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How do you use an orange smoke signal?


Smoke signals have been used throughout history as a way to communicate over long distances. While most smoke signals were created using white smoke, colored smoke can also be used to convey certain messages. Orange smoke in particular can be an effective signal for a few key reasons:

Orange smoke is highly visible against blue skies or green foliage, making it easy to spot from a distance. The vibrant color stands out much more than common white or gray smoke. Additionally, orange is an uncommon natural color for smoke, so it is easily recognizable as an intentional signal rather than a naturally occurring fire.

Creating an orange smoke signal requires some specialized materials to produce the right color. Typically, a mixture of combustible organic materials and chemicals are required to change the smoke’s appearance and hue. Once ignited, the ingredients burn and create billowing plumes of orange smoke that can rise high into the air and be seen from miles away.

Making Orange Smoke

To make orange smoke yourself, you will need:

  • Sawdust, wood shavings, or other dry organic material
  • Powdered chlorates or perchlorates (ex: potassium chlorate, sodium chlorate, ammonium perchlorate)
  • Orange dye powder (ex: organic azo dye)
  • A container to mix and hold the materials
  • Ignition source (matches, lighter, sparks, etc)

Chlorates and perchlorates supply oxygen through decomposition, allowing the sawdust or shavings to burn. The orange dye tints the smoke.

Here are the basic steps to create orange smoke yourself:

  1. Mix sawdust/shavings, chlorate/perchlorate powder, and orange dye powder together in a container. Use approximately 6 parts sawdust, 1 part chlorate, and 1 part dye by volume.
  2. Pack the mixture loosely into a smoke canister or other holding device with an open bottom. Make sure air can flow through the mixture.
  3. Light the top of the mixture with a fire source. It should begin burning and producing thick orange smoke.
  4. Set the canister at an angle or flip it over to allow the smoke to billow out freely from the bottom opening.
  5. Let the canister burn until all the material is consumed and smoke production stops.
  6. Be extremely careful handling chlorates/perchlorates and use proper protective equipment to avoid burns or inhalation of chemicals.

This basic smoke mix can be scaled up or down depending on your needs. Just maintain the approximate ratio of ingredients.

Alternatively, there are pre-made orange smoke devices available for purchase if you do not want to mix your own chemicals. These products contain proprietary formulas but produce a vivid orange smoke safely with less assembly required.

Using Orange Smoke Signals

Once you have orange smoke available, you can use it to create visible signals at a distance. Here are some potential ways to use orange smoke signals:

Signaling for Help

If you are lost, stranded or in need of emergency assistance, an orange smoke signal is a great way to let others know you need help. The unique color stands out and grabs attention. Make large sweeping smoke trails or 3 short bursts to indicate distress.

Marking Locations

Use orange smoke to pinpoint or identify key locations that are visible from a distance. For example, you could mark a safe landing zone for helicopters, the start of a trail, or a boundary line. The smoke can lead others directly to the marked spot.

Coordinating Movements

Orange smoke is handy for coordinating movements of groups over a large area. For example, troops can move from one orange smoke signal to the next in sequence. This helps synchronize troop movements efficiently.

Conveying Preset Messages

You can establish specific orange smoke signals in advance to communicate certain messages, just like a coded signal system. For example, 2 smoke bursts could mean “all clear”, while 5 bursts might signal “enemy spotted”. This allows some basic communication without other radio or verbal contact.

Reaching Aircraft

Since orange smoke rises high and is easy to see from the air, it can be used to signal aircraft overhead. Pilots can spot the orange smoke and interpret its meaning based on pre-arranged signal codes.

Safety Tips

When using orange smoke signals, keep these safety precautions in mind:

  • Use caution when handling chlorates/perchlorates to avoid fire, burns, or inhalation risk.
  • Be aware of wind direction so smoke avoids occupied areas downwind.
  • Avoid signaling near roads or airports to prevent hazardous visibility issues.
  • Have water or fire blankets available to control or extinguish smoke canisters.
  • Dispose of spent smoke canisters properly to prevent reignition risk.

Following basic precautions will help ensure orange smoke signals are visible and effective while maintaining a safe environment.


Orange smoke offers a highly visible and versatile signaling tool for a range of situations. While white smoke may be the most common, orange smoke signals stand out sharply and are recognizable as intentional signals. With the right materials and methods, generating thick orange smoke is relatively straightforward. Just keep safety in mind when handling chemicals or obscuring visibility near roads and aircraft. Used properly, orange smoke signals are an effective way to be seen, coordinate movements, and potentially save lives in emergencies.

Question Answer
What makes orange smoke useful for signaling? Orange smoke is highly visible against the sky and is an uncommon natural color for smoke, making it recognizable as an intentional signal.
What ingredients are needed to make orange smoke? Orange smoke typically requires a base material like sawdust, chlorate/perchlorate oxidizing agents, and orange dye powder.
How can you generate orange smoke? Mix the ingredients together loosely, pack them into a smoke canister, light the top of the mixture, and let it burn while inverted to release orange smoke.
What are some ways to use orange smoke signals? Orange smoke can signal for help, mark locations, coordinate movements, convey preset messages, or communicate with aircraft.
What safety precautions should you follow? Use care when handling chemicals, be aware of wind direction, avoid signaling near roads/airports, have fire control equipment available, and dispose of canisters properly.

Additional Questions

Here are some additional common questions about orange smoke signals:

How long does orange smoke last?

Smoke duration depends on the amount of material used, but typical orange smoke signals may last 5-20 minutes. Larger canisters with more material can produce smoke for 30 minutes or longer.

How far can you see orange smoke?

Under ideal conditions, orange smoke may be visible from 1-3 miles away. Factors like terrain, weather, elevation, and line of sight will affect visibility and range.

Can you create different colored smoke signals?

Yes, by using different dyes and ingredients, many colors of smoke can be generated. Red, blue, green, yellow, and purple smoke are also options for signaling.

What does orange smoke smell like?

Orange smoke from the typical chemical mixtures has a faint acidic or metallic smell from the chlorates/perchlorates and dye compounds present.

Is orange smoke toxic if inhaled?

Inhaling orange smoke is generally irritating to the lungs and should be avoided, though occasional brief contact is not severely hazardous. Prolonged inhalation could cause respiratory irritation.

Can orange smoke signals be seen at night?

Yes, the orange smoke remains visible at night due to the particles reflecting any available light sources. For maximum nighttime visibility, use orange smoke signals with a bright moon or other illumination.

Are there any restrictions on the use of colored smoke?

In some areas, colored smoke use may be prohibited or limited to emergency situations only. Always check local laws and regulations before generating large amounts of orange smoke.


Orange smoke provides an excellent signaling tool when used properly and safely. With its high visibility and recognizability, it can effectively coordinate movements and aid in rescues or emergencies. While it requires specialized chemicals to generate, orange smoke is relatively simple to produce yourself with the right materials and precautions. Understanding the uses, safety, and frequently asked questions allows you to leverage orange smoke signals in an informed manner.