Ammonia vs. Ammonium Nitrate

What's the Difference?

Ammonia and ammonium nitrate are both nitrogen-based compounds commonly used in various industries. Ammonia (NH3) is a colorless gas with a pungent odor, while ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a white crystalline solid. One key difference between the two is their chemical composition. Ammonia consists of only nitrogen and hydrogen atoms, while ammonium nitrate is a compound formed by the combination of ammonium ions (NH4+) and nitrate ions (NO3-). Another distinction lies in their applications. Ammonia is primarily used as a fertilizer, refrigerant, and in the production of various chemicals. On the other hand, ammonium nitrate is widely utilized as an explosive in mining and construction industries, as well as a component in fertilizers. Overall, while both compounds contain nitrogen, their chemical composition and applications differ significantly.


AttributeAmmoniaAmmonium Nitrate
Chemical FormulaNH3NH4NO3
Molecular Weight17.03 g/mol80.04 g/mol
Physical StateGasSolid
OdorPungentNo distinct odor
UsesFertilizers, cleaning agents, refrigerantsFertilizers, explosives, industrial applications
Water SolubilityHighly solubleHighly soluble
StabilityRelatively stableCan be explosive under certain conditions

Further Detail


Ammonia and ammonium nitrate are two commonly used nitrogen-based compounds in various industries. While both substances contain nitrogen and are used as fertilizers, they have distinct properties and applications. In this article, we will explore the attributes of ammonia and ammonium nitrate, highlighting their chemical composition, physical properties, uses, and potential hazards.

Chemical Composition

Ammonia, with the chemical formula NH3, is a compound composed of one nitrogen atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms. It is a colorless gas with a pungent odor. On the other hand, ammonium nitrate, represented by the formula NH4NO3, is a salt formed by the reaction of ammonia with nitric acid. It consists of ammonium ions (NH4+) and nitrate ions (NO3-). Ammonium nitrate is typically found as a white crystalline solid.

Physical Properties

Ammonia is lighter than air and has a boiling point of -33.34 degrees Celsius (-28.012 degrees Fahrenheit) at standard atmospheric pressure. It is highly soluble in water, forming a strongly alkaline solution. Ammonia has a density of approximately 0.771 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3). In contrast, ammonium nitrate is a solid with a melting point of 169.6 degrees Celsius (337.3 degrees Fahrenheit). It is moderately soluble in water, and its density is around 1.725 g/cm3.


Ammonia finds extensive use in various industries. It is a crucial component in the production of fertilizers, as it provides a readily available source of nitrogen for plants. Additionally, ammonia is used in the manufacturing of numerous chemicals, including plastics, dyes, and pharmaceuticals. It serves as a refrigerant in refrigeration systems due to its low boiling point. Moreover, ammonia is employed in cleaning products, such as window cleaners and floor strippers, due to its excellent cleaning properties.

Ammonium nitrate, on the other hand, is primarily used as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Its ability to release nitrogen slowly over time makes it suitable for crops with long growth periods. The explosive properties of ammonium nitrate have also led to its use in the mining industry for blasting purposes. Additionally, it is utilized in the production of pyrotechnics, as an ingredient in certain explosives, and as a component in instant cold packs due to its endothermic reaction when dissolved in water.

Potential Hazards

While ammonia is a widely used compound, it poses certain hazards. Inhalation of high concentrations of ammonia vapor can cause severe respiratory irritation and damage to the lungs. Contact with liquid ammonia can result in frostbite-like injuries. Ammonia is also highly flammable and can form explosive mixtures with air. Therefore, proper handling and storage procedures are essential to ensure safety.

Ammonium nitrate, due to its explosive nature, presents significant hazards if mishandled or stored improperly. The compound is highly reactive and can detonate under certain conditions, leading to devastating accidents. The most notable example is the tragic explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2020. Consequently, strict regulations and safety protocols are in place to govern the handling, storage, and transportation of ammonium nitrate to prevent accidents and protect public safety.


Ammonia and ammonium nitrate are distinct nitrogen-based compounds with different chemical compositions, physical properties, and uses. Ammonia is a gas with various applications in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and cleaning. On the other hand, ammonium nitrate is a solid salt primarily used as a fertilizer and explosive material. Both substances require careful handling and adherence to safety guidelines to mitigate potential hazards. Understanding the attributes of ammonia and ammonium nitrate is crucial for their safe and effective utilization in various sectors.

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