Picric Acid – Hazards and Safe Usage

Picric acid (2,4,6-trinitrophenol, [(NO2)3C6H2OH]) is widely used in metallography labs for the common steel etchants known as picral, a 4% solution in ethanol, Vilella’s reagent, 1 g picric acid and 5 mL HCl and 100 mL ethanol, and alkaline sodium picrate (2 g picric acid, 20 g NaOH, 100 mL water) for coloring M3C and M6C carbides, as well as several other formulations. Picric acid was formulated by Peter Woulfe, a British chemist, in 1771, although Glauber is claimed to have written about it in 1742. The name comes from the Greek word pikros which means bitter, as picric acid has a bitter taste (it is toxic). Initially it was used to dye fabrics yellow. In the early 20th century, workers producing picric acid were sometimes called canaries, because their skin also became stained yellow


The articles and presentations that can be down-loaded from this web site are based upon work done by GFV while employed at Bethlehem Steel (1967-1983), Carpenter Technology (1983-1996), Buehler Ltd. (1996-2009) and Struers (2009-Present) and from the authors consulting work for companies such as, Latrobe Steel, Scot Forge, etc., and from his litigation work. GFV's bylined articles appearing in various issues of the ASM Handbook series have been listed here courtesy of ASM International, Materials Park, Ohio.