As a survival substance, potassium permanganate is arguably one of the most beneficial.
The 4 oxygen atoms in the compound are the key to its action and its applicability in survival. Potassium permanganate contains a lot of oxygen which makes the chemical an oxidant. It is this ability to oxygenate which is one of the reasons why potassium permanganate is such a useful survival chemical.
As a slight side note, potassium permanganate is good at getting stains out of things. For example, you can remove ‘foxing’ from an old book using a potassium permanganate solution. But at the same time, if you get it on your skin, you end up with brown stains that are very hard to get off — as I once found out.
Studies, from “The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics”, have shown that at a dilution of 1:10,000 (potassium permanganate to water) kills most bacteria within an hour.
You may be asking the question, can I sterilize drinking water with potassium permanganate? Not only that you can, but you can also do it at the source. For example, if you have a well, you can control bacterial growth by feeding the well a solution of around 4-7 g permanganate per gallon.
Potassium permanganate is more readily used externally. As mentioned earlier, the oxidizing nature of the chemical means it is a very good disinfectant.
A dilute solution of potassium permanganate can be used to treat anything from trench foot to cleaning wounds to sterilizing infected water. It can even be used to treat bacterial infections in fish.
Related: Emergency Care For Gunshot Wounds
Potassium permanganate is a great fire starter. All you need to start a fire with potassium permanganate is about 10 g (1/3 oz) of it and some glycerin (about 1 ml or 1/4 teaspoon). It can also work with sugar and water. Place your potassium permanganate in a small ceramic dish, or on a tile (as shown below). Next, drop the glycerol onto the potassium permanganate and stand back. Within a few seconds to a minute, the dish will start to smoke, and then a sudden purplish flame will appear. You can use the flame to light a larger fire.
Create a small mound of potassium permanganate and drop the glycerol into a small reservoir in the middle of the mound
Stand back and watch as the chemicals react and create a flame
Use the flame as a fire lighter
Using the same principle as in use #3 you can also use potassium permanganate as an improvised munition. As a simple munition, you can use a mix of sugar and potassium permanganate. To do this, finely grind sugar and permanganate separately (it is important to grind these separately for obvious reasons). Then using a soft brush, mix the two together — the brush reduces friction — this will form a low level munition. Wrap the powder together into something like a small bore, capped tube with a fuse.
Wounds, including blisters, and even open wounds, can be treated for infection by taking a dilute potassium permanganate bath. Follow the 1:10,000 rule for the solution. Similarly, you can also treat eczema, dermatitis, and fungal infections using a dilute solution of potassium permanganate which you use to wash the infected area with each day. Referring back to the Pharmacopoeia from 1968, it suggests a 1 in 5000 up to 1 in 10,000 solution for weeping wounds and similar for urethral irrigation for water infections — so accuracy for external treatments can be around that solution range.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Concentrated solutions of potassium permanganate are poisonous, so be careful!
Potassium permanganate is a disinfectant so can be used as a mouthwash. The disinfectant action works by attacking microorganisms using the oxidizing properties of the potassium permanganate. The potassium permanganate mouthwash solution will taste slightly sweet with an astringent aftertaste. There are ongoing studies into the antiseptic properties of potassium permanganate and its use in managing periodontal disease. The concentration of the mouthwash in the trials being a 0.01% solution; that is 1g potassium permanganate per 10,000ml of water (that’s around 2 gallons of water). The trial recommends gargling with 10 ml of this solution, twice per day.
Potassium permanganate is stable as a solid at room temperature and normal light conditions, but it is less stable as a liquid. So it is best to make up solutions in small batches that will be used up quickly, so in the above example, you are likely best using 100 mg potassium permanganate to around 1 liter of water (around 0.2 gallons.)
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