Essential Chemicals for the Organic Lab

IMG_4245
My organic reagents cabinet

This post represents a public expression of some brainstorming I’ve been doing lately regarding how to determine what it truly means to have a “fully stocked” lab, and what the minimum array of chemicals that must be bought so that virtually any organic chemistry that can be carried out in an amateur lab will become practical. I will begin by making a color coded list of chemicals. While it is not absolutely necessary to have all of these chemicals in stock (I don’t), if you have all of these at your disposal as an amateur organic chemist, there is a whole lot that you’ll be able to do without finding yourself constantly saying “if only I had [chemical], then I could do [reaction].” It’s also a great way to find projects to do if you’re just getting into organic chemistry, to expand your skills and your available reagents simultaneously.

Note as well that this list is focused on reagents, solvents, catalysts, and utility chemicals such as drying agents. Chemicals that may be good building blocks for some synthetic targets, but are not essential for a wide range of transformations, are not included here. You won’t see salicylic acid, benzaldehyde, or bromobenzene here despite them being commonly made and used. I may make another list of organic building blocks at some point in the future.

Green indicates a chemical that is readily available to buy inexpensively either OTC or online from multiple vendors in most regions. I am in the US, which affects my judgment of what is available. Even within the US, some OTC chemicals may vary in availability by state and seasonality (especially pool chemicals). Other regions may have a wider or narrower selection of chemicals available.

Blue indicates a chemical that is not readily available to purchase from amateur-friendly vendors or can’t be purchased economically, but can be economically manufactured by an amateur using other green or blue chemicals in a one or two step synthesis. It can also include chemicals that are so easy to make they aren’t worth buying.

Purple indicates a chemical that is not generally available to purchase from amateur -friendly vendors, or can’t be purchased economically, but can be manufactured somewhat economically by an amateur in a multi-step synthesis using other green, blue, or purple chemicals. What determines whether a chemical is economical to purchase largely depends on the amount needed by the individual, their budget, and its availability.

Orange indicates a chemical that may be available to buy in some regions, but is restricted legally, or just hard to find (may be sold by only one or two vendors, likely overpriced). It may also indicate a chemical that can only be synthesized in an amateur setting by using other orange chemicals and/or specialized equipment.

Red indicates a chemical that is generally unavailable to the amateur chemist, having no reliable legal way to purchase, and no practical way to synthesize.

  • Acetic acid (glacial)
  • Acetic anhydride
  • Acetone
  • Acetonitrile
  • Acetyl chloride or acetyl bromide
  • [Alkyl]silyl chloride(s)
  • Aluminum metal (foil or granules)
  • Aluminum chloride (anhydrous)
  • Ammonium chloride
  • Aluminum isopropoxide
  • Ammonia (anhydrous)
  • Ammonia (aqueous)
  • Aniline
  • Anthranilic acid
  • Argon (or nitrogen)
  • Benzene
  • Benzoic acid (primarily for making benzene and mCPBA)
  • Benzophenone
  • p-Benzoquinone
  • Benzyl alcohol (primarily for making benzyl halides)
  • Benzyl chloride or benzyl bromide
  • Benzyl chloroformate
  • Borane-tetrahydrofuran
  • Boric acid
  • Bromine
  • Bromobenzene
  • n-Bromobutane
  • n-Butyllithium
  • Calcium chloride (anhydrous)
  • Carbon dioxide (dry ice)
  • Carbon disulfide
  • Carbon tetrabromide
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • m-Chloroperoxybenzoic acid (mCPBA)
  • Chromium(II) chloride
  • Copper(I) bromide
  • Copper(I) chloride
  • Copper(II) chloride
  • Copper(I) cyanide
  • Copper(I) iodide
  • Cyanuric chloride
  • Cyclohexanol or cyclohexanone
  • Diazald
  • Dichloromethane (DCM)
  • Dicyclohexylcarbodiimide (DCC)
  • Diethyl azodicarboxylate (DEAD)
  • Diethyl ether
  • Diethyl (or dimethyl) phosphite
  • Diiodomethane
  • Diisobutylaluminum hydride (DIBAl-H)
  • Dimethylformamide (DMF)
  • Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)
  • Ethanol
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Ethyl iodide
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde (as paraformaldehyde or formalin)
  • Formic acid
  • Gallium metal
  • Glutamic acid/monosodium glutamate (solely to make succinimide/NBS)
  • Glycerol
  • Heptanes, hexanes, or other aliphatic petroleum ether
  • Hydrazine sulfate
  • Hydrobromic acid
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Hydrogen peroxide (concentrated)
  • Hydroquinone
  • Hydroxylamine hydrochloride
  • Imidazole
  • Iodine
  • Iron metal (filings)
  • Isopropanol
  • Lead(IV) acetate
  • Lithium aluminum hydride (LAH)
  • Lithium metal
  • Magnesium metal (turnings)
  • Magnesium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Manganese dioxide (not pottery grade)
  • Mercury(II) chloride
  • Mercury metal
  • Methanol
  • Methylamine hydrochloride
  • Methyl iodide
  • Naphthalene
  • N-bromosuccinimide (NBS)
  • Nicotinic acid (niacin) (solely to make pyridine)
  • Nickel(II) chloride
  • Nitric acid (azeotropic)
  • Nitric acid (white fuming)
  • Nitrobenzene
  • Nitrogen (or argon)
  • N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide
  • Oleum
  • Osmium tetroxide
  • Oxalic acid
  • Oxalyl chloride
  • Oxone (potassium peroxymonosulfate)
  • Palladium and/or platinum on carbon
  • Palladium(II) acetate
  • Phenol
  • Phosphoric acid (concentrated)
  • Phosphorus (red)
  • Phosphorus pentachloride
  • Phosphorus pentasulfide
  • Phosphorus pentoxide
  • Phosphorus tribromide
  • Phosphoryl chloride
  • Phthalic anhydride
  • Phthalimide
  • Piperidine
  • Potassium carbonate
  • Potassium chloride
  • Potassium chlorochromate (or pyridinium chlorochromate)
  • Potassium dichromate
  • Potassium fluoride
  • Potassium hydrogen phthalate
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Potassium iodate
  • Potassium iodide
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Potassium periodate
  • Potassium permanganate
  • Potassium tert-butoxide
  • Pyridine
  • Pyrrolidine
  • Samarium(II) iodide
  • Silver nitrate
  • Silver oxide
  • Silica gel (chromatography grade)
  • Sodium azide
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium borohydride
  • Sodium bromide
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Sodium cyanide
  • Sodium dithionite
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sodium hypochlorite (bleach)
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sodium metal
  • Sodium nitrite
  • Sodium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Sodium sulfide
  • Sodium tetrafluoroborate
  • Sodium thiosulfate
  • Sodium tungstate
  • Succinimide
  • Sulfur
  • Sulfuric acid (concentrated)
  • Sulfuryl chloride
  • TEMPO
  • Tetrabutylammonium bromide or iodide
  • Tetrachloroethylene
  • Tetrahydrofuran (THF)
  • Thionyl chloride
  • Tin(II) chloride
  • Tin(IV) chloride (anhydrous)
  • Tin metal (shot)
  • Toluene
  • p-Toluenesulfonic acid
  • p-Toluenesulfonyl chloride
  • Trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA)
  • Triethylamine
  • Triflic acid
  • Trifluoroacetic acid
  • Trimethyl borate
  • Trimethyl phosphate
  • Triphenylphosphine
  • Triphosgene
  • Urea
  • Water (distilled or deionized)
  • Xylenes
  • Zinc chloride (anhydrous)
  • Zinc metal (granules, dust)

The following is the list of “green” chemicals from the above list that could be used to make any of the blue and purple chemicals on the list, and potentially some of the orange ones if specialized equipment is available. Others are simply useful in their own right.

  • Acetic acid (glacial)
  • Acetone
  • Aluminum metal (foil or granules)
  • Ammonia (aqueous)
  • Ammonium chloride
  • Argon (or nitrogen)
  • Benzoic acid (primarily for making benzene)
  • Boric acid
  • Calcium chloride (anhydrous)
  • Carbon dioxide (dry ice)
  • Dichloromethane (DCM)
  • Diethyl ether
  • Dimethylformamide (DMF)
  • Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)
  • Ethanol
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde (as paraformaldehyde or formalin)
  • Formic acid
  • Gallium metal
  • Glutamic acid/monosodium glutamate (solely to make succinimide/NBS)
  • Glycerol
  • Heptanes, hexanes, or other aliphatic petroleum ether
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Hydrogen peroxide (concentrated)
  • Hydroquinone
  • Iron metal (filings)
  • Isopropanol
  • Magnesium metal
  • Magnesium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Methanol
  • Nicotinic acid (niacin) (solely to make pyridine)
  • Nitrogen (or argon)
  • Oxalic acid
  • Oxone (potassium peroxymonosulfate)
  • Phosphoric acid (concentrated)
  • Phthalic anhydride
  • Potassium carbonate
  • Potassium chloride
  • Potassium dichromate
  • Potassium fluoride
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Potassium iodide
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Potassium permanganate
  • Silver nitrate
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium bromide
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Sodium dithionite
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sodium nitrite
  • Sodium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Sodium sulfide
  • Sodium thiosulfate
  • Sulfur
  • Sulfuric acid (concentrated)
  • Trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA)
  • Tin metal (shot)
  • Toluene
  • Urea
  • Water (distilled or deionized)
  • Xylenes
  • Zinc metal (granules, dust)

That’s about 65 chemicals. It sounds like a lot, but many of them can be picked up from the supermarket or hardware store, and the rest can be acquired from a handful of online vendors. From there, it’s a matter of building up your stock of blue and purple chemicals. As for the rest, depending on where you live, you might be able to order them affordably, or get them from another amateur chemist. Keep in mind that although I call this list “essential” your particular needs will vary depending on what you are working on. You may never need some of these chemicals, while you may need some more niche reagents depending on what project you’re working on.

If there are any other chemicals that I’m forgetting, or you’re skeptical about the category I’ve placed a chemical in, feel free to comment. I plan to update this list periodically.

Updated: 5/25/21

3 thoughts on “Essential Chemicals for the Organic Lab

  1. DCM is listed as OTC? I don’t agree with this. It is more orange: it is easily available in some parts of the US, but isn’t supplied by amateur-friendly vendors in Europe and Asia and is very hard to make.
    Also, sodium metal for organic chemistry purposes is quite easily made by a process showed by NurdRage in one of his videos (sodium- magnesium oxide aggregate) so I believe it should be blue.
    Also, oleum is purple and I don’t know an amateur-friendly process of making it besides the one using phosphorus pentoxide, but that is orange so it can’t be used to make it.

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    1. Hi, thanks for pointing that out about DCM. I forgot that the availability was limited in Europe. Do you know if tetrachloroethylene (brake parts cleaner) is available? That is a good substitute, and I have it listed as green as well. I haven’t yet watched Nurd’s sodium video, actually. I’ll have to watch that and see if it appears to actually be viable. As for oleum, check out Magpie’s thread on it: https://www.sciencemadness.org/whisper/viewthread.php?tid=78495 It only requires phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid. It’s actually such a simple procedure I could almost list it as blue.

      Like

  2. Wow! Thanks for informing me about the oleum procedure! In Romania at least, brake parts cleaner doesn’t have tetrachloroethylene, but I think this is also the case in other EU countries. Nice nonpolar solvents are generally hard to find around here.

    Like

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