Create School Science Projects from the Laundry Room

It's Due When?

science project
Christopher Futcher/E+/Getty Images

Often one of the hardest parts of a school science project is coming up with an idea or topic. Your student may be interested in lots of areas-botany, biology, chemistry-but there are usually considerations of complexity and cost. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive school science fair project, head to ther laundry room. If you don't have all of the necessary components. after you purchase them and the project is complete, you can use them to take care of the family laundry.

These science projects can be simplified for an early elementary student and conducted with just a bit of parental supervision. Or, with more complex analysis and variables in testing procedures, the projects can be adapted for high school level competition.

How Crystals Form and Crystal Formation Comparisons

Crystals can be found in many forms in nature from snowflakes to rocks to salt. To develop a science fair project around crystals, the student can grow different types of crystals and compare the rate of growth under different conditions, size, color, and how long they last. Research can be done on how crystals form and why. Careful examination of growth structure can be done with a magnifying glass or high-powered microscope.

Growing Salt Crystals

A trip to your laundry room shelf can offer two products that produce one type of impressive crystals: laundry bluing and household ammonia.

Growing a salt crystals garden is a simple science project for the study of crystal growth. The process is the same as the formation of natural salt flats on Earth. As salt water evaporates, crystallization occurs.

A salt crystal garden uses the same principle - a large quantity of salt is mixed with a little liquid and the crystallization process occurs very quickly.

The addition of bluing-a suspension of minute blue iron particles in liquid-gives the crystals a nuclei from which to grow. This is same process as seeding a cloud with silver iodide to accelerate the formation of rain drops.

The garden is formed by the salt after the combination of water, liquid bluing and ammonia evaporate away. The ammonia helps to speed the evaporation of the liquid from the mixture and the bluing helps to form crystal blooms instead of crystal chunks or plates. The bluing solution is actually a colloidal suspension; it has very small particle that will not dissolve, but are held up and separated by the liquid. As the water evaporates away, the salt forms crystals using the colloidal particles as a seed, or nucleus, for growth. The liquid mixture and the salt are pulled away from the bottom of the container up to the tops of the porous material by capillary action, much the same way water spreads through a sponge. This allows you to add more mixture to the bottom and have your garden bloom and grow forever. You could experiment by leaving out the ammonia or bluing, or changing the ratios in the recipe.

There is no chemical reaction during the growth of a salt crystal garden.

It is a simple process of dilution and recrystallization aided by the bluing particles.

A salt crystal project takes at least three days to show significant growth of crystals. The longer the garden is allowed grow, the more impressive the results will be. Growth can continue for many, many months.

The supply list is minimal:

  • A glass or plastic dish to hold the base material and solutions. It should have a flat base and a rim.
  • Pieces of sponge or other porous material for the crystals to grow on. You can use a kitchen sponge cut into shapes, pipe cleaners, blotter paper, or twigs from trees.
  • Liquid Bluing
  • Table Salt (NaCl)
  • Optional Item: Food coloring

Whether you choose sponge or another material, be sure that the base material is damp. This will help the salt cling to the base shapes.

Arrange the base material so that it has some high and low points.

This will make your garden more interesting; think of it as a landscape. Just be certain that each piece is touching the bottom of the dish so it can absorb liquid. You should put the dish on newspaper or an old cloth just in case anything spills. Bluing is not toxic but can permanently stain wood, fabrics, and leave some blue fingers for a few days!

The magic ingredients are salt (NaCl) and laundry bluing (Fe2Fe3(CN)6) and water. To begin, sprinkle two tablespoons of salt evenly over the base material. Add two tablespoons of liquid bluing over the salt-distributing evenly. Then sprinkle two tablespoons of water over the dish.

Place the garden in a dry place and allow it to stand overnight. The air will allow the moisture to evaporate and the crystallization to begin.

By the second day, you should see some crystals beginning to form. If they have not, you should find a drier spot for your garden. When you see the crystals begin to form, add two more tablespoons of salt over the entire area and again, allow the garden to grow overnight.

On the third day, add the magic ingredients again: two tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of liquid bluing, and 2 tablespoons of water. Allow the garden to sit in the dry area overnight.

If you would like your garden to be colorful, you can use liquid food coloring. Let the garden grow for four or five days or until all of the moisture in the dish has been absorbed. Add a few drops of food coloring to the areas that you want to color. You will see some of the crystals dissolve when the liquid touches them. But, when they grow back, they will be the color you chose.

To keep your garden growing, just add the magic ingredients from time to time. Try not to pour the liquid ingredients directly onto crystals. Keep in a dry spot and it will last for years.

Growing Borax Crystals

Even fewer ingredients are needed to grow long-lasting borax crystals, just powdered borax and hot water. When a solution of borax and water becomes supersaturated, crystals begin to form.

Variables such as the "base seed", water temperature, and saturation levels will produce different levels and qualities in the crystals.

Learn how to grow a borax snowflake or another shape for the experiment, you may wish to grow more simple crystals for study. You can learn also learn more about the scientific explanation behind the project.

Laundry Detergent Comparisons

A science project based on the performance of laundry detergents can be structured in numerous ways. A student can compare the effectiveness of the each detergent on different types of stains. Or, compare the effectiveness of the detergent in removing stains from different types of fabric or at different water temperatures or with different amounts of washing time. Again, this type of project can be customized for an elementary-aged student through high school. The complexity depends upon the question posed, hypothesis determined, the materials used, and the analysis of the final data.

Use this basic outline of laundry detergent comparison science project as a jumping off point to create the level of science project you desire.

Additional suggested titles for a laundry detergent comparison project are:

  • Comparison of Homemade Detergents and Commercial Detergents
  • Comparison of High Priced Laundry Detergent and Low Priced Generic Brands
  • Comparison of Natural-Based Ingredient Detergent and Petroleum-Based Ingredient Detergent

As with any school work project, begin the preparation and work as soon as possible to have the best outcome and to be able to assemble a finished, polished presentation.