Oil and Soap

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Learners investigate the properties of the liquids in two bottles. One contains layers of oil and water, and one contains oil, water, and soap. Learners shake the bottles and observe the difference in how well the oil and water mix together. When soap is added, the oil and water mix better due to soap's molecular properties. The activity links this property of miscibility to aquatic animals and the dangers of soap pollution. Although it is written as a display, this can be easily adapted to a hands-on activity by having learners make their own bottles.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Exhibit


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Two clear plastic or glass bottles or jars with tight-fitting lids (between 200 and 500 ml)
  • Water (about 500 ml)
  • Mineral oil (about 300 ml)
  • Blue food coloring
  • Sudan IV indicator (or other oil-soluble dye)
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Electrician’s tape
  • One 1-tbsp measuring spoon (general storage )


  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Animals
    • Ecology
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation