Essential Chemicals for the Organic Lab

IMG_4245
My organic reagents cabinet

It’s been quite some time since I last posted, but I’m hoping to be back in the lab before too long. With spring break right around the corner, I should have some time to get my new lab space finished and unveiled, and then finally resume regular posting.

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), the amateur organic chemist should strive to acquire as many of them as possible, either by buying or synthesizing them in quantities large enough to perform multiple reactions.

Green indicates a chemical that is readily available to buy inexpensively either OTC or online from multiple vendors in most regions. 

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 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 iseconomical to purchase largely depends on the amount needed by the individual.

Orange indicates a chemical that may be available to buy in some regions, but is restricted legally, or just hard to find, and can not be synthesized in an amateur setting without other orange chemicals or very specialized equipment, if at all.

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
  • Acetic anhydride
  • Acetone
  • Acetonitrile
  • Acetyl chloride or acetyl bromide
  • [Alkyl]silyl chloride(s)
  • Aluminum metal
  • Aluminum chloride (anhydrous)
  • Ammonium chloride
  • Aluminum isopropoxide
  • Ammonium persulfate
  • Aniline
  • Anthranilic acid
  • Aqueous ammonia
  • Argon
  • Benzaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Benzoic acid
  • Benzophenone
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Benzyl chloride or benzyl bromide
  • Borane-tetrahydrofuran
  • Boric acid
  • Bromine
  • Bromobenzene
  • n-Bromobutane
  • n-Butanol
  • t-Butanol
  • n-Butyllithium
  • Calcium chloride (anhydrous)
  • Carbon dioxide (dry ice)
  • Chloroacetic acid
  • m-Chloroperoxybenzoic acid (mCPBA)
  • Copper(I) bromide
  • Copper(I) chloride
  • Copper(II) chloride
  • Copper(I) cyanide
  • Cyanuric chloride
  • Cyclohexanol or cyclohexanone
  • Dichloromethane (DCM)
  • Dicyclohexylcarbodiimide (DCC)
  • Diethyl ether
  • Diisobutylaluminum hydride (DIBAl-H)
  • 4-Dimethylaminopyridine
  • Dimethylformamide (DMF)
  • Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)
  • Distilled water
  • Ethanol
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Ethyl iodide
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde (as paraformaldehyde or formalin)
  • Formic acid
  • Gallium metal
  • Glycerol
  • Heptanes, hexanes, or other aliphatic petroleum ether
  • Hydrazine sulfate
  • Hydrobromic acid
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Hydroquinone
  • Iodine
  • Iron metal
  • Lead (II,IV) oxide
  • Lithium aluminum hydride (LAH)
  • Lithium metal
  • Magnesium metal
  • Magnesium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Manganese dioxide
  • Mercury(II) chloride
  • Mercury metal
  • Methanol
  • Methylamine hydrochloride
  • Methyl iodide
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Naphthalene
  • N-bromosuccinimide
  • Nicotinic acid (niacin) (solely to make pyridine)
  • Nitric acid (azeotropic)
  • Nitric acid (white fuming)
  • Nitrobenzene
  • Oleum
  • Oxalic acid
  • Oxalyl chloride
  • Oxone
  • Palladium and/or platinum on carbon
  • Phenol
  • Phenolphthalein
  • Phosphoric acid (concentrated)
  • Phosphorus (red)
  • Phosphorus pentachloride
  • Phosphorus pentoxide
  • Phosphorus tribromide
  • Phthalic anhydride
  • Phthalimide
  • Piperidine
  • Potassium carbonate
  • Potassium chloride
  • Potassium chlorochromate
  • Potassium dichromate
  • Potassium fluoride
  • Potassium hydrogen phthalate
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Potassium iodate
  • Potassium iodide
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Potassium periodate
  • Potassium permanganate
  • Potassium t-butoxide
  • 2-Propanol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Pyridine
  • Salicylic acid
  • Sodium azide
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium borohydride
  • Sodium bromide
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Sodium cyanide
  • Sodium dithionite
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sodium metal
  • Sodium nitrite
  • Sodium persulfate
  • Sodium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Sodium sulfide
  • Sodium sulfite
  • Sodium tetrafluoroborate
  • Sodium thiosulfate
  • Styrene
  • Succinic acid
  • Succinimide
  • Sulfur
  • Sulfuric acid (concentrated)
  • Sulfuryl chloride
  • Tetrabutylammonium bromide or iodide
  • Tetrachloroethylene
  • Tetrahydrofuran (THF)
  • Thionyl chloride
  • Tin(II) chloride
  • Tin(IV) chloride (anhydrous)
  • Tin metal
  • Toluene
  • p-Toluenesulfonic acid
  • p-Toluenesulfonyl chloride
  • Trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA)
  • Triethylamine
  • Triflic acid
  • Triphenylphosphine
  • Urea
  • Xylenes
  • Zinc chloride (anhydrous)
  • Zinc metal

Minus the chemicals that are virtually impossible to acquire without getting really lucky and getting them through university or industrial lab surplus (it’s been known to happen), the following is the list of green chemicals that would be economical to buy that could be used to make any of the blue and purple chemicals on the list:

  • Acetic acid
  • Acetone
  • Acetylsalicylic acid (solely to make salicylic acid)
  • Aluminum metal
  • Ammonium chloride
  • Ammonium persulfate
  • Aniline
  • Aqueous ammonia
  • Argon
  • Benzoic acid
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Boric acid
  • n-Butanol
  • t-Butanol
  • Calcium chloride (anhydrous)
  • Carbon dioxide (dry ice)
  • Copper metal
  • Dichloromethane (DCM)
  • Diethyl ether
  • Dimethylformamide (DMF)
  • Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)
  • Distilled water
  • Ethanol
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde (as paraformaldehyde or formalin)
  • Formic acid
  • Gallium metal
  • Glycerol
  • Heptanes, hexanes, or other aliphatic petroleum ether
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Hydroquinone
  • Iron metal
  • Magnesium metal
  • Magnesium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Manganese dioxide
  • Methanol
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Nicotinic acid (niacin) (solely to make pyridine)
  • Oxalic acid
  • Phenolphthalein
  • Phosphoric acid (concentrated)
  • Phthalic anhydride
  • Potassium carbonate
  • Potassium chloride
  • Potassium dichromate
  • Potassium fluoride
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Potassium iodate
  • Potassium iodide
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Potassium periodate
  • Potassium permanganate
  • 2-Propanol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium bromide
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Sodium dithionite
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sodium nitrite
  • Sodium persulfate
  • Sodium sulfate (anhydrous)
  • Sodium sulfide
  • Sodium sulfite
  • Sodium thiosulfate
  • Sulfur
  • Sulfuric acid (concentrated)
  • Tetrahydrofuran (THF)
  • Trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA)
  • Tin metal
  • Toluene
  • Triethylamine
  • Urea
  • Xylenes
  • Zinc metal

That’s about 80 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.

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.

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.

    Like

    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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