Chemistry Rocket/Soda Bottle Rocket Science Experiment
The classic combination of vinegar and baking soda launches a homemade, table-top rocket.
What happens when you combine baking soda and vinegar? Rockets fly! The classic combination of vinegar and baking soda launches a homemade, table-top soda bottle rocket that will amaze your friends and wow your family. Get ready for some out-of-this-world science action and learning!
When you think of mixing vinegar and baking soda, you may recall those homemade volcano demonstrations at school and those icky, stinking messes in the kitchen sink at home. Don’t let these common experiences put you off and deter you from trying this next-generation bottle rocket experiment with baking soda and vinegar. There is true, explosive potential — for both fun and learning — in this classic acid/base reaction. Just wait: You’ll see just how explosive and exciting the combination of these simple components can be in the right setting when you recreate this endlessly fascinating chemical reaction in our Chemistry Rocket Soda Bottle Rocket Science Experiment. Three, two, one: BLAST OFF!
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- 16 oz (473 ml) plastic bottle
- Rubber stopper (to fit the bottle opening)
- Tablespoon measure
- Baking soda
- Strong tape (e.g. duct tape)
- Three new pencils
- Small kitchen funnel
- White vinegar
- Paper towels
- Adult supervision
Use the scissors to cut about 12” (30 cm) of the strong tape from the roll. Duct tape is probably the best choice but you can use electrical or heavy masking tape as well.
The pencils will be the legs of the rocket. Stick one end of the tape to the middle of the bottle but don’t wrap it around the bottle, yet. Hold one pencil onto the bottle so about 2” (5 cm) of it extends beyond the opening of the bottle and keep it in place with the tape. The pencils need to be equidistant from each other around the bottle and extend past the opening the same distance. Wrap the tape over the second pencil and then the third. Make sure the rocket is stable and points straight up on its three pencil legs.
Turn the bottle right side up and use the funnel to pour in some vinegar. You want the bottle to be about half-full.
Grab a single paper towel from the roll. If there are multiple layers in the towel, separate them so you have just one thin layer. Keep the other layer(s) for upcoming launches.
Tear the single layer into thirds or fourths and save the pieces for more tests.
Scoop a heaping tablespoon (1 T) of baking soda and . . .
. . . dump it into the center of the piece of towel you tore off.
Fold and wrap the towel around the baking soda so it’s a snug bundle but don’t tear the towel if you can help it. The bundle needs to be small enough to fit through the opening of the bottle so shape it like a miniature hot dog. Grab the bottle, the bundle of baking soda, the stopper, and take it all outside. DON’T do the next Step inside – please! Your parents and teachers will appreciate your thoughtfulness, you’ll have less to clean up, and everyone will be impressed with the launch.
Outside where you can make a mess safely and clean it up with a hose, you need to think about how to do the next five steps kind of all at once to achieve a successful launch. You need to:
- Push the paper towel-wrapped baking soda into the bottle
- Snugly twist the rubber stopper into place in the opening of the bottle
- Give the rocket a quick, hard shake
- Set the rocket upright on the pencils
- Stand back!
See? Easy-peasy. And what a blast! How can you resist? Do it again!
How Does It Work
What happens when you mix vinegar with baking soda? A super cool chemical reaction occurs that involves a lot of bubbling and foaming, that’s what! Sure, this was an awesome visual that gave you a firsthand look at what chemical reactions and acid/base reactions look like. We are sure that this EXPLOSIVE and FUN experiment made an impression on your family, friends and students. But what exactly happened in the process of this baking soda and vinegar rocket?
The bubbles and foam you saw were filled with carbon dioxide gas (CO2) that was released by that acid/base reaction. Vinegar is acetic acid dissolved in water; baking soda is a base called sodium bicarbonate. Initially, the reaction made an unstable carbonic acid. It then quickly broke down into CO2 and water. The gas rapidly left the water; in turn it created lots of foam and bubbles on its way out.
When you closed the bottle with the rubber stopper, you prevented the CO2 from immediately escaping the bottle. This caused a rapid increase of pressure inside the bottle. The pressure eventually got to the point that the rubber stopper could no longer contain the gases and — WHOOOOOOSH — the stopper and its contents of the bottle exploded through the opening! All of this happened very quickly, too: you saw that it didn’t take very long to get to that bottle rocket point.
You noticed that as the contents of the bottle shot downward, the bottle itself shot upward. How did that happen? Well, this was actually a demonstration of Newton’s third law of motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. The initial action was the rush of material: that one-way force out of the opening that pushed hard against the air behind the bottle. The reaction was the air pushing back with the same amount of force going the other way. The bottle was thrust forward as the rushing foam and gas shot backward.
Take It Further
You can introduce some variables into this soda bottle rocket experiment to take it further!
• Test different quantities of baking soda and vinegar to lengthen the flight time and the distance.
• Work with different sized plastic bottles. You’re looking for the perfect combo of bottle size and fuel to achieve the best launch at the highest speed (distance divided by time).
• Find the most explosive reaction by playing with different combinations of vinegar and baking soda quantities. Try to produce the most explosive reaction. You may also be able to make some modifications to the bottle so it travels farther, as well.
• Do some research on the Venturi Effect. Discover how this effect might improve the soda bottle rocket performance. Perhaps the temperature of the vinegar used will make a difference.
There’s “science fair project” written all over this activity!
Steve Spangler Science
We’re known for science projects and science experiments for kids with that WOW factor that will amaze and impress! This soda bottle rocket is just the beginning! Check out our online science experiment library for some super-fun learning opportunities that will get your kids and your students excited about science. Check out our science fair project ideas as well as instructions on easy-to-perform chemistry experiments, force and motion demonstration experiments and physics experiments. From our all-in-one at-home experiments and kits to our monthly Steve Spangler Science Club, there is something that every inquisitive mind will enjoy. Keep them asking questions and have FUN!