Ammonium Nitrate vs. Ammonium Sulfate

What's the Difference?

Ammonium Nitrate and Ammonium Sulfate are both commonly used nitrogen-based fertilizers. However, they differ in their chemical composition and nutrient content. Ammonium Nitrate is a white crystalline solid that contains 34% nitrogen, making it a highly concentrated source of nitrogen. It is known for its quick-release properties, providing an immediate nutrient boost to plants. On the other hand, Ammonium Sulfate is a white powder that contains 21% nitrogen and 24% sulfur. It is a slower-release fertilizer, providing a more sustained nutrient supply to plants. Additionally, Ammonium Sulfate is often preferred for acidifying soils due to its acidic nature. Overall, the choice between Ammonium Nitrate and Ammonium Sulfate depends on the specific needs of the plants and the soil conditions.


AttributeAmmonium NitrateAmmonium Sulfate
SynonymsAN, Nitram, NitroprilAS, Mascagnite, Dolamin
Chemical FormulaNH4NO3(NH4)2SO4
Molar Mass80.043 g/mol132.14 g/mol
AppearanceWhite crystalline solidWhite crystalline solid
Solubility in Water1180 g/L700 g/L
UsesFertilizer, explosive, cold packFertilizer, flame retardant, food additive
Explosive PropertiesHighly explosive when combined with fuelNon-explosive
pH LevelNeutral (7)Acidic (4-6)

Further Detail


Ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate are two commonly used nitrogen-based fertilizers in agriculture. Both compounds provide essential nutrients to plants, but they differ in their chemical composition and characteristics. In this article, we will explore the attributes of ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Chemical Composition

Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a salt made up of ammonium ions (NH4+) and nitrate ions (NO3-). It is a white crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water. On the other hand, ammonium sulfate (NH4)2SO4) is also a salt but consists of ammonium ions (NH4+) and sulfate ions (SO42-). It is a colorless crystalline solid that is moderately soluble in water.

Source and Production

Ammonium nitrate is primarily produced through the reaction of ammonia gas (NH3) with nitric acid (HNO3). This reaction forms ammonium nitrate and water. It can also be produced by neutralizing nitric acid with ammonia gas or ammonium hydroxide. Ammonium sulfate, on the other hand, is commonly obtained as a byproduct in various industrial processes, such as the production of caprolactam (a precursor to nylon) or during the desulfurization of coal.

Both ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate are commercially available in granular or crystalline forms. They are widely used as fertilizers due to their high nitrogen content, which is essential for plant growth and development.

Nitrogen Content and Availability

One of the key differences between ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate lies in their nitrogen content. Ammonium nitrate typically contains around 34% nitrogen, while ammonium sulfate contains approximately 21% nitrogen. This higher nitrogen content in ammonium nitrate makes it a more concentrated source of nitrogen compared to ammonium sulfate.

Furthermore, the nitrogen in ammonium nitrate is in the form of nitrate ions, which are readily available for plant uptake. Nitrate ions are highly mobile in the soil and can be easily absorbed by plant roots. In contrast, the nitrogen in ammonium sulfate is in the form of ammonium ions, which need to be converted into nitrate by soil bacteria through a process called nitrification before plants can utilize it. This conversion process takes time and is influenced by soil conditions, such as temperature and pH.

pH and Soil Acidification

Another important aspect to consider when comparing ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate is their impact on soil pH. Ammonium nitrate is a neutral salt, meaning it does not significantly affect soil pH when applied. On the other hand, ammonium sulfate is an acidic salt that can lower soil pH over time.

When ammonium sulfate is applied to the soil, it undergoes a reaction with water, releasing hydrogen ions (H+) and forming sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acidification of the soil can be beneficial for certain crops that prefer acidic conditions, such as blueberries or rhododendrons. However, it may not be suitable for crops that thrive in neutral or alkaline soils.

Application and Nutrient Uptake

Both ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate can be applied to the soil as dry granules or dissolved in water for foliar application. The choice of application method depends on various factors, including crop type, soil conditions, and desired nutrient availability.

When applied to the soil, ammonium nitrate readily dissolves in water, releasing nitrate ions that are immediately available for plant uptake. This fast-acting nature makes it suitable for crops with high nitrogen demands or during periods of rapid growth. Ammonium sulfate, on the other hand, releases ammonium ions that need to be converted into nitrate before plants can utilize them. This slower release of nitrogen makes it a better choice for crops with a more extended growth period or in soils with lower microbial activity.

Other Considerations

It is important to note that both ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them depends on specific crop requirements, soil conditions, and environmental considerations.

Ammonium nitrate is highly soluble and can be prone to leaching, especially in sandy soils or areas with heavy rainfall. This leaching can lead to nitrogen loss and potential environmental pollution. Therefore, its use should be carefully managed to minimize these risks.

Ammonium sulfate, on the other hand, provides a source of sulfur in addition to nitrogen. Sulfur is an essential nutrient for plant growth and is particularly important for the synthesis of proteins and enzymes. Therefore, ammonium sulfate can be beneficial in soils deficient in sulfur.


In conclusion, ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate are two nitrogen-based fertilizers commonly used in agriculture. While both compounds provide essential nutrients to plants, they differ in their chemical composition, nitrogen content, availability, impact on soil pH, and application characteristics. Understanding these attributes is crucial for selecting the appropriate fertilizer for specific crops and soil conditions. By making informed choices, farmers can optimize nutrient uptake, minimize environmental impact, and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

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