The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 43 Number 4: 106-109 - October 1981

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Chemical Aspectes of the Conversion of Cave Nitrates to Saltpeter
P. Gary Eller


The procedure for producing saltpeter (potasium nitrate, or niter) from cave sediments was studied using laboratory and action history experiments. A sample of saltpeter was prepared from the first time in more than 160 years from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky saltpeter-rich sediments. The chemical steps of the process were identified, and the principal impurities were found to be sulfates derived from the sulfate-rich cave sediments. The cave saltpeter process was accomplished easily on a small scale by a single individual in about two days.

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