What do you think about when you hear the phrase “elephant toothpaste”? Do elephants brush their teeth? And if so, what would the toothpaste for such a large animal look like? These are some good questions for leading children into the Elephant Toothpaste experiment, which involves mixing certain chemicals to create a reaction that ends up foaming and looking like a toothpaste substance so big that only an elephant could use it. You can get everything you need for the experiment at the local grocery store, but before you do this experiment at home - as with any science experiment - it’s a good idea to follow safety precautions.
Safety Considerations for the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment
Even though risk factors are small due to the common household ingredients used, safety is always a concern during science experiments. The hydrogen peroxide can be the main safety concerns with the Elephant Toothpaste experiment.
Sandra Slutz, a representative of Science Buddies said, "When done with 3% hydrogen peroxide - the concentration typically sold in grocery stores and pharmacies - the elephant toothpaste reaction is a safe and super fun experiment for kids! The reaction itself is the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide into water, oxygen gas, and heat. This reaction occurs naturally with light, which is why hydrogen peroxide is stored in opaque bottles. Usually the reaction is slow, but the addition of yeast speeds up the reaction and the soap makes it more spectacular as the oxygen gas bubbles through the soap making a foam.”
Slutz continues, “We always recommend that if kids are going to stand close to the reaction they wear safety goggles. No one wants soapy water in their eyes! Families should know that scaling up the reaction with a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide can be more dangerous, though. With a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide the reaction proceeds faster resulting in more heat and more pressure building up in the container. The result is a hotter, more forceful jet of foam."
Therefore, it is recommended to stand back after pouring the yeast into the bottle when the reaction occurs. You wouldn’t want all the foam to spray in your face!
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How To Do the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment in a Family Friendly Environment
The Elephant Toothpaste experiment is easy and fun to do. First, you need to gather all of your materials:
- Safety goggles (or, a plastic face shield used to protect against the virus!)
- Empty plastic bottle
- Plastic tray to place underneath the bottle
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- A small mixing bowl and stirrer/spoon
- 3% hydrogen peroxide
- Liquid dish soap
- Dry yeast
- Warm water
- Liquid food coloring (optional, but it can be fun to get blue and red!)
As long as you can do so safely, bring your children to the grocery store to teach them the process of buying the supplies and checking everything off a list. Now it’s time to do the experiment!
- Step 1: Find a table at home that you can do the experiment on, and clear out anything; you don’t want to get messy! Doing the experiment outdoors is also a good bet. Lay out all your materials, and put on your safety glasses to protect against the hydrogen peroxide and gloves.
- Step 2: Using the measuring cups, measure ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide and pour it into the plastic bottle.
- Step 3: Add a squirt of the liquid dish soap (about one tablespoon) into the plastic bottle.
- Step 4: Pick up the bottle and swirl it around gently, so that the hydrogen peroxide and dish soap mix together.
- Step 5: Add the food coloring by putting the drops on the inside rim of the bottle, and letting it drip to the bottom. Do blue on one side and red on the other to create the stripes you see in some toothpastes.
- Step 6: In the small mixing bowl, add 1 tbsp of the dry yeast with 3 tbsps of warm water. Mix them together for about half a minute.
- Step 7: Pour the yeast mixture into the plastic bottle, and step back quickly
- Step 8: Watch your elephant toothpaste foam out of the bottle.
After you do the experiment the first time, you can take it a step further by learning about chemicals that led to this reaction or trying it again with different food colorings and in different sized bottles.
The Importance of Science Experiments
Science experiments are a good way to learn about science in a hands-on fashion. It sparks curiosity in people of all ages while teaching people how to answer questions, make predictions, and find answers. Most of all, science experiments are fun to do! And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, these activities are good to help pass the time at home with your children in a safe environment. Science experiments like the Elephant Toothpaste experiment can help create bonding experiences and learning opportunities that they may be missing out on during virtual learning.
Other Science Activities for Parents and Children
Science experiments are a way to do something fun and different if you’re stuck home during the pandemic. But, not every experiment is interesting to every child, and even if the Elephant Toothpaste experiment is a huge hit, chances are your children will be interested in trying more experiments!
It’s so easy to find science experiments for certain ages and grade levels online. But, if you want something interesting and relevant to try now, the “COVID-19 Germ” experiment is a good one. You’ll need a bowl of water, pepper, and soap. Sprinkle a good amount of pepper into the water. The pepper represents germs. Now, have the child stick one finger into the water. You’ll see that the pepper - the germs - will stick to their finger!
Now, have the child dip a clean finger into soap. Then, touch the bowl of water. You’ll see all the pepper - all the “germs” - disperse! This represents what soap can do to kill a virus, and will teach kids (and adults!) the importance of washing your hands, especially in these times.
The Bottom Line
Being stuck home during a pandemic can really be a bore, and children who have not been in school for nearly a year may find it hard to satisfy their boredom. Introducing science experiments that you can do in a family friendly environment can be not only a way to get children to do something different, it can be an opportunity for the family to spend quality time together.
The “Elephant Toothpaste” experiment is one that everyone will enjoy, and it does not cost much to do it. It’s a relatively easy experiment and ultimately safe to do, as long as you wear goggles and gloves for managing the hydrogen peroxide, and step back when the reaction occurs!
Photo by Cavan Images / Gettyimages