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What are Bottle Rockets?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bottle rockets are fireworks which are designed to have a small size, but formidable power. They are a type of sky rocket, meaning that they will rapidly climb high into the sky before exploding. The “bottle” in their name probably arises from the tradition of deploying bottle rockets from bottles, allowing the person firing them off to step well out of range after lighting the fuse. The term is also used to describe water rockets, rockets which use old soda bottles as a body and water for propulsion.

A bottle rocket is approximately half the size of a normal firework, and much smaller than commercial skyrockets. At one point, they were widely sold at fireworks hobby stores, because they are small and relatively easy, though not always safe, to use. Growing concerns about their safety led to a ban on bottle rockets in many areas, making them very difficult to obtain in some regions.

The core of a bottle rocket is a tube filled with black power or a similar explosive. When ignited, the explosion propels the bottle rocket into the air, often setting off further explosions of colorful fireworks star bursts, trails, or sparklers. Many manufacturers of bottle rockets also design them with whistles which will shriek as they climb into the air, or explosives which will make a concussive bang when they explode. The explosive part of a bottle rocket is attached to a long stick which should be mounted in a rock launcher, but is more often stuck in the ground or braced in a bottle.

Like any explosive, a bottle rocket can be dangerous, despite the misleadingly small size. Bottle rockets should be launched from a specially designed launcher, rather than a bottle or the ground. People firing bottle rockets should ideally be sober and over 14, and a large bucket of water should be kept in the vicinity for emergencies. Bottle rockets should never be fired near homes, and if the season is dry, the earth should be dampened with water before lighting rockets.

When lighting bottle rockets, instruments designed for lighting fireworks should be used, and everyone should stand clear of the area. Make sure that the bottle rocket is not aimed at anyone, and if it sputters or malfunctions, soak it in water and dispose of it. Never handle or try to relight a firework which has malfunctioned; the majority of fireworks injuries arise from this very activity. If you are fortunate, you can escape with burns, but loss of digits or an entire hand is possible.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Aug 01, 2012

I remember my brother designing homemade bottle rockets when he was ten. It all seemed a bit complicated for such a young kid, but he had a mind for stuff like that.

I do remember seeing him use a cork, a bunch of cardboard, a bicycle pump, and a two-liter bottle. I had no idea what he was doing at the time, but I was intrigued.

When he had it all designed, he told me to stand way back. I was quite surprised when it shot up into the air.

It was powered by air pressure, and this made it even more surprising. You can see a fuse on fire or liquid bubbling up, but you can't see air pressure at work.

By Kristee — On Jul 31, 2012

I like the slow progression of colors that bottle rockets put forth. They take their time, and you have to stand back and count to make sure that they are through launching before you remove the spent casing.

I seem to remember bottle rockets having eight different colored fireballs inside. One would shoot up into the air and burst into color, and the next would come a few seconds behind that one, leaving the first one plenty of time to bask in its own glory.

I was a little intimidated by this feature, though. I always wondered what would happen if the manufacturer had inserted one extra fireball that was about to fire off and fool me, so I waited an entire minute after the eighth one had exploded before approaching the bottle.

By giddion — On Jul 31, 2012

@JackWhack – That's what I love about bottle rockets. You can buy the kind that don't wake up the neighbors and make you go temporarily deaf!

They make such a pretty display, and they are quiet. To me, that is the definition of the perfect firework.

I know that some people actually like the loud screaming and booming, but it makes me nervous, and I have to hold my ears. My dog also hates firework noise, but she has no issues with bottle rockets. While other kinds would send her running into the bedroom to seek shelter under the bed, she doesn't even seem to know that bottle rockets are even related to those fireworks!

By JackWhack — On Jul 30, 2012

My dad used to buy bottle rockets once a year around the 4th of July. I was a small child, and he felt like this was the safest type of firework to handle around me.

He would stick part of the firework down inside a bottle. Then, he would light it, and we would run back to the porch quickly.

I still remember the sound of the fireworks launching into the air. Though these didn't whistle or scream, there was a loud “whoosh” as each ball of fire left the package.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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