Difference Between Ammonium Nitrate & Ammonium Sulfate

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Ammonium nitrate and sulfate are both salts of ammonia and are used as fertilizers. However, each has a different effect on soil, and depending on what the soil need, one is usually better than the other. Their chemical compounds and their properties are also quite different. Understanding the difference between ammonium nitrate and sulfate will help you decide which fertilizer to use on your soil.

Chemical Properties of Ammonium Sulfate

  • In appearance, ammonium sulfate is a white rhombus crystal. It's salty to taste but is completely odorless. Ammonium sulfate quickly dissolves in water and decomposes at temperatures of 455 degrees Fahrenheit. It gives off ammonia gas as a reaction when combined with alkali. It contains 21 percent nitrogen and 24 percent sulfur in the form of sulfate ions. It's a naturally occurring substance that is manifested as the result of ammonia gas combining with sulfuric acid.

Chemical Properties of Ammonium Nitrate

  • In appearance, ammonium nitrate is a colorless crystal. Like ammonium sulfate, it's highly soluble in water, but, unlike ammonium sulfate, it can dissolve in alcohol and ammonia. It decomposes at a lower temperature, 336 degrees Fahrenheit. Burning or boiling ammonium nitrate produces a toxic gas, nitrous oxide. It contains a higher level of nitrogen, 34 percent, than ammonium sulfate. It's also highly combustible when heated. Ammonium nitrate is a naturally occurring chemical that's the result of the chemical reaction of ammonia combined with nitric acid.

Ammonium Sulfate Uses

  • Ammonium sulfate is solely used as fertilizer. It's particularly useful in highly alkaline soils. High alkaline soil tends to have high pH. Ammonium sulfate is a fertilizer that lowers pH, making the soil ideal for growing plant life. How much ammonium sulfate is required depends on the pH level of the soil. However, runoff that contains high concentrations of ammonium sulfate also lowers the pH of whatever water it contaminates in a river, stream or lake. The resulting environment becomes unsuitable for fish.

Ammonium Nitrate Uses

  • As a fertilizer, ammonium nitrate is perfect for soils that have low levels of nitrate, a substance necessary for plant growth. Ammonium nitrate is also useful as an insecticide and weedkiller. It's used in explosives to modify the detonation rate. When combined with small amounts of water, ammonium nitrate becomes hot and is used in hand warmers. It's also an oxidizer in solid rocket propellant and pyrotechnics.

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