Reaction of mercury with nitric acid

The formation of brown fumes. Color of the solution changes to green after the metal dissolves.

Scientific name: The interaction of mercury with concentrated nitric acid





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Wear eye protection goggles. Use gloves. NO2 is a poisonous gas! Work with poisonous gases only outdoors or in a hood.

Always follow general safety recommendations. Please note that conducting chemistry experiments you must comply with the relevant legal procedures in your country.

Reaction formula

Hg + 4 HNO3 → Hg(NO3)2 + 2 NO2 + 2 H2O

Step-by-step instruction

WARNING! This experiment is dangerous! You should NOT perform this at home. ONLY carry out this experiment, if you are a trained chemist, and you understand local safety and legal requirements, which are required to perform such experiments

  1. Put a few drops of mercury in a 50 ml beaker.
  2. Add 15 ml of concentrated nitric acid.
  3. You can cover the beaker with a glass.
  4. Observe the formation of brown fumes, how the solution changes color and mercury slowly dissolves in nitric acid.

Scientific background

Concentrated nitric acid is a strong oxidizing agent. Unlike regular acids which have oxidizing properties due to the presence a hydrogen cation in their molecule, a molecule of nitric acid has a nitrogen atom in oxidation state +5, which gives very strong oxidizing properties. Due to this fact, mercury, insoluble in regular acid because of its location in the electrochemical series which is to the right of hydrogen, may be oxidized and dissolved in nitric acid. The color of the solution changes to green, because of partially soluble nitrogen oxides. Fumes of the solution are composed of NO2 (brown gas).


Published on 15 May 2015

  • Fire
  • Heating with fire
  • Explosion
  • Poisoned gas
  • Organic
  • Electricity
  • Solution
  • Oxidation reduction
  • Color change
  • Precipitate
  • Gassing
  • Catalyst