Potassium cyanide
IUPAC name
Potassium cyanide
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.005.267 Edit this at Wikidata
EC Number
  • 205-792-3
RTECS number
  • TS8750000
UN number 1680
  • InChI=1S/CN.K/c1-2;/q-1;+1 checkY
  • InChI=1/CN.K/c1-2;/q-1;+1
  • [K+].[C-]#N
Molar mass 65.12 g/mol
Appearance White crystalline solid
Odor faint, almond-like
Density 1.52 g/cm3
Melting point 634.5 °C (1,174.1 °F; 907.6 K)
Boiling point 1,625 °C (2,957 °F; 1,898 K)
71.6 g/100 ml (25 °C)
100 g/100 ml (100 °C)
Solubility in methanol 4.91 g/100 ml (20 °C)
Solubility in glycerol soluble
Solubility in formamide 14.6 g/100 mL
Solubility in ethanol 0.57 g/100ml
Solubility in hydroxylamine 41 g/100 ml
Acidity (pKa) 11.0
−37.0·10−6 cm3/mol
127.8 J K−1 mol−1
−131.5 kJ/mol
GHS labelling:
GHS05: Corrosive
GHS06: Toxic
GHS08: Health hazard
GHS09: Environmental hazard
H290, H300, H310, H330, H370, H372, H410
P260, P264, P273, P280, P284, P301+P310
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
Flash point Non-flammable
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
5 mg/kg (oral, rabbit)
10 mg/kg (oral, rat)
5 mg/kg (oral, rat)
8.5 mg/kg (oral, mouse)[2]
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
TWA 5 mg/m3[1]
REL (Recommended)
C 5 mg/m3 (4.7 ppm) [10-minute][1]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
25 mg/m3[1]
Safety data sheet (SDS) ICSC 0671
Related compounds
Other anions
Potassium cyanate
Potassium thiocyanate
Other cations
Sodium cyanide
Rubidium cyanide
lithium cyanide
caesium cyanide
Related compounds
Hydrogen cyanide
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Potassium cyanide is a compound with the formula KCN. This colorless, highly toxic crystalline salt, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewellery for chemical gilding and buffing.[4]

The moist solid emits small amounts of hydrogen cyanide due to hydrolysis, which may smell like bitter almonds.[5] Not everyone, however, can smell cyanide; the ability to do so is a genetic trait.[6]

The taste of potassium cyanide has been described as acrid and bitter, with a burning sensation[7] similar to lye.[8]


KCN is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with an aqueous solution of potassium hydroxide, followed by evaporation of the solution in a vacuum:[9]


About 50,000 tons of potassium cyanide are produced yearly. [4]

Historical production

Before 1900 and the invention of the Castner process, potassium cyanide was the most important source of alkali metal cyanides.[4] In this historical process, potassium cyanide was produced by decomposing potassium ferrocyanide:[10]

K4[Fe(CN)6] → 4 KCN + FeC2 + N2


In aqueous solution, KCN is dissociated into hydrated potassium (K+) ions and cyanide (CN) ions. The common form of solid KCN, stable at ambient pressure and temperature, has the same cubic crystal structure as sodium chloride, with each potassium ion surrounded by six cyanide ions, and vice versa. Despite the cyanide ions being diatomic, and thus less symmetric than chloride, they rotate so rapidly, their time-averaged shape is spherical. At low temperature and high pressure, this free rotation is hindered, resulting in a less symmetric crystal structure with the cyanide ions arranged in sheets. [11][12]


KCN and sodium cyanide (NaCN) are widely used in organic synthesis for the preparation of nitriles and carboxylic acids, particularly in the von Richter reaction. It also finds use for the synthesis of hydantoins, which can be useful synthetic intermediates, when reacted with a carbonyl compound such as an aldehyde or ketone in the presence of ammonium carbonate.

KCN is used as a photographic fixer in the wet plate collodion process.[13] The KCN dissolves silver where it has not been made insoluble by the developer. This reveals and stabilizes the image, making it no longer sensitive to light. Modern wet plate photographers may prefer less toxic fixers, often opting for sodium thiosulfate, but KCN is still used.

Potassium gold cyanide

Main article: Potassium gold cyanide

In gold mining, KCN forms the water-soluble salt potassium gold cyanide (or gold potassium cyanide) and potassium hydroxide from gold metal in the presence of oxygen (usually from the surrounding air) and water:

4 Au + 8 KCN + O2 + 2 H2O → 4 K[Au(CN)2] + 4 KOH

A similar process uses NaCN to produce sodium gold cyanide (NaAu(CN2)).


Main article: Cyanide poisoning

Potassium cyanide is a potent inhibitor of cellular respiration, acting on mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase, hence blocking oxidative phosphorylation. Lactic acidosis then occurs as a consequence of anaerobic metabolism. Initially, acute cyanide poisoning causes a red or ruddy complexion in the victim because the tissues are not able to use the oxygen in the blood. The effects of potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide are identical, and symptoms of poisoning typically occur within a few minutes of ingesting the substance: the person loses consciousness, and brain death eventually follows. During this period the victim may suffer convulsions. Death is caused by cerebral hypoxia. The expected LD100 dose (human) for potassium cyanide is 200–300 mg while the median lethal dose LD50 is estimated at 140 mg.[14]

People who died by suicide or were killed using potassium cyanide include:

It is used by professional entomologists as a killing agent in collecting jars, as insects succumb within seconds to the HCN fumes it emits, thereby minimizing damage to even highly fragile specimens.

KCN can be detoxified most efficiently with hydrogen peroxide or with a solution of sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl). Such solutions should be kept alkaline whenever possible so as to eliminate the possibility of generation of hydrogen cyanide:[4]

KCN + H2O2 → KOCN + H2O
KCN + NaOCl → KOCN + NaCl


  1. ^ a b c NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. "#0522". National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  2. ^ "Cyanides (as CN)". Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLH). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  3. ^ "POTASSIUM CYANIDE | CAMEO Chemicals | NOAA".
  4. ^ a b c d Andreas Rubo, Raf Kellens, Jay Reddy, Joshua Wooten, Wolfgang Hasenpusch "Alkali Metal Cyanides" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2006 Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, Germany. doi:10.1002/14356007.i01_i01
  5. ^ "Suicide note reveals taste of cyanide". 8 July 2006.
  6. ^ Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM): 304300
  7. ^ ലേഖകൻ, മാധ്യമം (19 December 2021). "'സയനൈഡ് ചവർപ്പാണ്... പുകച്ചിലാണ്...'; ആ 'രുചി രഹസ്യം' പുറത്തുവിട്ട മലയാളി നടന്ന വഴിയിലൂടെ | Madhyamam". www.madhyamam.com (in Malayalam). Retrieved 21 December 2021.
  8. ^ "The only taste: Cyanide is acrid". hindustantimes.com. Hindustan Times. 8 July 2006.
  9. ^ Pradyot Patnaik. Handbook of Inorganic Chemicals. McGraw-Hill, 2002, ISBN 0-07-049439-8
  10. ^ Von Wagner, Rudolf (1897). Manual of chemical technology. New York: D. Appleton & Co. p. 474 & 477.
  11. ^ Crystallography Open Database, Structure of KCN
  12. ^ H. T. Stokes; D. L. Decker; H. M. Nelson; J. D. Jorgensen (1993). "Structure of potassium cyanide at low temperature and high pressure determined by neutron diffraction". Physical Review B (Submitted manuscript). 47 (17): 11082–11092. Bibcode:1993PhRvB..4711082S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.47.11082. PMID 10005242..
  13. ^ J. Towler, MD. "The Silver Sunbeam (Facsimile 1864 edition, 1969)" pg 119
  14. ^ John Harris Trestrail III. Criminal Poisoning - Investigational Guide for Law Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys (2nd edition). p. 119
  15. ^ "Top 10 Scientists who Committed Suicide". 7 October 2007.
  16. ^ "War criminal 'took cyanide' in Hague court". BBC News. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017.