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Spoiled Liver of Sulphur


Hello all:

What could cause Liver of Sulphur to spoil?

I use the chunk form of Liver of Sulphur because, for some items, I
like the rainbow patinas that are only possible with this. (For
things that don’t need color there are lots of easier things to

Twice now, the carton has “gone bad” on me. I’ll describe it, maybe
someone could explain what happened, and, even more importantly, how
I can prevent it in the future.

I opened a carton (plastic tub, 4 ounces), that I hadn’t used in
about 6 months. It had been closed tightly, and then sealed inside a
plastic bag. When I looked inside, I knew something was wrong.
Instead of the familiar yellow- brown color and distinctive sulphur
odor, the chunks had “glued together” and now looked crystalline.
The color was a light yellow, and there was almost no odor. I tried
dissolving it in hot water as usual, but it was totally inactive.
Most didn’t even dissolve, but formed a greyish powder in the bottom
of the bowl.

After a few inarticulate expressions of frustration (the cat hid for
a few hours), I ran out and bought another carton. I used the new
one, then sealed it up very carefully with eletrical tape sealing
the lid edges, and double bagged it in heavy plastic, with air
squeezed out.

I went to use carton # 2 last week (after another 6 months), only to
find it had spoiled, too! This time the color was different, more a
muddy grayish green; but it was still crystalline, still inactive,
still didn’t dissolve, etc.

This time my screaming was more articulate, and a good deal more
protracted. I no longer have a jewelry supply store within driving
distance. After a few hours on the phone, I found a supplier in the
jewelry district in downtown Chicago. I sent my long-suffering
husband from his office to pick it up.

This time the Liver of Sulphur was in a metal canister, of the type
paint comes in, with a fitted metal lid. I was very careful not to
distort thie lid in removing it, and replaced it immediately.

So…what happened?

What did the Liver of Sulphur transform into? How can I prevent this
from happening again?? The first two plastic cartons were $9 each,
and the second (8 ounces, the only size they had) was $20. The cost
is irritating, but the inconvenience is infuriating! Of course I was
on a deadline, etc.

Will the metal canister help? Is moisture the problem? I thought I
had done well with the electrical tape and double bagging. Should I
put a bag of dessicant inside the can? Seal it with hot wax?
Humidity is not a big problem in my studio: I use a dehumidifier,
except in the winter.

Any solutions/suggestions would be deeply appreciated!



Instead of Liver of Sulphur, I use Lime Sulphur in liquid form from
my local hardware/nursery. Its active constituents are “200g/l
sulphur present as polysulphide sulphur”. I have no idea how or why
this differs from Liver of Sulphur - the chemists amongst us may

The contents of my bottle were manufactured in 1998, I’ve used about
1/8 of the bottle and it is still working just as well as the 1st
time I used it. It’s long life is one of the reasons I like it so
much. I know that Liver of Sulphur deteriorates very quickly (as
you’ve also found out), regardless of how well you pamper it, I don’t
know why. My bottle of Lime Sulphur is either stored on top of, or
in, my laundry cabinet - no special care given.

The results are almost the same, I find the Lime Sulphur is more
controllable - the stages of the colour change are slightly slower
and have more variety - lots of variation from cream, gold, bronze,
bluey-purples, etc., right through to black. I stop each stage with
a quick dip in cold water and then continue if I want a deeper

I mix it approximately 5mls of the liquid to about 250ml of hot
water. (About 1 teaspoon to 1 cup).

I realize this doesn’t answer any of your questions about Liver of
Sulphur, and having seen others experience your frustration with
Liver of Sulphur, I thought you might be interested in an

Regards, Marianne.


G’day; I reckon the smartass answer is “join the club!”

The reason why potassium polysulphide (liver of sulphur) decomposes
is because it is very reactive with moisture and carbon dioxide.
With water over time it gives off hydrogen sulphide, and part of it
becomes potassium sulphate, a colourless crystalline substance. This
reaction is accelerated by light. But at the same time carbon
dioxide also enters into the reaction, and one gets potassium
carbonate as a secondary result. On top of this, some elemental
sulphur remains, and you finish up with a greyish yellowish
crystalline solid that doesn’t smell of rotten eggs, because all the
available sulphur has gone as the gas hydrogen sulphide.

What to do about it? The quick honest answer is ‘I dunno!’ You
see before I discovered that gardener’s anti fungal 'Lime Sulphur’
works as well and is so much cheaper and easier to get, I had bought
the stuff sealed in a plastic jar, and I keep it in a normally closed
cupboard, but when I checked on it this morning on seeing your
letter, I found it exactly as you described! And quite useless. I
really don’t know how you can effectively keep air and moisture from
it over a prolonged period. All I can offer is that you buy the
smallest amount you can, and be prepared to lose it after a while.
Or, you can try Lime Sulphur from a gardening shop, at various
temperatures and concentrations to get the colours you want. It
really does exactly the same thing as liver of sulphur does, and that
too will decompose in time - but it’s much cheaper. And you can use
it on your fungus-blackened bushes! – Cheers for now, John Burgess;
@John_Burgess2 of Mapua, Nelson NZ



I am so glad you told us about this Lime Suphur you use. It is
certainly well worth the investment and probably not as expensive and
exasperating as the liver of suphur I have been using.

Jennifer Friedman, silversmith/goldsmith


Hi Folks!

I do not use Liver of Sulphur often at all but the little bit I have
I keep in a small bottle in the fridge where it’s been for over 10
years. Used a bit around 3 months ago and it still worked fine.

Cheers, Renate


hello all … i too have had liver of sulpher woes… if you look at
the small print on the side of the can it says "do not store on
wooden surface "…it seems to me now that i have heeded this
warning i no longer have a problem with spoiled liver of sulpher !


G’Day Folks.

I have kept the dry powdered Liver of Sulphur in the back of the
fridge ( in the coldest part ) for up to 2 years and one packet in
the freezer for about the same amount of time with no visible change
in properties.

Once mixed with water and used I place the solution in a glass jar
with a tight fitting lid with warning label and place it back into
the fridge, it keeps for well up to 3 months plus then some
depending on how many times you reheat the solution.

Hope this helps some

Michael W Kohlleppel
Art Tech Castings Australia


I have been using the same container of liver if sulphur (LOS) for
about 8 years and it is still potent. You just have to keep out the
moisture. Ever heard of silica gel? You get them with all sorts of
products - eg vitamin tablets, your computer etc., or you can buy
them. Every time I open my LOS, I just put the small capsule of
silica gel on the warming plate for my pickle pot. After about 10
mins it will dry out, and you can reuse it again. Just pop it back
into your container of LOS, which, of course, must have a very tight
fitting lid. The silica gel will absorb any moisture which has crept
into your LOS while the lid has been off. My LOS is in an opaque
plastic container. I don’t know if keeping out the light has
anything to do with its longevity,

Elizabeth Gordon-Mills
PO Box 32
Langhorne Creek
South Australia


Hi Friends, I got tired of the L-O-S shelf life woes, and switched to
Black Max from Rio Grande. I bought a bottle a few years ago, and
it’s still going strong, with no special storage needs. I’m not sure
if it provides all the interesting intermediate colors you can
achieve with L-O-S, as I’m normally going for a deep black. I don’t
think my wife would let me store L-O-S in the 'fridge… :wink:

All the best,
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)


Hi Friends, I got tired of the L-O-S shelf life woes, and switche=
d to
Black Max from Rio Grande.

My only caveat with this is KEEP IT AWAY FROM YOUR STEEL TOOLS!!

I left a loosely capped bottle on my polished steel workbench one
night, when I returned 2 days later, an area of about 1 foot square
was covered with a thick layer of rust. So was my dapping plate. I
now keep it far away in a poly bag in my chemical cabinet.

All the best