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The Works Bomb | ChemistryTwig

The Works Bomb

One of the coolest things about chemistry has to be blowing things up.  It gives you the satisfaction of knowing your experiment worked (or sometimes failed), plus it’s just a lot of fun to watch something blow up.  One of the most popular experiments seems to be the Works bomb.  It’s not a “bomb” in the sense that it explodes into flames and leaves a big hole in the ground, but it makes an extremely loud bang and steams a little bit.  It’s a pressure bomb.  The gas created from the reaction of hydrochloric acid and aluminum fills a plastic bottle until it ruptures.

Warning! The Works bomb is illegal to make! Don’t do it! The information below is purely for educational purposes (such as research papers) and may leave leaves out crucial steps. UPDATE: As of June 2011 key steps to making what is known as The Works Bomb have been omitted from this post as a result of the recent prosecution of a person who told others how to make the bomb.  While I strongly encourage scientific exploration and showing how much fun science can be, some people have used The Works Bomb in menacing ways, making it a serious crime to make one and/or tell someone how to make one.  Regardless of my beliefs about the right for information on all things to be freely available for people’s education, I had to delete information previously displayed in this post in order to ensure I can continue my education and not be put in jail.  I apologize to all those out there who were simply curious about the science that goes on behind this pop-culture display of science.  If you decide to break the law and make the Works bomb, we are not at all responsible for legal consequences nor any health/medical or property damages.

Here’s how someone would make the Works bomb if it were legal:

1.)  Go to a grocery store or big box store and pick up toilet cleaner containing hydrogen chloride (a.k.a. hydrochloric or muriatic acid).  One brand, the Works, contains 20% hydrogen chloride.

2.)  omitted  You don’t need too much omitted; just enough to reach about the 1/5 mark on a bottle.

3.)  Get a plastic bottle with a screw top.  Do not use a metal or glass container!

4.)  omitted.

5.)  Go outside, far from houses and people!  Place the bottle on a stone or something other than grass.  The leftover acid will kill grass.

6.)  Squirt some of the toilet bowl cleaner into the bottle.  Just enough to coat the omitted and leave a generous pool of cleaner on the bottom of the bottle will do.

7.)  Quickly (omitted) run!  It will take a few seconds to a few minutes until the bottle fills with gas, expands, and eventually explodes.

8.)  Wash down the area with water after the bottle has exploded.  Don’t touch the remaining substance if there is any surrounding the bottle.  It will burn you.

The chemistry explanation:  The aluminum foil in your kitchen is coated with a type of wax.  This is to prevent you from being burned by the aluminum since it is a strong skin irritant.  The Works toilet bowl cleaner (and some others) contains hydrochloric acid.  The acid strips the coating away, exposing the aluminum.  Hydrochloric acid reacts rapidly with aluminum to produce Aluminum Chloride (soluble) and Hydrogen gas.  Here’s the reaction (omitting key steps needed to get the reaction to work):

6HCl(aq) + 2Al(s) –> 2AlCl3(aq) + 3H2(g)

This rapid production of gas pressurizes the bottle until it bursts, creating a very loud bang.  The stronger the bottle, the louder the bang.

Warnings:  Hydrochloric acid is dangerous and will burn you, your eyeballs, and kill plants!  Wear safety goggles when handling it (even in the form of toilet bowl cleaner).  I’ve gotten HCl in my eyes before and it isn’t fun.  Wash your hands and pour water on any skin/ part of your body it gets on.  After the experiment is over, be careful when handling the bottle and leftover chemicals.  There may, and probably will, be some acid left, not to mention exposed aluminum that will burn you!  Wash everything with a good dose of water.  Remember, you are making a type of bomb.  This is very dangerous.  Stay far away and if the experiment doesn’t work, do not go near it for a long time!  It can take up to ten minutes for the reaction to start.  Plus, you may be using the toilet bowl cleaner in a way that is inconsistent with it’s labeling, therefore being illegal!  We are not responsible for any injuries caused by this experiment, nor for any legal consequences.  This information is here for educational purposes; not meant for proper lab procedure.


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