Is there a Bottle Bomb in my yard? These explosive homemade bombs can be called by other names such as “works bomb” or “drano bomb”. Curious children and youth have been making these bombs for many years just to watch them explode. However now things have turned to a more malicious act; these bottle bombs are now being left in mailboxes and on neighborhood lawns in the hopes that they would cause damage. This can be highly dangerous. To unsuspecting people, the bottles look like litter or childish pranks (trash put in a mailbox) but these bottle bombs can easily explode in your hand. In a few cases, passing cars have actually thrown bottle bombs into yards where children were playing.
We live on a busy country road and there is a school bus stop at the end of our property. We are always finding trash and litter in our yard. Everything from beer bottles to half empty water or soda bottles, candy wrappers and empty chip bags. Now, we need to be cautious when picking up the so-called litter from our yard. Over the last two years police and sheriffs departments across the country have been warning the public about the hazards of bottle bombs. The Baltimore County Police department issued an Intelligence Report warning about the hazards these bottle bombs present to unsuspecting people who may be collecting their mail or doing yard maintenance or clean up. The San Diego Fire Department made a video about them and the hazards they present.
What is a Bottle Bomb?
A bottle bomb is a simple combination of chemicals which will form an explosive gas when confined in a closed container, like a plastic bottle. Most people who make bottle bombs are using a granular drain cleaner like Drano or a liquid toilet bowl cleaner (such as Works brand.) Both are household items and both contain caustic chemicals. For the aluminum component of the bomb they are using household aluminum foil. The bottle to hold these ingredients is usually just an ordinary clear plastic PETE soda or water bottle. Other chemicals that are being used are dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide. These bombs are NOT incendiary devices but are explosives and police, sheriff and fire fighters refer to these homemade bombs as “over pressure devices.” The pressure inside the plastic bottle builds up until the bottle can no longer contain it and then the pressure rips open the bottle spewing out toxic gas and caustic chemicals. The contents of a bottle bomb is sufficient to cause 2nd and 3rd degree burns as well as eye and respiratory injuries. Depending on the size of the bomb and its location, the force may be great enough to cause some residential damage in addition to physical harm.
What Are the Hazards of Bottle Bombs?
There are a number of “hazards” with the making or moving of these bottle bombs. Lets start with the ingredients;
Bottle Bomb ingredients are legal to purchase. They are easily available at supermarkets, discount department stores, convenience stores or may already be in your home and this makes them very accessible to children and young people.
- Granulated Drain Cleaners – these chemical compositions often contain sodium hydroxide, aluminum sodium nitrate and sodium chloride. Basically, it’s a form of lye with other chemicals.
- Toilet Bowl Cleaners – these chemical cleaners often contain hydrogen chloride which becomes hydrochloric acid when mixed with water. MSDSs and cleaner labels warn against the hazards of mixing with ammonia or other cleaners.
Both of these products are caustic and can cause injury or burns if they come in contact with your skin or eyes. Children have been injured while making these bombs just by screwing the cap on the bottle. The ingredients once combined; are VERY UNSTABLE. The internet has readily accessible information about how to make these bottle bombs. YouTube has many videos that show how to make them and actual footage of the bomb exploding. Again, the severity of the explosion will vary depending on the quantity of ingredients, size of container, etc.
Here is one video that shows the transformation that the bottle goes through before it explodes. Please notice the increase in volume inside the bottle, the swelling and stretching of the bottle and the miss-shaping that the bottle under goes prior to explosion.
The additional hazard of these bombs is that they look like trash or litter. People have been seriously injured by moving or picking up a bottle bomb, thinking that it was just trash. As you can see from the video above, the caustic contents are sprayed with great force in a wide area. Anyone who would be holding a bottle bomb in their hand would be seriously injured when the explosion takes place. Hands, fingers, arms, face, eyes neck could all be seriously burned. Permanent blindness can occur if the contents were to hit a person in the eyes.
How Can You Tell If The Bottle is a Bomb?
The general recommendation is to examine it from afar looking for any of the following:
- Gassy substance inside the bottle
- Liquid inside the bottle – if Works toilet cleaner is used the liquid will have a blue color
- Bits or balls of aluminum foil inside the bottle
- Changes in the size and shape of the bottle
- Miss-shaped bottles
If you suspect that it could be a bottle bomb, do not touch or move it. Physically move away from the bottle very quickly and contact your local emergency department by calling 911 or the appropriate telephone number. The emergency responders will handle the removal or controlled detonation if it is a bottle bomb.
As a parent, and a parent to a son in particular I know how curious children can be, especially boys. Many boys are notorious for wanting to see how something works and wanting to try things that they think are “cool.” With easy access to the internet and YouTube children and youth can have dangerous information at their finger tips. Unfortunately, many of the sources for information on how to make bottle bombs do not give the dangers or hazards. They also can give false information and many actually state that bottle bombs are a cool science experiment.
Children often disregard safety warnings because they have a false sense of security – thinking that it won’t happen to them. Even children who know better will sometimes continue in a risky or dangerous activity when they are with friends who are assuring them it will be fine. I can’t tell you how many times we have warned our children in the past that “just being there, even if you were not actively involved, still makes you a part of it.”
We recommend that you talk with your children and alert them to the hazards of engaging in experiments or activities that involve chemicals, even though they are common and can be found in many households. We have tried to eliminate the use of chemicals in our home, as much as possible. We have started to use vinegar, essential oils and baking soda to replace most common cleaners. I will share ways that you can do this too, in future articles on our websites. Please know that law enforcement officials consider bottle bombs to be a felony offense. Children are at risk of much more than physical injury when they make bottle bombs, they are risking their futures as well.
I hope this article will alert to you a potential hazard and help you to communicate the dangers to your children.
Until next time,
You can find many more sources by typing bottle bomb into any search engine.