severe damage to eyes, skin and respiratory system. Cases of fatal incidents have been reported and even in dilute solutions skin and eyes should always be protected.
When using Spirit of Nitre at high concentrations or Fuming Spirit of Nitre, fume extraction should be used or breathing apparatus should be worn as the fumes can cause serious damage to soft nasal tissue, lungs and airways. When handling large volumes of Spirit of Nitre, a face shield is required to protect the face and eyes. Otherwise, PPE should include safety shoes or boots, approved eye protection in the form of glasses, goggles or face shield, protective clothing and nitrile gloves.
Further details of the acid hazards and safety can be found on the relevant pages of this website, together with information on packaging, labelling and transporting Spirit of Nitre.
Above concentrations in excess of 86%, Spirit of Nitre, Nitric Acid, Aqua Fortis and HNO3 are classified as Fuming Spirit of Nitre, Fuming Nitric Acid, Funing Aqua Fortis and Funing HNO3. They can be Red Fuming Nitric Acid or White Fuming Nitric Acid according to the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide in the solution. Red Fuming Nitric Acid contains a minimum of 10% Nitrogen Dioxide whilst White Fuming Nitric Acid contains 0.5% Nitrogen Dioxide and no more than 2% water. Further information on these products can be found on the relevant webpages of this site.