Silver Nitrate

Last Updated: April 28, 2024

Silver Nitrate

Silver nitrate is a chemical compound with a formula of AgNO₃. It appears as a transparent crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water. In the world of chemistry, silver nitrate plays a crucial role due to its diverse applications, including in photography, in staining glass, and as an antiseptic in healthcare. Its ability to react with other compounds makes it an invaluable substance in various chemical reactions and experiments.

What is Silver Nitrate?

Silver nitrate, represented by the chemical formula AgNO₃, is a versatile compound widely used across several fields. It’s known for its distinctive crystalline form that dissolves easily in water, producing a transparent solution. This compound has made significant contributions to photography, medicine, and even glass staining due to its reactive properties. In the medical world, silver nitrate has been used as a potent antiseptic, especially in wound care. Its application in photography, particularly in developing photographic films, highlights its importance in creating images from chemical reactions. Furthermore, its use in creating beautiful stained glass showcases its artistic utility. Overall, silver nitrate is a remarkable chemical compound with a rich history of diverse applications.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Formula AgNO₃
Name Silver nitrate

Structure of Silver Nitrate

Structure of Silver Nitrate

Silver nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula AgNO₃, where Ag represents silver, N is nitrogen, and O₃ stands for three oxygen atoms. It forms as a crystalline solid that is transparent to white in color and is highly soluble in water. At the molecular level, silver nitrate consists of silver ions (Ag⁺) connected to nitrate ions (NO₃⁻). This ionic structure contributes to its ability to dissolve readily in water, as the water molecules interact with and separate the silver and nitrate ions.

In its solid form, silver nitrate adopts a rhombohedral crystal structure, which is a type of crystalline arrangement where the molecules are organized in a repeating pattern. This structure is crucial for its various applications, including in photography, medicine, and as a precursor to other silver-containing compounds. The ionic nature of silver nitrate explains its high reactivity, especially its ability to form precipitates with halide ions, which is utilized in analytical chemistry to detect the presence of halides.

Preparation of Silver Nitrate

The preparation of silver nitrate typically involves the reaction of silver with nitric acid. This chemical process can be described in two main steps. Initially, pure silver metal is carefully placed into a reaction vessel containing dilute nitric acid. The choice of dilute acid is crucial to ensure a controlled reaction, as concentrated nitric acid can lead to a more vigorous and potentially hazardous process. Upon contact, the silver reacts with the nitric acid to produce silver nitrate (AgNO₃), water (H₂O), and nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) gas as by-products. The chemical equation for this reaction is written as:

3Ag + 4HNO₃ → 3AgNO₃ + 2H₂O + NO₂.

The nitrogen dioxide gas released is a toxic brown fume, indicating that the reaction should be carried out in a well-ventilated area or under a fume hood.

After the reaction completes, the resulting mixture contains silver nitrate dissolved in water along with excess nitric acid. The next step involves purifying the solution to obtain pure silver nitrate. This is typically done by evaporating the water from the mixture, which can be achieved through gentle heating. As the water evaporates, silver nitrate begins to crystallize out of the solution. Once all the water has evaporated, the solid silver nitrate can be collected. It is important to store the final product in dark, amber-colored glass containers to protect it from light, as silver nitrate is photosensitive and can decompose upon exposure to light, leading to the formation of silver metal and nitrogen oxides.

Physical Properties of Silver Nitrate

Property Description
Appearance White crystalline solid
Molecular Weight 169.87 g/mol
Melting Point 209.7 °C (409.5 °F)
Boiling Point Decomposes at 440 °C (824 °F)
Density 4.35 g/cm³
Solubility in Water Highly soluble; increases with temperature
Solubility in Other Solvents Soluble in ammonia, slightly soluble in ethanol and methanol
Refractive Index 1.744 (solid)
Thermal Conductivity Low
Chemical Stability Stable under ordinary conditions but light-sensitive, decomposes to silver and nitrogen oxides upon exposure to light or high heat
Safety Considerations Corrosive to skin and eyes, potentially toxic if ingested or inhaled, handles with appropriate safety equipment

Chemical Properties of Silver Nitrate


Silver nitrate is highly soluble in water, which is a fundamental property for its use in solutions.

Equation:  AgNO₃​(s)→Ag⁺(aq)+NO₃⁻(aq)

Reactivity with Halides

When silver nitrate reacts with halide ions, it forms insoluble silver halides, a property utilized in photographic processes and in the detection of halides.

Equation: AgNO₃(aq)+X⁻(aq)→AgX(s)+NO₃⁻​(aq)
Where X⁻ = Cl⁻, Br⁻, or I⁻, leading to the formation of AgCl, AgBr, or AgI, respectively.

Reaction with Organic Compounds

In the presence of aldehydes, silver nitrate participates in the Tollens’ test, producing a silver mirror.

Equation: RCHO+2AgNO₃​+3NH₃+H₂O→2Ag+RCOONH4​+2NH₄​NO₃

This equation showcases the reduction of silver ions to metallic silver by the aldehyde.


  • Light Exposure: Decomposes under light to elemental silver and nitrogen dioxide, important for photographic film development.
    Heat Exposure: Decomposes to silver nitrite (AgNO₂) and oxygen on heating; further decomposition yields silver, nitrogen, and oxygen upon strong heating.

Corrosive Nature

Can cause burns upon skin contact and requires careful handling.

Silver Nitrate (AgNO₃) Chemical Compound Information

Chemical Identifiers

Property Value
CAS Registry Number 7761-88-8
PubChem Compound ID 24470
PubChem Substance ID 24852261
SMILES Identifier N⁺([O⁻])[O⁻].[Ag⁺]
InChI Identifier InChI=1/Ag.NO3/c;2-1(3)4/q+1;-1
RTECS Number VW4725000
MDL Number MFCD00003414

Uses of Silver Nitrate

Uses of Silver Nitrate (AgNo₃)

Medical Applications

  • Antimicrobial Agent: Silver nitrate possesses potent antimicrobial properties, making it an excellent choice for preventing infections in wounds and burns. It has been historically used to treat ulcers and to cauterize wounds.
  • Eye Drops for Newborns: One of the oldest preventive measures against neonatal conjunctivitis, silver nitrate eye drops are administered to newborns shortly after birth to prevent eye infections.
  • Wart and Skin Tag Removal: Due to its caustic properties, silver nitrate is used in the form of a stick, commonly known as a lunar caustic stick, to remove warts, skin tags, and granulation tissue.

Photographic and Electrical Industries

  • Photography: Silver nitrate plays a crucial role in traditional photography. It reacts with halide salts to form light-sensitive silver halides, which are essential components of photographic film and paper.
  • Electronics: The conductive properties of silver nitrate are utilized in the electronics industry for plating and in conductive inks used in printed electronics.

Laboratory Reagents and Other Uses

  • Analytical Chemistry: In titrations, silver nitrate is used as a standard solution to determine the concentration of chloride, bromide, and iodide ions by precipitation titration.
  • Staining Glass: Silver nitrate is employed in the staining of glass, producing a range of colors from yellow to orange and even deep reds, depending on the concentration and the glass used.
  • Preservative: Its antimicrobial properties make silver nitrate a candidate for preserving certain products, though its use is limited due to potential staining.

Safety and Handling

While silver nitrate is invaluable in various applications, it requires careful handling. It can cause stains on skin and fabrics, which turn black upon exposure to sunlight. Moreover, it is important to note that silver nitrate solutions and solids should be stored away from light to prevent decomposition and maintain efficacy.

Benefits Of Silver Nitrate

Medical Applications

  • Antibacterial Properties: Silver nitrate possesses potent antibacterial properties, making it an effective agent in preventing and treating infections. It has been used in wound care, specifically for its ability to prevent bacterial growth and facilitate healing.
  • Cauterization Tool: In medical procedures, silver nitrate sticks are used to cauterize minor skin wounds, helping to stop bleeding and prevent infection. This application is particularly useful in treating small superficial wounds and ulcers.
  • Eye Infections in Newborns: Historically, silver nitrate drops have been administered into the eyes of newborns to prevent conjunctivitis caused by gonorrhea bacteria. While less common today due to the advent of antibiotics, this use underscores the compound’s antibacterial effectiveness.


  • Photographic Films and Papers: Silver nitrate plays a crucial role in traditional photography. When exposed to light, it reacts and forms images on photographic films and papers. This property has been fundamental in developing photographic technologies and processes.

Industrial and Laboratory Uses

  • Precursor to Other Silver Compounds: Silver nitrate serves as a primary component in the synthesis of other silver compounds used in various industrial applications, including those in electronics and mirror manufacturing.
  • Water Purification: Due to its antibacterial properties, silver nitrate is also used in water purification processes. It helps in eliminating bacteria and other harmful organisms to ensure the water’s safety for consumption or use in industrial processes.
  • Staining in Microscopy: In laboratory settings, silver nitrate is used as a stain in microscopy to visualize cellular structures or compounds that are otherwise difficult to see, enhancing research and diagnostic capabilities.

Side Effects of Silver Nitrate

Skin and Eye Contact

  • Skin Irritation: Direct contact with silver nitrate can cause skin irritation. Prolonged exposure may lead to burns or ulcers, especially on sensitive skin.
  • Eye Damage: Accidental contact with eyes can lead to severe irritation and damage. In extreme cases, it may cause corneal burns or vision impairment.

Argentum Effects

  • Argyria: Long-term exposure to silver compounds, including silver nitrate, can lead to argyria, a condition characterized by the bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. This condition is usually permanent.
  • Argyrosis: Similar to argyria, argyrosis is the discoloration of the eye’s conjunctiva, which, although not affecting vision, can be cosmetically undesirable.

Systemic Effects

  • Electrolyte Imbalance: Ingestion of silver nitrate can disrupt electrolyte balance, leading to conditions such as hyponatremia.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Ingesting silver nitrate can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Respiratory Effects

  • Respiratory Irritation: Inhalation of silver nitrate particles can irritate the respiratory tract, leading to coughing and shortness of breath.

Allergic Reactions

  • Dermatitis: Some individuals may develop allergic contact dermatitis after exposure to silver nitrate, characterized by redness, itching, and blistering of the skin.

Interaction with Other Chemicals

  • Chemical Reactions: Silver nitrate can react with other chemicals, potentially leading to hazardous situations.


Is Silver Nitrate Safe for Humans?

Silver nitrate is safe for humans when used correctly, but excessive or improper use can cause skin irritation, eye damage, and argyria.

Does Silver Nitrate Heal Wounds Faster?

Silver nitrate can promote wound healing by preventing infection, but it does not directly speed up the healing process of tissues.

How Long Does Skin Stay Black After Silver Nitrate?

Skin stained by silver nitrate typically remains black for 2-3 weeks but can last longer depending on exposure and individual skin reaction.

What are the safety considerations associated with silver nitrate?

Silver nitrate is toxic if ingested, inhaled, or contacted with skin, causing burns. It’s harmful to aquatic life, requiring proper disposal, and should be securely stored away from children and incompatible substances.

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