How Much Gold is Actually in Fool’s Gold (Pyrite)

Pyrite, more commonly known as “fool’s gold,” is a mineral that often gets mistaken for real gold due to its brassy yellow color. But while pyrite contains a very small amount of gold, it is mostly made up of iron and sulfur.

So how much gold is actually in pyrite? The short answer is: not much.

On average, pyrite contains only 0.25 parts per million (ppm) of gold. That means for every 1 million atoms in pyrite, only 0.25 of them are gold. To put this tiny percentage into perspective, some types of gold ore mined by mining companies can contain between 1-5 ppm.

Pyrite’s nickname of “fool’s gold” comes from the fact that it fooled many inexperienced gold prospectors in the past who thought they struck it rich. They would collect rocks with heavy concentrations of pyrite, thinking it was gold. By the time they realized their mistake, they had wasted a lot of time and effort on a mineral with barely any gold content.

Pyrite’s brassy yellow color does come from a real gold component—but the amount is minuscule. The iron in pyrite undergoes oxidation when exposed to air and water, which causes it to take on that golden yellow hue. A tiny bit of gold gets incorporated into the pyrite structure as it forms, providing a real (but tiny) gold presence.

While pyrite contains gold, the amount is so small that it isn’t economically viable to extract and mine it. Even pyrite with high concentrations of gold contains hundreds to thousands of times less gold per unit volume than gold ore. Additionally, pyrite is very common while gold is rare, so mining pyrite as an ore would require processing huge amounts to get even small quantities of gold.

The bottom line is that while fool’s gold does technically contain gold, it is present in such small amounts that the mineral is useless as a gold ore. So while pyrite shouldn’t be completely ignored by prospectors, it isn’t worth more than a fool’s errand either! There are over 120 different mineral types that are colored yellow—pyrite just happens to be the most common that gets mistaken for gold. So while it may have just a tiny bit of gold inside, pyrite will always be mostly just iron and sulfur.