Ammonium Nitrate

Team Chemistry -
Created by: Team Chemistry -, Last Updated: April 25, 2024

Ammonium Nitrate

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound that plays a crucial role in agriculture and various industrial processes. This compound, represented by the chemical formula NH₄NO₃, is primarily used as a high-nitrogen fertilizer because it efficiently provides essential nutrients to plants, helping them grow stronger and healthier. Additionally, ammonium nitrate is also a key component in the production of explosives used in mining and construction. Its ability to release a large amount of gas and energy when heated makes it extremely effective for such purposes. Despite its benefits, it is important to handle ammonium nitrate with care due to its potential for dangerous reactions under certain conditions

What is Ammonium Nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound that appears as a white, solid substance often used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. It has the chemical formula NH₄NO₃. This compound is also a component in some explosives used for demolition and mining due to its ability to release gases rapidly when heated. In farming, it helps plants grow by providing them with essential nitrogen. However, it must be stored properly to prevent moisture absorption and ensure safety, as it can become hazardous under certain conditions.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Hill FormulaHN₂​​O₃​
NameAmmonium Nitrate
Alternate NamesAmmonia; Nitric Acid, Ammonium Nitricum, Azane; Nitric Acid, Nitric Acid, Ammonium Salt

Structure of Ammonium Nitrate


Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound with a simple structure consisting of ammonium (NH₄⁺) and nitrate (NO₃⁻) ions. In this compound, the positively charged ammonium ion and the negatively charged nitrate ion are bonded together through ionic bonds. This structure makes ammonium nitrate highly soluble in water, allowing it to release nitrogen—an essential element for plant growth—into the soil quickly. Its crystalline form enhances its stability, making it an effective fertilizer and a component in certain explosives where rapid gas release is required.

Preparation of Ammonium Nitrate

Ammonium nitrate is prepared through a simple chemical reaction where ammonia (NH₃) reacts with nitric acid (HNO₃). The chemical equation for this reaction is:

NH₃(g) + HNO₃(l) → NH₄NO₃(s)

In this process, ammonia gas is neutralized by nitric acid in a controlled environment to form ammonium nitrate, which crystallizes as a solid. To ensure the reaction is efficient and safe, it is typically conducted at lower temperatures to manage the exothermic nature of the reaction—meaning it releases heat. Once formed, the ammonium nitrate is purified and dried to form the white granules or crystals commonly used in fertilizers and explosives. This method is favored for its straightforwardness and effectiveness in producing high-quality ammonium nitrate.

Physical Properties of Ammonium Nitrate

AppearanceWhite, crystalline solid that may be granulated for agricultural use.
SolubilityHighly soluble in water, which makes it effective for use as a quick-release fertilizer.
Density1.72 g/cm³, which is relatively dense, allowing it to sink in water.
Melting PointDecomposes around 169°C (336°F); does not melt but rather breaks down, releasing gases.
Boiling PointDoes not have a true boiling point as it decomposes before boiling.
HygroscopicityAbsorbs moisture from the air, which requires it to be stored in moisture-proof containers.

Chemical Properties of Ammonium Nitrate

Reactivity with Water

  • Ammonium nitrate is highly soluble in water, which means it can dissolve quickly when mixed with water. This property is crucial for its use as a fertilizer because it allows the nitrogen to be readily available to plants.


  • Ammonium nitrate decomposes when heated, making it an important compound in explosives. This reaction releases gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and water vapor, which contribute to its explosive properties when rapidly heated.
  • Equation: 2NH₄NO₃ → 2N₂ + O₂ + 4H₂O

Oxidizing Agent

  • As an oxidizing agent, ammonium nitrate can support the combustion of other materials even in the absence of air, due to its nitrate ion. This makes it particularly useful in certain types of explosives where it helps to rapidly oxidize fuel sources, releasing large amounts of energy.

Hygroscopic Nature

  • Ammonium nitrate is hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb moisture from the air. This trait requires it to be stored in airtight containers to prevent it from clumping or reacting unintendedly, especially in humid environments.

Neutralization Reaction

  • When combined with a strong base, ammonium nitrate can undergo a neutralization reaction. For example, mixing it with potassium hydroxide (KOH) can produce ammonia and potassium nitrate. This reaction is significant in chemical synthesis and industrial processes where these byproducts are needed.

Ammonium Nitrate (NH₄NO₃) Chemical Compound Information

Chemical Identifier

CAS Registry Number6484-52-2
PubChem Compound ID22985
SMILES IdentifierN+([O-])[O-].[NH4+]
RTECS NumberBR9050000
MDL NumberMFCD00011425

NFPA Label

NFPA Health Rating0
NFPA Fire Rating0
NFPA Reactivity Rating3
NFPA HazardsOxidizing agent

Uses of Ammonium Nitrate


Fertilizer in Agriculture

Ammonium nitrate is a popular fertilizer due to its high nitrogen content, which is essential for the healthy growth of plants. It helps increase crop yields and improves the quality of the plants.

Ingredient in Explosives

It is a key component in many explosives used in mining, quarrying, and civil construction due to its ability to release a large amount of gases when decomposed by heat, which aids in breaking rock and other hard materials.

Instant Cold Packs

Ammonium nitrate is used in instant cold packs for first aid; when water dissolves the salt, it absorbs heat, thus providing an immediate cooling effect.

Nitrous Oxide Production

It is used in the production of nitrous oxide. It also known as laughing gas, which is used as an anesthetic in dentistry and surgery.

Oxidizer in Rocket Propellants

Ammonium nitrate serves as an oxidizer in rocket propellants, helping to burn the fuel in a controlled manner to propel rockets.

Firework Manufacture

In the pyrotechnics industry, ammonium nitrate is used to create the oxygen needed for the combustion of various compounds in fireworks, contributing to their colorful displays.

Antimicrobial Agent in Food Packaging

It can be used as an antimicrobial agent in food packaging to help extend the shelf life of the packaged goods by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms.

Smoke Bombs

Ammonium nitrate is also utilized in the production of smoke bombs for both entertainment and tactical purposes, where it helps produce large volumes of smoke.

Side Effects of Ammonium Nitrate

  • Explosive Hazards: Ammonium nitrate can be highly explosive under certain conditions, such as when heated or contaminated with combustible materials. This makes it a significant risk factor in manufacturing, storage, and transportation settings.
  • Environmental Pollution: If large amounts of ammonium nitrate are not properly handled, they can lead to significant environmental pollution. This compound can leach into groundwater and surface waters. It contributing to water pollution that harms aquatic life and affects water quality.
  • Health Risks: Exposure to ammonium nitrate can be harmful to human health. Inhalation of its dust can irritate the respiratory tract, and contact with the compound can cause irritation to the skin and eyes.
  • Soil Acidification: Prolonged use of ammonium nitrate fertilizers can lead to soil acidification. Acidic soils can decrease the availability of essential nutrients to plants and alter the microbial ecosystem, negatively impacting crop yields.
  • Ozone Layer Depletion: Decomposition products of ammonium nitrate include nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas that also contributes to ozone layer depletion when released into the atmosphere.
  • Risk of Misuse: Due to its explosive nature, ammonium nitrate can be misused for the production of improvised explosive devices.


Why Ammonium Nitrate is Banned?

Ammonium nitrate is banned in some places due to its high explosiveness and potential for misuse in improvised explosive devices.

Is Ammonium Nitrate Toxic to Humans?

Ammonium nitrate can be toxic, causing irritation to eyes, skin, and respiratory system upon direct exposure.

Is Ammonium Nitrate Still Used?

Yes, ammonium nitrate is still widely used as a fertilizer and a component in explosives for industrial use.

Why is Ammonium Nitrate So Explosive?

Ammonium nitrate is highly explosive because it acts as a strong oxidizer, rapidly releasing gases that expand violently when heated.

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