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Is potassium permanganate always purple?

Potassium permanganate (KMnO4) is a chemical compound made up of potassium, manganese, and oxygen. It has a distinct purple color and is used for a variety of purposes including as an oxidizing agent, disinfectant, and antiseptic. But is potassium permanganate always purple, or can its color change under certain conditions?

The Purple Color of Potassium Permanganate

The vibrant purple color of potassium permanganate is due to the presence of manganese in a high oxidation state (+7). Manganese with an oxidation state of +7 has a characteristic purple color. This is the typical and expected color of potassium permanganate crystals and solutions under normal conditions.

The exact purple color can range from dark violet to bright magenta depending on the concentration. More concentrated solutions will appear darker, while more dilute solutions take on a lighter, pinkish hue. But generally, within the concentration range used for most applications, potassium permanganate maintains its signature purple color.

Color Changes in Potassium Permanganate

While purple is the default color, potassium permanganate can change color under certain chemical conditions that alter the oxidation state of the manganese.

The most common color change is from purple to brown. This occurs when potassium permanganate is reduced to manganese dioxide (MnO2). Manganese dioxide is brown or black in color, causing the solution to lose its purple tint.

Some common ways potassium permanganate can be reduced include:

  • Reacting with hydrogen peroxide or oxalic acid
  • Mixing with metals like zinc or magnesium
  • Adding glycerol or ethylene glycol
  • Mixing with sulfur dioxide

Reduction with hydrogen peroxide is often used as a simple demonstration of potassium permanganate’s color change in chemistry classes. The purple permanganate rapidly reacts with the peroxide, turning brown.

Potassium permanganate can also change from purple to green if the manganese is reduced to a +2 oxidation state. This can be done through reactions with very strong reducing agents like hydrazine or sodium amalgam. However, the green color is transient and will quickly turn brown as further reduction occurs.

In very acidic solutions, potassium permanganate can turn into a colorless compound Mn2+ cations and MnO4- anions. So in sufficiently low pH conditions, the purple color will disappear entirely.

Reverting Color Changes

In some cases, it is possible to reverse the color change and turn reduced potassium permanganate back to its purple color. One way is to dilute the solution. The brown MnO2 will partially dissolve and react with water to form purple permanganate again:

MnO2 + 2H2O → Mn2+ + MnO4− + 4H+

Adding hydrogen peroxide can also re-oxidize manganese back to its +7 state, restoring the original purple color. However, this only works if the permanganate was not reduced too far in the first place.

Uses of Potassium Permanganate

The purple color of potassium permanganate has made it useful for many applications that rely on the color as an indicator. Some examples include:

  • Testing for reducing agents or oxidizable compounds – a color change from purple to brown indicates a positive test
  • Monitoring water quality – the rate of decolorization correlates with the amount of reducing organic matter
  • Tracking diffusion through gels – the purple color clearly shows diffusion fronts
  • Dyeing fabrics and cosmetics – potassium permanganate can act as a purple dye

Additionally, potassium permanganate’s oxidizing power has led to uses as a disinfectant, antiseptic, and cleaning agent. Its purple color makes it easy to spot where it has been applied.

Concentration Effects

As mentioned earlier, the concentration of potassium permanganate affects the exact shade of purple. Here is a table showing how the color varies with concentration:

Concentration of KMnO4 Color
0.01% Pink
0.1% Light purple
1% Bright purple
5% Dark purple
10% Very dark purple

So while potassium permanganate has a purple color, the exact shade can provide information about its molarity in solution.


In summary, potassium permanganate generally appears purple when in its common oxidized form with manganese in the +7 state. However, chemical reductions can change the color to brown, green, or even colorless depending on the new oxidation state of manganese. The purple color can be restored by re-oxidizing the manganese under certain conditions. So while purple is the conventional color, potassium permanganate is not always purple.