The Science of Cleaning Products
It takes some serious chemistry to launder those icky grass stains out of your favorite blue jeans.
There are hundreds of products available to you to tackle your dirty clothes on laundry day. Which one can get tough stains to really disappear “like magic?” The makers of OxiClean™ claim that stains literally vanish when the “power of oxygen” is used to safely remove even the most stubborn stains. So, what is the chemistry behind those little white crystals? This activity will give you some laundry-room chemistry that has “science fair” written all over it.
OxiClean™ is a registered trademark of Church & Dwight Co, Inc.
- OxiClean™ powder, laundry section at a store
- White fabric, 2 identical pieces and sizes
- Iodine liquid from pharmacy, grocery store, or here
- Warm water
- Mixing bowl
- Cleaning gloves
- Adult supervision
You should have two pieces of fabric. One stays unstained so that you can compare the results of the cleaning process. Soak one piece of the fabric in iodine.
NOTE: You can make your own iodine solution (and double a great chemistry experience) by getting the “Think Ink – The Classic Iodine Clock Reaction” kit here.
Follow the directions on the OxiClean label and “launder” the stained fabric in the mixing bowl. You’ll need to make some adjustments on how much OxiClean to use, of course. It’s a good idea to wear cleaning gloves for this Step, too.
Compare the results with the two pieces of fabric next to each other. Clearly there was some chemistry going on in that bowl!
How Does It Work
The OxiClean science demonstration seen on television (9News, Denver, CO) was a version originally created for the product manufacturers in 1997. It was part of a program they called the Science of Clean. In it, two colorless liquids were mixed together and, after a few seconds, the resulting colorless liquid instantly turned jet black! This was accomplished by using the classic Landolt Clock Reaction to produce an iodine solution. Iodine was selected as the stain since it showed up well on television cameras and produced a very visual stain on the fabric.
It’s important to remember that this science demonstration was developed specifically to show the amazing oxidation power of OxiClean. The active ingredient in OxiClean is sodium percarbonate (C2H6Na4O12). This chemical is a great detergent and a powerful bleaching agent. It’s based on the chemistry of hydrogen peroxide bound with sodium carbonate molecules. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizing substance in its own right and can “bleach away” stains.
Sodium percarbonate is excellent for cleaning and removing organic stains such as coffee, tea, wine, fruit juices, foods, sauces, grass, and blood. It works well on fabrics and common surfaces like porcelain, ceramics, wood, and others. As a cleaning product, OxiClean is a good choice because it’s environmentally safe, biodegradable, and leaves no harmful byproducts.
Science Fair Connection
The “Science of Cleaning Products” is a pretty cool activity but it’s not a science fair project. You create a science fair project by identifying and testing variables. A variable is something that might change the outcome. It’s simple to do, requires few materials, and, in this case, provides information that might be useful for parents and teachers who attend the science fair. Consider some of the variable options you might test and write up for a science fair project.
- Stain ten white (identical) washcloths with common materials found around your home. Use coffee, tea, soy sauce, grape juice, cranberry juice, cola soda pop, etc. Then test the cleaning power of OxiClean on each cloth. Amounts used, water temperature, scrubbing techniques, etc. must remain the same. The type of stain can be the only variable.
- Use a particular stain (e.g. coffee) and test the cleaning power of several different products that all claim to use the bleaching power of oxygen. Again, everything is the same except the products being tested.
- Select a single stain-maker to use on five different types of small, stain-resistant carpet samples (from a local carpet store). Test the stain removing action of a single cleaner on those five carpet samples. All is the same except the carpet samples used.
- Select one stain again, such as grape juice, and see if the temperature of the water affects the cleaning action of a selected product. Here, just the water temperature changes.
- Set up experiments to test manufacturers’ claims for the products. How does a Tide® to Go pen really do on removing ink stains? How well does OxiClean remove make up stains from a carpet? Carefully follow the directions for each product.
The key to a good science fair project is to select one variable to test at a time and to make certain that everything else stays the same. You can’t have good results by changing the type of stain and the temperature of the water used. That approach may produce false results since two variables were changed in a single test. You have no way of knowing if it was the type of stain or the temperature of the water that caused the result. Change only one thing at a time, create a new test, and then compare the results. This process is called “C3.” Document your results, present them in a clear way, and state a conclusion. You’ll have a great science fair!
Safety in your lab is always at the top of the list!
- Keep your area clean and straightened.
- Lids stay on chemicals (like OxiClean) and go back on right after you use them.
- Safety glasses are always a great fashion statement in your lab.
- Gloves are a good idea for this activity, too.
The whole idea is to discover and explore safely and then share your results. It all depends on you!