Sodium cyanide

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Sodium cyanide
Sodium cyanide.svg
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.005.091 OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
EC Number
  • 205-599-4
PubChem CID
RTECS number
  • VZ7525000
UN number 1689
  • InChI=1S/CN.Na/c1-2;/q-1;+1 Yes check.svgY
  • InChI=1S/CN.Na/c1-2;/q-1;+1
  • [C-]#N.[Na+]
Molar mass 49.0072 g/mol
Appearancewhite solid
Odor faint almond-like
Density 1.5955 g/cm3
Melting point 563.7 °C (1,046.7 °F; 836.9 K)
Boiling point 1,496 °C (2,725 °F; 1,769 K)
48.15 g/100 mL (10 °C)
63.7 g/100 mL (25 °C)
Solubility soluble in ammonia, methanol, ethanol
very slightly soluble in dimethylformamide, SO2
insoluble in dimethyl sulfoxide
Thermochemistry [1]
70.4 J·mol−1·K−1
115.6 J·mol−1·K−1
−87.5 kJ·mol−1
−76.4 kJ·mol−1
Enthalpy of fusion fHfus)
8.79 kJ·mol−1
GHS labelling:
GHS-pictogram-skull.svg GHS-pictogram-pollu.svg
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
Flash point Non-flammable
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
6.44 mg/kg (rat, oral)
4 mg/kg (sheep, oral)
15 mg/kg (mammal, oral)
8 mg/kg (rat, oral) [2]
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
TWA 5 mg/m3 [3]
REL (Recommended)
C 5 mg/m3 (4.7 ppm) [10-minute] [3]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
25 mg/m3 (as CN) [3]
Safety data sheet (SDS) ICSC 1118
Related compounds
Other cations
Potassium 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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Infobox references

Sodium cyanide is a poisonous compound with the formula Na C N. It is a white, water-soluble solid. Cyanide has a high affinity for metals, which leads to the high toxicity of this salt. Its main application, in gold mining, also exploits its high reactivity toward metals. It is a moderately strong base. When treated with acid, it forms the toxic gas hydrogen cyanide:


NaCN + H2SO4 → HCN + NaHSO4

Production and chemical properties

Sodium cyanide is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with sodium hydroxide: [4]

HCN + NaOH → NaCN + H2O

Worldwide production was estimated at 500,000 tons in the year 2006. Formerly it was prepared by the Castner process involving the reaction of sodium amide with carbon at elevated temperatures.

NaNH2 + C → NaCN + H2

The structure of solid NaCN is related to that of sodium chloride. [5] The anions and cations are each six-coordinate. Potassium cyanide (KCN) adopts a similar structure. [6]

Because the salt is derived from a weak acid, sodium cyanide readily reverts to HCN by hydrolysis; the moist solid emits small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which is thought to smell like bitter almonds (not everyone can smell it—the ability thereof is due to a genetic trait [7] ). Sodium cyanide reacts rapidly with strong acids to release hydrogen cyanide. This dangerous process represents a significant risk associated with cyanide salts. It is detoxified most efficiently with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to produce sodium cyanate (NaOCN) and water: [4]

NaCN + H2O2 → NaOCN + H2O


Cyanide mining

Gold cyanidation (also known as the cyanide process) is the dominant technique for extracting gold, much of which is obtained from low-grade ore. More than 70% of cyanide consumption globally is used for this purpose. The application exploits the high affinity of gold(I) for cyanide, which induces gold metal to oxidize and dissolve in the presence of air (oxygen) and water, producing the salt sodium dicyanoaurate: [4]

4 Au + 8 NaCN + O2 + 2 H2O → 4 Na[Au(CN)2] + 4 NaOH

A similar process uses potassium cyanide (KCN, a close relative of sodium cyanide) to produce potassium dicyanoaurate (KAu(CN)2).

Chemical feedstock

Several commercially significant chemical compounds are derived from cyanide, including cyanuric chloride, cyanogen chloride, and many nitriles. In organic synthesis, cyanide, which is classified as a strong nucleophile, is used to prepare nitriles, which occur widely in many chemicals, including pharmaceuticals. Illustrative is the synthesis of benzyl cyanide by the reaction of benzyl chloride and sodium cyanide. [8]

Niche uses

Being highly toxic, sodium cyanide is used to kill or stun rapidly such as in widely illegal cyanide fishing and in collecting jars used by entomologists.


Sodium cyanide, like other soluble cyanide salts, is among the most rapidly acting of all known poisons. NaCN is a potent inhibitor of respiration, acting on mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase and hence blocking electron transport. This results in decreased oxidative metabolism and oxygen utilization. Lactic acidosis then occurs as a consequence of anaerobic metabolism. An oral dosage as small as 200–300 mg can be fatal.

Related Research Articles

Cyanide Any chemical compound with cyanide anion

A cyanide is a chemical compound that contains the group C≡N. This group, known as the cyano group, consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom.

In chemistry, a salt is a chemical compound consisting of an ionic assembly of positively charged cations and negatively charged anions, which results in a compound with no net electric charge. A common example is table salt, with positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions.

Hydrogen cyanide, sometimes called prussic acid, is a chemical compound with the chemical formula HCN. It is a colorless, extremely poisonous, and flammable liquid that boils slightly above room temperature, at 25.6 °C (78.1 °F). HCN is produced on an industrial scale and is a highly valued precursor to many chemical compounds ranging from polymers to pharmaceuticals. Large-scale applications are for the production of potassium cyanide and adiponitrile, used in mining and plastics, respectively.

Potassium ferrocyanide Chemical compound

Potassium ferrocyanide is the inorganic compound with formula K4[Fe(CN)6]·3H2O. It is the potassium salt of the coordination complex [Fe(CN)6]4−. This salt forms lemon-yellow monoclinic crystals.

Acetonitrile, often abbreviated MeCN, is the chemical compound with the formula CH
. This colourless liquid is the simplest organic nitrile. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of acrylonitrile manufacture. It is used as a polar aprotic solvent in organic synthesis and in the purification of butadiene. The N≡C−C skeleton is linear with a short C≡N distance of 1.16 Å.

Potassium ferricyanide Chemical compound

Potassium ferricyanide is the chemical compound with the formula K3[Fe(CN)6]. This bright red salt contains the octahedrally coordinated [Fe(CN)6]3− ion. It is soluble in water and its solution shows some green-yellow fluorescence. It was discovered in 1822 by Leopold Gmelin.

A nitrile is any organic compound that has a −C≡N functional group. The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, including methyl cyanoacrylate, used in super glue, and nitrile rubber, a nitrile-containing polymer used in latex-free laboratory and medical gloves. Nitrile rubber is also widely used as automotive and other seals since it is resistant to fuels and oils. Organic compounds containing multiple nitrile groups are known as cyanocarbons.

Potassium cyanide Chemical compound

Potassium cyanide is a compound with the formula KCN. This colorless 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.

Cyanogen chloride is a toxic chemical compound with the formula NCCl. This linear, triatomic pseudohalogen is an easily condensed colorless gas. More commonly encountered in the laboratory is the related compound cyanogen bromide, a room-temperature solid that is widely used in biochemical analysis and preparation.

Sodium azide Chemical compound

Sodium azide is the inorganic compound with the formula NaN3. This colorless salt is the gas-forming component in legacy car airbag systems. It is used for the preparation of other azide compounds. It is an ionic substance, is highly soluble in water and is very acutely poisonous.


Cyanate is an anion with the structural formula [O=C=N], usually written OCN. It also refers to any salt containing it, such as ammonium cyanate.

Germane Chemical compound

Germane is the chemical compound with the formula GeH4, and the germanium analogue of methane. It is the simplest germanium hydride and one of the most useful compounds of germanium. Like the related compounds silane and methane, germane is tetrahedral. It burns in air to produce GeO2 and water. Germane is a group 14 hydride.

Copper(I) cyanide Chemical compound

Copper(I) cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula CuCN. This off-white solid occurs in two polymorphs; impure samples can be green due to the presence of Cu(II) impurities. The compound is useful as a catalyst, in electroplating copper, and as a reagent in the preparation of nitriles.

Benzyl chloride, or α-chlorotoluene, is an organic compound with the formula C6H5CH2Cl. This colorless liquid is a reactive organochlorine compound that is a widely used chemical building block.

Chromyl chloride Chemical compound

Chromyl chloride is the inorganic compound with the formula CrO2Cl2. It is a reddish brown compound that is a volatile liquid at room temperature, which is unusual for transition metal complexes.

Acetone cyanohydrin (ACH) is an organic compound used in the production of methyl methacrylate, the monomer of the transparent plastic polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), also known as acrylic. It liberates hydrogen cyanide easily, so it is used as a source of such. For this reason, this cyanohydrin is also highly toxic.

In organic synthesis, cyanation is the attachment or substitution of a cyanide group on various substrates. Such transformations are high-value because they generate C-C bond. Furthermore nitriles are versatile functional groups.

Cadmium cyanide Chemical compound

Cadmium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula Cd(CN)2. It is a white crystalline compound that is used in electroplating. It is very toxic, along with other cadmium and cyanide compounds.

Ammonium cyanide Chemical compound

Ammonium cyanide is an unstable inorganic compound with the formula NH4CN.

Potassium dicyanoaurate is an inorganic compound with formula K[Au(CN)2]. It is a colorless to white solid that is soluble in water and slightly soluble in alcohol. The salt itself is often not isolated, but solutions of the dicyanoaurate ion ([Au(CN)2]-) are generated on a large scale in the extraction of gold from its ores.


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