Ammonium carbonate
Ball-and-stick model of two ammonium cations and one carbonate anion
IUPAC name
Ammonium carbonate
Other names
  • Baker's ammonia
  • Sal volatile
  • Salt of hartshorn
  • Spirit of Urine
  • E503
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.007.326 Edit this at Wikidata
EC Number
  • 233-786-0
E number E503(i) (acidity regulators, ...)
UN number 3077
  • InChI=1S/CH2O3.2H3N/c2-1(3)4;;/h(H2,2,3,4);2*1H3 checkY
  • InChI=1/CH2O3.2H3N/c2-1(3)4;;/h(H2,2,3,4);2*1H3
  • O=C(O)O.N.N
  • [NH4+].[NH4+].[O-]C(=O)[O-]
Molar mass 96.086 g·mol−1
Appearance White powder
Density 1.50 g/cm3
Melting point 58 °C (136 °F; 331 K) (decomposes)
100 g/(100 ml) (15°C)[1]
25 g/(100 ml) (20°C)
−42.50·10−6 cm3/mol
Occupational safety and health (OHS/OSH):
Main hazards
GHS labelling:
GHS07: Exclamation mark
H302, H319
Safety data sheet (SDS) External MSDS
Related compounds
Other anions
Ammonium bicarbonate
Ammonium carbamate
Other cations
Sodium carbonate
Potassium carbonate
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
checkY verify (what is checkY☒N ?)

Ammonium carbonate is a chemical compound with the chemical formula [NH4]2CO3. It is an ammonium salt of carbonic acid. It is composed of ammonium cations [NH4]+ and carbonate anions CO2−3. Since ammonium carbonate readily degrades to gaseous ammonia and carbon dioxide upon heating, it is used as a leavening agent and also as smelling salt. It is also known as baker's ammonia and is a predecessor to the more modern leavening agents baking soda and baking powder. It is a component of what was formerly known as sal volatile and salt of hartshorn,[2] and produces a pungent smell when baked. It comes in the form of a white powder or block, with a molar mass of 96.09 g/mol and a density of 1.50 g/cm3. It is a strong electrolyte.


Ammonium carbonate is produced by combining carbon dioxide and aqueous ammonia. About 80,000 tons/year were produced as of 1997.

2 NH3 + H2O + CO2 → [NH4]2CO3[2]

An orthorhombic ammonium carbonate monohydrate is known ([NH4]2CO3·H2O). It crystallizes in an ammonia solution exposed in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.[3]


Ammonium carbonate slowly decomposes at standard temperature and pressure through two pathways. Thus any initially pure sample of ammonium carbonate will soon become a mixture including various byproducts.

Ammonium carbonate can spontaneously decompose into ammonium bicarbonate and ammonia:

[NH4]2CO3 → [NH4]HCO3 + NH3

Which further decomposes to carbon dioxide, water and another molecule of ammonia:

[NH4]HCO3 → H2O + CO2 + NH3


Leavening agent

Ammonium carbonate may be used as a leavening agent in traditional recipes, particularly those from northern Europe and Scandinavia (e.g. Amerikaner, Speculoos, Tunnbröd or Lebkuchen). It was the precursor to today's more commonly used baking powder.

Originally made from ground deer horn and called hartshorn, today it is called baker's ammonia. It is prepared by the sublimation of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and calcium carbonate and occurs as a white powder or a hard, white or translucent mass.[4] It acts as a heat activated leavening agent and breaks down into carbon dioxide (leavening), ammonia (which needs to dissipate) and water. It is sometimes combined with sodium bicarbonate to mimic as a double acting baking powder and to help mask any ammonia smell not baked out.

It also serves as an acidity regulator and has the E number E503. It can be replaced with baking powder, but this may affect both the taste and texture of the finished product. Baker's ammonia should be used to create thin dry baked goods like crackers and cookies. This allows the strong ammonia smell to bake out. It should not be used to make moist baked items like cake since ammonia is hydrophilic and will leave a strong bitter taste.

Its use as a leavening agent, with associated controversy, goes back centuries:

In the third kind of bread, a vesicular appearance is given to it by the addition to the dough of some ammoniacal salt, (usually the sub-carbonate,) which becomes wholly converted into a gaseous substance during the process of baking, causing the dough to swell out into little air vessels, which finally bursting, allow the gas to escape, and leave the bread exceedingly porous. Mr. Accum, in his Treatise on Culinary Poisons, has stigmatized this process as "fraudulent," but, in our opinion, most unjustly. The bakers would never adopt it but from necessity: when good yeast cannot be procured, it forms an admirable and perfectly harmless substitute; costing the baker more, it diminishes his profit, while the consumer is benefited by the bread retaining the solid matter, which by the process of fermentation is dissipated in the form of alcohol and carbonic acid gas.[5]

Other uses

Ammonium carbonate is the main component of smelling salts, although the commercial scale of their production is small. Buckley's cough syrup from Canada today uses ammonium carbonate as an active ingredient intended to help relieve symptoms of bronchitis. It is also used as an emetic. It is also found in smokeless tobacco products, such as Skoal, and it is used in aqueous solution as a photographic lens cleaning agent, such as Eastman Kodak's "Kodak Lens Cleaner."

It is also used for luring of apple maggots in Washington State, to monitor the spread of the infestation and adjust the borders of the Apple Maggot Quarantine Area.[6]

See also


  1. ^ John Rumble (June 18, 2018). CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (99th ed.). CRC Press. pp. 4–40. ISBN 978-1138561632.
  2. ^ a b Karl-Heinz Zapp (2012). "Ammonium Compounds". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. doi:10.1002/14356007.a02_243. ISBN 978-3527306732.
  3. ^ Fortes, A.D.; Wood, I.G.; Alfè, D.; Hernàndez, E.R.; Gutmann, M.J.; Sparkes, H.A. (2014-12-01). "Structure, hydrogen bonding and thermal expansion of ammonium carbonate monohydrate". Acta Crystallographica Section B. 70 (6): 948–962. Bibcode:2014AcCrB..70..948F. doi:10.1107/S205252061402126X. ISSN 2052-5206. PMC 4468514. PMID 25449618. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  4. ^ "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21". Retrieved 2018-02-07.
  5. ^ "Bread". The Engineer's and Mechanic's Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Luke Hebert. 1849. p. 239.
  6. ^ Yee, Wee L.; Nash, Meralee J.; Goughnour, Robert B.; Cha, Dong H.; Linn, Charles E.; Feder, Jeffrey L. (2014). "Ammonium Carbonate is More Attractive Than Apple and Hawthorn Fruit Volatile Lures to Rhagoletis pomonella(Diptera: Tephritidae) in Washington State". Environmental Entomology. 43 (4): 957–968. doi:10.1603/en14038. PMID 24915519. S2CID 31174719.