Cleaning Water with Dirt

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In this activity on page 7 of the PDF (Water in Our World), learners make their own water treatment systems for cleaning water. Learners construct two filters to test: one with sand and one with sand and charcoal. Learners compare how well the sand and sand + charcoal filters clean water that is "dirtied" with food coloring, dirt, and grass. This activity also features a list of ten ways you can conserve water. Safety notes: Adult supervision is needed for this activity. Do not drink any of the water samples in this activity. Make sure to follow the safety tips listed on page 3 of the PDF, as well as those listed in the procedure for the activity.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity

English, Spanish

Materials List (per student)

  • water
  • measuring cup
  • 2 medium, disposable paper cups (8-ounce)
  • food coloring (red, green, or blue)
  • measuring spoons
  • dirt and grass
  • wooden craft stick
  • fragrant oil (optional; orange or lemon works best)
  • 5 small, disposable paper cups (3-ounce)
  • ballpoint pen
  • 2 cotton balls
  • sand (available at a hardware store)
  • quarter (25-cent coin)
  • metric ruler (15-centimeter)
  • activated charcoal (available at a pet store with the aquarium supplies)
  • scissors


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Chemical Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
    • Technology
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Bonding
      • Solutions
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Department of Volunteer Support, American Chemical Society


  • All rights reserved, American Chemical Society, 2011