It’s hard to do chemistry without chemicals. Robert Bruce Thompson’s page “Chemicals on the Cheap” is a great read, and has lots of good suggestions on where and how to get chemicals. He also explains how many chemicals can be made from reacting more common precursors to obtain new chemicals. This PDF by David Katz et. al also contains useful sources of many common chemicals.
Quite a few chemicals are available from Bunnings hardware, such as copper sulphate, zinc sulphate, iron sulphate, acetone, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide and more. Others such as hydrogen peroxide and glycerine are available from a chemist or pharmacy. Still other chemicals, such as iodine and silver nitrate, are much harder to obtain. EBay is a possibility, however many of the chemicals listed seem almost as expensive as from a proper chemical supplier.
The chemicals I have at the moment are listed below, along with their sources:
- Acetic acid (5%) – white vinegar from Woolworths ($1.20 for 2L)
- Aluminium – aluminium foil from Woolworths ($1.09 for a sheet 30 cm by 10 m)
- Ammonia – cloudy ammonia from Bunnings ($3.95 for 1L), or ($1.63 from Woolworths). I haven’t used it yet; the soap may interfere with some chemical syntheses, so it would be better to try and get plain ammonia.
- Copper carbonate – synthesised by reacting copper sulphate with sodium bicarbonate
- Copper (II) sulphate – $11.48 for 500 g from Bunnings
- Citric acid – $2.25 for 75 g from Woolworths
- Demineralised water – $1.60 for 2L from Woolworths – there are probably cheaper and/or more pure sources, but I haven’t found any yet.
- Ethanol – I use methylated spirits, which is denatured ethanol, so ok for most purposes ($12.57 for 4L from Bunnings, or $3.20 for 1L)
- Hydrochloric acid – $9 for 1L from Bunnings, or $16.50 for 5L if you’re really keen
- Sodium bicarbonate – $1.59 for 500 g from Woolworths – probably the cheapest chemical here
- Sodium carbonate – synthesised from sodium bicarbonate by heating it in the oven for about an hour
- Sodium chloride – table salt from Woolworths
- Sodium hydroxide – $4.15 for 500 g from Bunnings
- Zinc sulphate – $9.88 for 500 g from Bunnings
Others which I have yet to buy are:
- Acetone – $10.95 for 1 L from Bunnings
- Glycerine – $8.50 for 200 mL from Woolworths
- Hydrogen Peroxide – $3.99 for 100 mL of 6% from Chemist Warehouse, $3.39 for 200 mL of 3%, or $3.99 for 200 mL (3%) from Woolworths.
- Iron sulphate – $6.30 from Bunnings, but it may be cheaper (if not easier) to make your own by reacting iron (e.g. from nails) with sulphuric acid – if you have any.
- Iodine – can be quite hard to get. eBay looks like the best supplier; it has 25 g of crystals for $7, or 50 g for $9.89 (on special for $7.95 sometimes). eBay also sells tincture of iodine, Lugol’s solution, and potassium iodide (seems to be very expensive), which can easily be reacted to form pure iodine.
- Isopropyl alcohol -can be bought for $24.99 for 500 mL from Bunnings, which is quite steep
- Magnesium sulphate – sold as Epsom Salts from Woolworths ($6.29 for 1 kg)
- Manganese sulphate – $9.89 from Bunnings
- Phosphoric acid – $20 for 1 L of rust remover (30-60% phosphoric acid) from Bunnings – might be ok for most purposes
- Potassium Permanganate – $12.69 for 50 g from Chemist Warehouse; may be cheaper from another chemist
- Silver nitrate – quite hard to get; your best bet would be to try eBay, a proper chemical supplier, or a local university or school
- Sodium borate (borax) – possibly from Woolworths or a hardware store
- Sulfur – possibly from a pet store (for dusting chickens)
- Sulphuric acid – battery acid from an automotive store
For more ideas, see Robert Bruce Thompson’s list of suggested chemicals.