How Does Aqua Regia Refine Gold?

Aqua regia is also known as aqua regis, and comes from the Latin phrase royal water.

Gold produced from agua regia.

Gold produced from agua regia. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is a highly-corrosive mixture of acids, fuming yellow or red solution, also called nitro-hydrochloric acid. The mixture is formed by freshly mixing nearly pure nitric acid and maximum-concentration (38%) hydrochloric acid, usually in a volume ratio of 1:3 respectively.

Aqua regia is primarily used to produce chloroauric acid, the electrolyte in the Wohlwill process. This process is used for refining highest quality (99.999%) gold.

Wikipedia tells the story of how, when Germany invaded Denmark in World War II, the Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of the German physicists Max von Laue (1914) and James Franck (1925) in aqua regia to prevent the Nazis from confiscating them. The German government had prohibited Germans from accepting or keeping any Nobel Prize after the jailed peace activist Carl von Ossietzky had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935.

De Hevesy placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. It was subsequently ignored by the Nazis who thought the jar—one of perhaps hundreds on the shelving—contained common chemicals. After the war, de Hevesy returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The gold was returned to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation who recast the medals and again presented them to Laue and Franck.

Below is a video presented by a very colorful character who explains and demonstrates how aqua regia dissolves gold into its purist form.

While I wouldn’t recommend you trying this at home, especially due to the toxic fumes that are created, if you are interested in learning more about this process, read How to Refine Gold by the Acid Method.


5 Comments on How Does Aqua Regia Refine Gold?

  1. Sajjad........ (pak)
  2. Hello there…

    Well thanks for knowledge share……. i found it very useful in refining gold…… Aqua Regia is really something …… thats why it is called Royal Water…………………….
    Now the i have dissolved all of my gold in the Aqua Regia, one of the problems arise is that ” How can i get the Gold Powder?” ” What acids can i use to precipitate the gold from aqua regia without any loss of gold…..???”" .

    I Some say to add urea…. and then The Sodium Metabisulphite…. to get the gold precipitated….. Some say there is no need of Urea to add….. can us please guide me through the process of how can i be able to get gold from aqua regia….. and what i need for this process?

    Ur site has already educated us about the process of refining gold and i do look forward for further!!!!!!!!

    Thanks and Regards


  3. Raja Vadivelan M
  4. Dear Sir/Madam

    We are looking for alternate GOld Refining Methods insted of Traditional Aqua Regia Method.i.e.Some thing like acid free refining techniques.

    Pl.Hlep Us.



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