Cleaning with Dirt

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Learners build a filter from old soda bottles and dirt. They create polluted water, and pour it through their filter to clean it. Leaners discover earth materials such as sand and dirt can be used to trap runoff pollution and that there are limits to what dirt can filter. These observations lead to valuable discussions about pollution. Extensions provided on pages 8 and 9 include building a better filter, a filter for acid rain, and formulating a way to measure filtration rates. Part of the 21-activity guide published by OMSI, No Hassle Messy Science with a Wow. All activities in this guide use household materials and all lesson plans include preparation directions, demonstrations, procedure sheets, cross-curricular connections, and scientific explanation of content.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • plastic bottles 20 oz or 1-L 2 per group
  • plastic caps from plastic bottles 1 per group
  • drill with ⅛” bit for teacher
  • scissors 1 per group
  • masking tape 1 roll per group
  • sand 2–3 cups per group
  • cotton balls (optional) 1 per group
  • pop-top squeeze bottles 16 oz.1 per group
  • water 2 cups per group
  • Variety of pollutants 1 tsp each per group, suggestions listed below
  • vegetable oil
  • very dilute tempera paint
  • dirt
  • sticks
  • rocks
  • paper
  • Styrofoam
  • 1–2 tablespoons per
  • pollutant per group
  • plastic cups 1 per pollutant for class to share
  • plastic spoons 1 or 2 per pollutant


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth Structure
      • Rocks and Minerals
      • Oceans and Water
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Formulating Explanations
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry


  • All rights reserved, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 2007

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation