Dirty Laundry Lessons

Science at Home:  Dirty Laundry Lessons, Part 1

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to my family that I went to college and majored in a scientific field.  After all, I showed an early proclivity for experimentation, long before the days of chemistry class or science fair projects.  At the ripe age of 9, I conducted an “experiment” to see what types of materials burn faster.  (NOTE:  Do NOT try this at home, or at least not without extreme adult supervision!!)  All went well until I tested a Kleenex…which I promptly had to drop into the metal trash can…filled with Kleenex…well, you get the picture.  A few seconds later and after a mad fire stomp by several members of my family (Metal trash cans get hot when engulfed in flame and cannot be carried out of the house; that was my mom’s take home lesson), my first science lab was finished.  As was the carpet.  Not a stellar start to my science career, but it didn’t slow me down.  Much.

However, I would like to suggest some fun and SAFER “science-y” things to do at home.  These ideas can be used as a simple introduction to the scientific method, or you can take it further and use it as a starting board for a full-blown science project.  First off, we’ll start in the laundry room, since I seem to spend a large portion of my life there!

1)  What are the effects of hard/soft water on detergents?  Or, what are the effects of certain salts on detergents?  To do this experiment, create a universal stain on several cloth strips(all made of same material).  Be sure to leave some material unstained as a point of comparison.  To create a consistent stain, consider soaking in something like grape juice or coffee.  Stain all the material at the same time for the same amount of time.  Start with ½ liter of purified water in several 2 Liter bottles (this will be your washing machine).  Leave one “machine” as purified water only.  This is your control.  To each of the other two liters, add salts.  You can try different salts (Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium), OR try using different amounts of the same salt in different two liters.  Add a cloth strip and the same amount of detergent to each “machine.”  I recommend using only a teaspoon of detergent.  Count the number of shakes (do whatever your arms can handle; but do your best to shake each two liter the same amount of time/number of shakes).

Oh, my mind races with the possibilities with this one:  comparing detergents, amounts of salts, lather, time, etc.  However, try to keep it simple.  Only test one thing at a time.

Well, tune in next time for more laundry lab.  Who knows, if nothing else, you might get Suzie or Johnny interested in science and the upcoming science fair.  Or, at the very least, maybe they’ll do the laundry for you next time!

Yours in Science,
Cecilia
PS:  Want more details on a quick, easy science project….

Check out 24 Hour Science Projects