Fact Checked

What are the Different Types of Illegal Fireworks?

Pablo Garcia
Pablo Garcia

In the US, the guidelines of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) determine the different types of illegal fireworks. Whether a particular item is illegal generally depends on the amount of gunpowder it contains. However, states and municipalities may enact more restrictive definitions of illegal fireworks than those found in the FHSA. Some may ban any fireworks except those used for public displays by professional pyrotechnicians.

Consumer fireworks, those classified by FHSA as class “C” fireworks, must contain less than 50 milligrams of gunpowder to be legal. This is about the amount of ground powder from one-half an aspirin. Some of the specific types of fireworks considered illegal are silver salutes, cherry bombs and M 80s. The “M” class of fireworks consists of large firecrackers that can measure from one to six inches (2.5 - 15.4 cm) long.


Fuses on fireworks must burn for at least three but not more than nine seconds. Otherwise, under FHSA guidelines, they are illegal. All fireworks must have safety labels and contain safety instructions for their use. If fireworks without these warning labels and instructions are illegal. Aerial devices, which explode after launch, cannot have a noise effect that is more than what could be made by one hundred thirty milligrams of gunpowder.

Some forms of firecrackers are considered illegal fireworks.
Some forms of firecrackers are considered illegal fireworks.

Kits and components for making illegal fireworks are themselves considered illegal. Fireworks are illegal if they look like candy or food. Examples are “Dragon eggs,” which look like chocolate candy kisses wrapped in shiny foil, and “cracker balls,” which resemble cereal. The prohibition against these types of fireworks is for the protection of small children.

Fireworks contain gunpowder.
Fireworks contain gunpowder.

Class “B” fireworks are intended for public display use by professionals under strict safety guidelines and not for use by the public. Consumer use of display fireworks is illegal and extremely dangerous — only licensed pyrotechnicians should handle display fireworks.

Depending on the state, laws governing fireworks may be more restrictive than FHSA prohibitions. The Consumer Public Safety Commission (CPSC) has a list of all the states that allow consumer use of class B fireworks. The majority of states do. The CPSC also has information available on the safe use of legal fireworks.

The use of illegal fireworks is widespread and difficult to prevent. Estimates put the number of fireworks injuries each year in the thousands. However, fireworks safety advocates believe that public safety campaigns have begun to reduce the number of yearly injuries. Safety groups recommend that very young children not play with any type of fireworks.

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Discussion Comments


I always thought they used magnesium and potassium permanganate as an explosive. News to me that they are using actual gunpowder. I thought real gunpowder was black not gray.


Yeah, I had cracker balls and cap sticks too. The cracker balls had some kind of sand in them that would sting your legs if you had shorts on. After a couple of those, I would run inside for jeans. Nowadays, the little darlings' mommies would sue.


Loved those smoking cap sticks when I was a little kid. I would like to find those again. After the smoking cap stick blew up, there would still be an intact end that you could unroll to see that they were made from rolled Chinese newspaper.


In my day crackerballs, also called torpedoes, were colored paper balls about 1/4 inch in diameter. These came in triangular shaped packages of 10.

When thrown on a hard surface, like a sidewalk, they didn't just crackle, they exploded with enough powder and report to leave a black mark on the concrete.

Another toy was the smoking cap stick. A paper tube with a red tip which was lit by striking it on a matchbook. The tip would flare and begin to smoke. You'd toss it away and about 15 seconds later, the thing would explode with the force of an inch and a half firecracker.

Stuff from the good old days, when kids were taught to have common sense and not worshiped as little dummies made of cut glass.

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