How to Dispose of Gunpowder

Do you have old gunpowder and need a safe way to dispose of it? This article discusses eight amazing ways you can use to dispose of gunpowder, including mixing it with damp dirt, trading it online, and lighting it.

Before you understand how to dispose of gunpowder, note that it is available in two forms, i.e., smokeless or black powder. These types of gunpowders react differently when used or exposed to the environment.

Therefore, you need different methods to dispose of them carefully so that it doesn’t explode in your hands. Although gunpowder may seem harmless, it is highly explosive. If you have old or unused gunpowder lying in your house, it’s best to learn the best methods to dispose of it. That brings us to the question: How to Dispose of Gunpowder?

You can dispose of gunpowder by taking it to the local police department, selling it to gun enthusiasts, or mixing it with damp dirt. Besides, you can contact local gun dealers and ask them to dispose of the gunpowder for you.

Another eco-friendly method of disposing of gunpowder is using it as a fertilizer but in small amounts per plant. The method you choose to dispose of gunpowder depends on your type. For instance, black powder can’t be used as fertilizer like smokeless. Black powder is highly explosive; hence it is not safe to ignite it as you would with smokeless.

What Is the Difference Between Black Powder and Smokeless?

Gunpowder acts as fuel for loads, except air guns that use compressed air as fuel. There are two main types of gunpowder, i.e., black powder and smokeless powder.

Black Powder

It is mainly made of Sulphur, saltpeter, and charcoal. It’s easy to ignite black powder making it efficient for flintlock and other crude ignition system firearms.

Although igniting the black powder is easy, it needs extensive care and maintenance. Slight electric sparks can ignite it. Hence it may lead to accidents. Besides, black powder is highly explosive; hence, it explodes before the bullet moves, leading to a pressure spike. Black powder is mainly rated depending on the grain size; if the grain is smaller, the rate of burning increases; hence it is only effective for smaller calibers.

Smokeless Powder

Smokeless powder is mainly made of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. It may come as a single base type with one ingredient or a double base type featuring all ingredients. When smokeless powder burns, it leaves little to no residue. The rate of burning smokeless powder is directly proportional to the pressure applied. It does not detonate like black powder, and its burning rate can be easily controlled. Combustion materials used to make smokeless powder are mainly gaseous, while about 55 percent of black powder components are solids such as potassium carbonate, potassium sulfate, and potassium sulfide.

How To Dispose of Black Gunpowder

Black powder for live ammunition should never be thrown in the trash can. Before you dispose of the gunpowder, ensure you have neutralized it or contact the relevant waste disposal organizations. Since the black powder is more volatile than smokeless powder, you are not advised to burn it down; otherwise, you may risk causing fire hazards from the explosion. Numerous waste facilities are responsible for disposing of black powder, and they will do it correctly after reporting to them. Before that, you can try the following ways to dispose of black gunpowder:

1. Mixing It with Damp Dirt

This is one of the most common and easiest ways to dispose of black powder yourself. Mix the black powder with dampness in a container or directly in your garden or damp site. One of the materials used for making black powder is potassium nitrates, a highly hygroscopic compound. When mixed with damp dirt, it absorbs water from the surrounding soil, making the overall gunpowder ineffective.

2. Using Nearby Local Police Department

Your local police departments will help you dispose of gunpowder. There are several ways to do that, the common one for training. They can also dispose of the gunpowder by following their procedures hence don’t have to be worried. Therefore, if you feel uncomfortable disposing of the gunpowder in your dump dirt or garden, you can directly hand it to the nearest police department. Moreover, it is the safest and recommended way to dispose of black powder. That’s thanks to the police officers’ rich experience handling such materials all year round.

3. Submitting It to The Local Gun Dealer

Like police officers, gun dealers have a rich experience dealing with guns, and that’s the same for related materials such as gunpowder. It is also another safe way to dispose of black gunpowder. Gun dealers have the required knowledge and experience to handle your gunpowder. Before taking your gunpowder to gun dealers, contact them and tell them how much gunpowder you must dispose of. If you are lucky, they will dispose of it for you without charges; otherwise, you’ll have to pay some fee.

4. Trade It Online

The internet has made it easy for people to dispose of unwanted substances, and black gunpowder is not exempted. There are numerous forums online that are interested in your black gunpowder residue. You can contact them or advertise yourself about the black gunpowder you are offering.

How To Dispose of Smokeless Gunpowder

The reactions between smokeless powder and black powder differ; hence you may need different disposal methods for individual cases. Smokeless powder is a propellant; therefore, it produces little to no smoke, as mentioned earlier. However, smokeless powder is three times more powerful compared to black powder. Its burning rate is high; therefore, it’s important to dispose of it to avoid accidents. The following are some of the simple ways to dispose of smokeless gunpowder:

1. Lighting It

Unlike black powder, smokeless powder is not explosive and doesn’t produce fumes. Therefore, it is safe to light it in your backyard for disposal. Although it’s safe, you must take extra precautions and ensure all the safety protocols are followed. To avoid accidents, do not light more than twenty pounds of smokeless gunpowder in one go. This prevents the flames from coming out of control and causing accidents. Before burning smokeless powder, visits a local ammunition store to buy a fuse to use during the process. The fuse keeps you at a safe distance from the flames as the gunpowder burns.

There are two main ways to light up smokeless powder safely. They are:

2. Making A Trail

Take the smokeless powder you wish to get rid of and pour in a straight line as your walk. This will prevent the fires from going out of control as little gunpowder is burnt at a time. After spreading the gunpowder in a line, use the fuse and light it up. It will burn slowly following the gunpowder trail until it has all been disposed of.

3. Building A Ditch

Cared to the first method, this way of lighting smokeless gunpowder, requires effort. Dig a small ditch in your backyard; don’t make it too deep. The ditch should be enough to control the flames as the smokeless powder burns. Ensure the ditch is away from trees or other substances at risk of catching fire. After the ditch is ready, dump one pound inside (the amount you dump depends on the size of the ditch. Go a safe distance from the ditch (it depends on how long your fuse is) and set the smokeless gunpowder on fire. Repeat the procedure several times to ensure all the smokeless gunpowder is disposed of.

4. Use It as a Fertilizer

The smokeless powder can make you a good fertilizer. However, it should be used in a smaller amount to avoid damaging your plants. The smokeless powder features high nitrogen and phosphorus percentage that most plants need for growth. Using smokeless powder as fertilizer is an ecologically friendly method, and it’s recommended. When applying, ensure the weather is calm; when it’s blown in the air, it may be hazardous when you breathe it in.

5. Giving It a Friend

Smokeless powder is a live ammunition substance. Therefore, if you know someone or a friend who wants to use it to reload their ammunition, you can gift it to them. It is a safe and easy way to dispose of gunpowder without exposure to any risk. However, it only works if you know someone who needs it; otherwise, it’s invalid.

6. Sell It Online

Like black powder, the smokeless powder can be traded online. You can find gun enthusiasts online who love collecting accessories like old gunpowder. It may be because it is a form of unique antique to them. Before trading your old smokeless powder, conduct due diligence to ensure your buyer won’t use it for illegal purposes. You can achieve that by having a conversation and knowing what type of people they are. If possible, find a buyer who lives nearby, as they can collect it from you quickly.

How Long Does Gunpowder Last?

It is estimated the shelf life of a gun powder is ten years, provided it stays in its original sealed container. The temperature for string gunpowder must be maintained at an average of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Other aspects, such as humidity, must be maintained at 55 to 60 per cent; otherwise, the shelf life of the gunpowder is reduced. However, studies reveal that gunpowder has indefinite shelf life if it stays sealed in manufacturing.

Gunpowder loses its effects after years of use. Although the process can be delayed if stored under proper storage containers, it will still expire after some time. After your gunpowder has expired, it becomes ineffective, and the only choice you are left with is to dispose of it off. Most gunpowder is made of a mixture of potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal. After the gunpowder expires, nitrocellulose compounds start degrading, thus releasing acetic acid solvent. You can detect expired gunpowder by sniffing it and noticing a vinegar smell.

What Does Water Do to Gunpowder?

When the black powder comes in contact with water, it is immediately ruined.   Gunpowder is made from the moisture of potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal. Potassium nitrate is highly hygroscopic and soluble. Therefore, when it contacts water, it gets washed away. Without potassium nitrate as the main compound in the gunpowder, the rest remains useless; therefore, you must dispose of it quickly. Note that this only occurs when the gunpowder is exposed to a lot of water; a drop or moisture may not have the same effects.

Can You Flush Gunpowder Down?

Yes, but trace or limited amounts. Flushing becomes an option for disposing of gunpowder if you have spillage. After flushing down the drainage system, follow up with water continuously for five to seven minutes. This ensures all the potassium nitrate is washed off the system to the sewer. It is the perfect method for disposing of smokeless and black powder gunpowder.

You are advised to avoid flushing huge amounts of gunpowder. A large amount of gunpowder is hazardous regardless of the type. Flushing up large amounts of gunpowder risks being disposed of in water bodies. Water contaminated with gunpowder is hazardous to the ecosystem.

How To Differentiate Between Good and Bad Gunpowder

You can differentiate good and bad gunpowder by conducting a sniff test, visual inspection, and checking the nature of the package. If the smell from undetectable scent and alcoholic, the gunpowder is good. However, if the smell is unpleasant, acidic (like vinegar – acetic acid), or the smell fries your nasal canals, the gunpowder has deteriorated and is useless. Sometimes, deteriorated gunpowder smells like muriatic acid fumes.

Visual changes can indicate chemical or physical reactions which call for disposal. For instance, when the gunpowder is brown or produces rust-coloured fumes when opened, the gunpowder has gone bad. If the colour of the storage container changes from the inside, it means the gunpowder has gone bad.

Causes Of Gunpower to Explosion?

Gunpowder mainly explodes when one of the compounds used is highly flammable. If you compress gunpowder in a barrel, it is exposed to high pressure; therefore, the distance between each particle is reduced. This causes the particles to rub against each other and later explode due to the heat produced by friction.


How To Store Gunpowder?

Gunpowder should be stored in a closed container and then in a cool and dry place. The storage area must be free from heat and other flammable substances that may cause ignition.

How Does Gunpowder Go Bad?

Gunpowder goes bad when it becomes damp after being stored in a wet place. The hygroscopic compounds in gunpowder, such as potassium nitrate, are soluble in water; hence, they can be washed away, thus making them useless.

What Are the Dangers of Gunpowder?

Gunpowder is highly explosive; hence it must be kept from heat to avoid an explosion. It may cause hypertension disorders, nervous breakdowns, and sudden death if it burns or explodes.


Gunpowder is dangerous and is nutty and handled with care. However, it’s easy to dispose of it after following the methods discussed in the article. If you are holding deteriorated gunpowder or no longer need it, the methods above will help you know how to get rid of it safely. For instance, you can light it, sprinkle on your plants or flush it with a lot of water to make it ineffective. Remember to follow precaution protocols regardless of the method used for disposal.

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