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Bath Bomb Science

Difficulty
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Ingredients for making bath bombs are required to do this science project. See the Materials section for details. Note that the time required for this science project includes shipping and handling time.
Cost Average ($50 - $100)
Safety Adult assistance is required for using the oven.

Abstract

Have you ever had a refreshing bath using a bath bomb? A bath bomb is several ingredients mixed and molded into a shape, which becomes fizzy when it touches the water. It can be quite a relaxing experience, especially if your bath bomb has a nice fragrance or includes some bath salts. The fizz is the result of a chemical reaction taking place between different ingredients within the bath bomb. In this science project, you will get to make your own homemade bath bombs and explore how changing the amounts of the different ingredients affects the fizziness of the bath bombs when you toss them in the bath. You can use your perfected recipe to create some super impressive bath bombs, and maybe even give them away as gifts!

Objective

Investigate how changing the amounts of different ingredients in homemade bath bombs affects their fizziness.

Credits

Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Rowland, Teisha. "Bath Bomb Science" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 15 Aug. 2017. Web. 24 Nov. 2017 <https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Chem_p105/chemistry/bath-bomb-science>

APA Style

Rowland, T. (2017, August 15). Bath Bomb Science. Retrieved November 24, 2017 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Chem_p105/chemistry/bath-bomb-science

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Last edit date: 2017-08-15

Introduction

Bath bombs—like the ones shown in Figure 1, below—can come in all types of shapes, sizes, and festive colors, depending on the molds and dyes used.

Picture of homemade sea-shell shaped bath bombs.
Figure 1. Multicolored, homemade bath bombs made using a seashell mold.

They can also have a wide range of ingredients, including bath salts, various fragrances, and other components. That said, there are a few key ingredients that most simple bath bomb recipes have: baking soda, citric acid, and cornstarch. When baking soda and citric acid are mixed together with some water, they undergo a chemical reaction. Specifically, this reaction involves acid-base chemistry, since the baking soda—also known as sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3)—is a weak base, and citric acid (C6H8O7) is a weak acid. This reaction is shown in Equation 1, below. As you can see from Equation 1, the acid-base reaction produces carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. This gas is what makes the fizzy bubbles when you toss a bath bomb into a tub full of water.

Equation 1:

How acidic or basic something is can be measured by a scale called pH, which ranges from 0 to 14. For example, an acidic pH is below 7, such as lemon juice or vinegar. A basic pH is above 8, such as baking soda or bleach. A neutral pH is about 7, which is typically the pH of water. For more on these topics, see the Science Buddies webpage on Acids, Bases, & the pH Scale.

Now back to the role of the cornstarch in homemade bath bombs. This ingredient can act as a dry "filler" that gets mixed in with the reactive baking soda and citric acid components in the bombs. In this science project, you will explore how changing the amount of cornstarch filler affects the reaction rate of the bath bomb reaction, or, in other words, how the amount of cornstarch affects the fizziness of the bath bombs. The reaction rate for a chemical reaction is a measurement of how quickly the reaction happens, or how quickly the reactants (the baking soda and citric acid for the bath bombs) create the reaction's products (which includes the CO2 bubbles for the bath bombs). The faster a bath bomb dissolves, the more CO2 it is making, the fizzier it is, and the faster the reaction is taking place. Because of this, you will be measuring the reaction rate by timing how long it takes the bath bombs to dissolve in water.

How do you think having more or less filler will affect how fizzy the bath bombs will be and how quickly they can dissolve in the tub? Note that you will be testing one normal bath bomb recipe, and a second recipe that has extra cornstarch added to it (and includes less citric acid and baking soda to keep the totals similar). Which do you think will make the most impressive bath bombs? Get ready to find out!

Terms and Concepts

  • Chemical reaction
  • Acid-base chemistry
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Citric acid
  • Acid-base chemical reaction
  • pH
  • Acidic
  • Basic
  • Reaction rate
  • Reactant
  • Product

Questions

  • What are the fizzy bubbles made out of that show up when you toss a bath bomb into a water-filled bathtub?
  • What are examples of acids or bases that you might find around your home?
  • What is the purpose of the cornstarch in homemade bath bombs?
  • Now that you know what most homemade bath bombs are made of and how the bubbles are created, what would you expect to have an influence on the fizziness of the bath bomb?

Bibliography

To find out more about acids and bases, you can check out these resources:

To find out more about the chemistry that takes place in the bath bomb reaction (between the citric acid and sodium bicarbonate), you can explore these resources:

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Materials and Equipment

  • Muffin pan (miniature size is recommended); available online from Amazon.com.
    • Alternatively, you can use an ice cube tray.
    • Note: If you use an ice cube tray, your only drying option is to dry the bath bombs overnight at room temperature. If you live in a humid environment, we recommend you use the muffin pan to dry the bath bombs in the oven for one hour.
  • Large bowls (4)
  • Masking tape or painter's tape
  • Pen or permanent marker
  • Bath bomb starter kit; available online from Amazon.com.
  • Water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Medicine dropper
  • Measuring spoons
  • Forks and spoons for mixing
  • Optional, but recommended: Oven
    • Note: If you live in a very humid environment, use the oven to dry the bath bombs after making them to get satisfying results. Note that you can only use the oven if you are using an oven-safe muffin pan.
  • Waterproof thermometer; a suitable thermometer is available from Amazon.com.
  • Metric measuring cup or graduated cylinder; a suitable, 250 mL graduated cylinder can be purchased online from Amazon.com.
  • Stopwatch or timer
  • Optional: Helper to help you time the reaction times.
  • Lab notebook

Materials for doing the bath bomb activity.
Figure 2. You will need a bath bomb kit, a muffin pan or ice cube tray, bowls, measuring spoons, a medicine dropper, vegetable oil (shown here) and some other common household items (not shown) to do this science project.

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Experimental Procedure

Preparing to Make the Bath Bombs

  1. If you are using the 8-shell muffin pan linked in the Materials section, go directly to the next section of the Procedure, Making the Bath Bombs. If you are using a different muffin pan or an ice cube tray, go through steps 1–6 in this section to determine how much bath bomb mixture to make for your recipes.
  2. Figure out the volume of each muffin tray's holes or ice cube tray's holes in which you plan to prepare your bath bombs. Do this by carefully filling one of the holes with water using a teaspoon (tsp.) measuring spoon.
    1. Fill the hole one (full) teaspoonful at a time and, in your lab notebook, keep track of how many teaspoonfuls you have used. (If you only use part of a teaspoonful to fill the hole to the very top, approximate how much of the teaspoonful is used and record this in your lab notebook.)
    2. Add up the total number of teaspoonfuls (and partial teaspoonfuls) of water you needed to fill the hole to determine the total volume of the hole.
      1. For example, if you used seven full teaspoons and one half teaspoon, the hole has a volume of about 7.5 tsp.
  3. For each bath bomb recipe, you will be preparing enough bath bomb mixture to fill three holes on your tray. To figure out how much this is, multiply your answer from step 2 (the volume of each hole) by 3.
    1. For example, if you found that each hole holds about 7.5 tsp., three holes would hold about 22.5 tsp.
  4. Multiply your answer from step 3 by 1.4.
    1. The volume of bath bomb mixture you will prepare will be greater than the volume of the holes because the mixture will get compressed, or pushed together, when you fill the holes with it. (It is also better to have a little extra mixture than to have too little.)
  5. Convert your answer from step 4 into tablespoons (tbsp.).
    1. Note that 1 tbsp. equals 3 tsp.
    2. For example, if your three holes hold 22.5 tsp., and you multiplied this by 1.4 to get 31.5 tsp. in step 4, converting this to tablespoons would give you 10.5 tbsp. (since 31.5 tsp. ÷ 3 tsp./1 tbsp. = 10.5 tbsp.).
  6. Look at the list of ingredients in Table 1, below, for the two different bath bomb recipes. The total amount for each recipe is approximately 11 tbsp. If the tablespoon total you came up with in step 5 is very different from 11 tbsp., you can adjust the recipes so that the total more closely matches your total. Be sure to write the new recipes down in your lab notebook.
    1. If your total is less than 11 tbsp., you could plan on making the same amount as listed in the recipes, but end up with some leftover mixture from each recipe.
    2. If your total is between 11 tbsp. and 22 tbsp., instead of figuring out measurements of the other ingredients to go with that amount, you could simply double the recipes (making 22 tbsp. of each total). You would do this by doubling all the numbers in the table below. And you might have some extra.
    3. If you adjust the recipes to exactly match your total tablespoons, instead of just doubling, be sure to keep the ratio of the ingredients the same.
      1. For example, if your total from step 5 is 16 tbsp., you can divide 16 by 11 (since the recipes are based on 11 tbsp.) to arrive at 1.5, then multiply everything by 1.5 to make a total of 16 tbsp.
      2. If you change the amount of one ingredient, be sure to change the amount of all of the other ingredients in the same way, such as multiplying all of them separately by 1.5.
      3. You may need to have an adult help you do the calculations if you adjust the recipes.
Bath Bomb Recipes
Recipe NameCitric AcidBaking SodaCornstarch Epsom Salt Food Coloring Water Vegetable Oil Fragrance Approximate Total
Normal Recipe 2 tbsp. 4 tbsp. 3 tbsp. 1 tbsp. 3 drops 1 ½ tsp. 1 ½ tsp. 20 drops 11 tbsp.
Extra Cornstarch Recipe 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. 2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. 5 tbsp. 1 tbsp. 3 drops 3 ¾ tsp. 1 ½ tsp. 20 drops 12 tbsp.
Table 1. Each bath bomb recipe here will make enough mixture to fill three holes of the shell muffin pan (linked to in the Materials section). If you are using a different tray, you may need to adjust the recipe (such as doubling it) to make enough mixture to fill three holes in your trays with each recipe. Amounts are given in tablespoons (tbsp.) and teaspoons (tsp.).

Making the Bath Bombs

  1. If you are using a plastic ice cube tray to make the bath bombs in, you will be drying the bath bombs overnight at room temperature. If you are using a muffin tray, you can either dry the bath bombs overnight or for one hour in the oven. If you are going to use the oven to dry the bath bombs, have it preheated to 170 degrees (°) Fahrenheit (F), or its lowest setting.
    1. Tip: If you live in a very humid environment, it is recommended to use the oven to dry the bath bombs after making them to help them dry well, but you can only use the oven if you are using an oven-safe tray, like a muffin pan.
  2. Using masking tape or painter's tape and a pen or permanent marker, label one large bowl "Normal" and label a second large bowl "Extra Cornstarch."
  3. In the "Normal" bowl, mix together the citric acid, baking soda, cornstarch, and Epsom salts by following the normal recipe from Table 1, above, or the recipe you came up with by going through the first section of the Procedure, Preparing to Make the Bath Bombs. Your bowl may look similar to the one in Figure 3, below.
    1. If you are using the shell muffin pan, use the exact amounts in Table 1.
    2. If you are not using the shell muffin pan, be sure to go through the Preparing to Make the Bath Bombs section to figure out whether you need to adjust the recipe.
Dry ingredients for bath bombs mixed together in a bowl.
Figure 3. When you mix the dry ingredients together (citric acid, baking soda, cornstarch, and Epsom salts), your bowl should look similar to the one shown here.
  1. In the "Extra Cornstarch" bowl, mix together the citric acid, baking soda, cornstarch, and Epsom salts by following the extra cornstarch recipe from Table 1.
    1. Again, use the exact amounts from Table 1 if you are using the shell muffin pan, but go through the Preparing to Make the Bath Bombs section first if you are using a different tray.
  2. You will be making all three normal bath bombs one color, and all three of the extra cornstarch bath bombs another color. This way it will be easy to tell them apart later. Decide which color you want each recipe to be and make a note of your decisions in your lab notebook. If you are using the bath bomb kit listed in the Materials section, it comes with four colors to choose from: red, green, blue, and yellow.
  3. In a third bowl, mix together the food coloring, water, vegetable oil, and fragrance by following the normal recipe from Table 1. Use the color you decided on using in step 5 for the normal recipe. (Because this mixture will be colored, you do not need to label the bowl.) Use a medicine dropper to measure the drops for the food coloring and fragrance. When mixed together, this bowl may look similar to the one in Figure 4, below.
    1. Rinse out and clean the medicine dropper and measuring spoons in between measuring the different ingredients.
    2. Note that these four ingredients will not mix well together because two are water-based (the food coloring and water) and two are oil-based (the vegetable oil and fragrance), but do your best to use a fork and mix them together a bit.
    3. Again, use the exact amounts from Table 1 if you are using the shell muffin pan, but go through the Preparing to Make the Bath Bombs section first if you are using a different tray.
Wet bath bomb ingredients mixed in a bowl.
Figure 4. When you mix the water, vegetable oil, fragrance, and food coloring together in the third bowl, it should look similar to this one (depending on what color food coloring you are using).
  1. Next you will mix together the wet mixture you made in step 6 with the normal recipe's dry ingredients you prepared in step 3. (Only proceed with this when you are ready, because you will need to do steps 7–11 in one sitting.) This can be tricky to do, so read the following instructions carefully before you start:
    1. Have a clean spoon ready nearby.
    2. Then, using a clean medicine dropper, add a few drops of the wet mixture to the normal recipe's dry ingredients. What happens when you add a drop of the wet mixture? You should see it fizz; this is the bath bomb reaction taking place! Because you do not want the bath bombs to react yet, quickly press down on the fizzy spot with the back of the clean spoon. This should stop the fizzing (and just leave a damp spot).
    3. After you stopped the reaction with the spoon, mix the damp spot in with the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. You want to evenly distribute the moisture as much as you can.
    4. Repeat steps 7.b.–7.c. until you have added all of the wet ingredients (a few drops at a time) to the dry ingredients.
    5. Important: Part of the challenge of making bath bombs is adding the right amount of wet ingredients. If you live in a humid environment, you may not need to add all of the wet ingredients. Making bath bombs can be significantly affected by surrounding humidity levels. If the bath bomb mixture ever appears to continue to puff up even after you have thoroughly mixed in some wet ingredients, then the mixture may be too wet and the bath bombs will not form properly. You will want to do the following to fix this problem:
      1. Instead of trying to "rescue" the mixture, it is best to start over by repeating steps 3, 6, and 7, but this time use less water in the recipe. (You can set aside the bowl of "extra cornstarch" dry ingredients for later by storing it in a sealable plastic bag.)
        1. For example, instead of using 1 ½ tsp. of water, you could try using 1 tsp. or ½ tsp.
        2. You do not need to adjust the amount of food coloring, vegetable oil, or fragrance.
      2. If you find that the normal recipe works better using less water, you will want to adjust the extra cornstarch recipe similarly.
        1. For example, if you ended up using 1 tsp. (instead of 1 ½ tsp.) of water in the normal recipe, then use ½ tsp. of water less in the extra cornstarch recipe (such as 3 ¼ tsp. instead of 3 ¾ tsp.).
      3. Note: It is also possible to make the bath bombs too dry. If this happens they will fall apart after they have dried. The mixture should be damp enough so that it holds shape when you press together small pieces with your fingers. See step 13, below, for tips on what to do if the bath bombs are too dry.
    6. When you have mixed the wet and dry ingredients together, your bowl may look similar to the one in Figure 5, below. Quickly go on to the next step so that your mixture does not begin to harden in the bowl.
Wet and dry bath bomb ingredients mixed in a bowl.
Figure 5. After completely mixing the recipe's wet and dry ingredients together, your bowl may look similar to this one.
  1. Use a clean medicine dropper to drop one drop of vegetable oil into six of the tray's holes. Then use a finger to spread the oil all around the surface of the hole. Doing this will make it easier for you to remove your bath bombs once they have dried.
  2. Take the normal bath bomb mixture you prepared in step 7 and put it in three of the tray's holes. Add a spoonful at a time and use the back of the spoon and/or the palm of your hand to press the mixture down into the hole. It is important to carefully and continually press down hard on the mixture as it is added to the holes so that the bath bombs turn out hard and solid. Evenly divide up the mixture between the three holes, filling them as similarly as you can, as shown in Figure 6, below.
    1. For example, if you are using the shell muffin pan, fill each hole up to the top of the hole, where it reaches the flat part of the pan.
    2. Do not worry if you end up with some extra bath bomb mixture. It is much better to have too much than too little!
Bath bombs mixture packed in cups in a shell muffin tray.
Figure 6. Fill up three holes of the muffin tray (or ice cube tray) using the bath bomb mixture, continually pressing down on the mixture while you fill the hole.
  1. In a fourth bowl, repeat step 6, but this time mix together the wet ingredients for the extra cornstarch recipe. Use the color you decided on in step 5 for the extra cornstarch recipe. Be sure to rinse out and clean the medicine dropper and measuring spoon in between measuring the different ingredients.
  2. Repeat steps 7–9 using the extra cornstarch recipe ingredients.
    1. Since you already prepared the normal recipe and adjusted the water amounts in the recipes if needed in step 7.e., you should not need to adjust the water amounts again.
    2. Try to fill the muffin pan holes as similarly as possible to how you filled them for the normal recipe bath bombs in step 9.
    3. Do not worry if you end up with some extra bath bomb mixture.
  3. Let the bath bombs dry.
    1. If you are using a plastic ice cube tray to make the bath bombs in, dry the bath bombs overnight at room temperature.
    2. If you are using a muffin pan, you can either dry the bath bombs overnight or for one hour in the oven. If you use the oven, after it has been preheated to 170° F, turn the oven off and put the pan in. Let it dry in the (turned-off) oven for one hour.
    3. Tip: If you live in a very humid environment, it is recommended to use the oven to dry the bath bombs after making them to help them dry well, but you can only use the oven if you are using an oven-safe pan, like the muffin pan.
  4. Once the bath bombs have dried, carefully remove them from the holes. You can immediately move on to the next section in the Procedure, Testing the Bath Bombs, or you can store the bath bombs in sealed plastic bags until you are ready to test them.
    1. Note: If the bath bombs are very crumbly, the recipes and bath bomb mixtures may not have had enough water in them. To fix this, you will need to repeat the Making the Bath Bombs section of the Procedure, but adjust the recipes so that they use more water. Getting the amount of water right in bath bombs recipes is a big challenge for making bath bombs, and can depend a lot on surrounding humidity levels.
      1. For example, if the normal recipe you used included 1 tsp. of water, you may want to try repeating it with 1 ½ tsp. of water.
      2. Be sure to similarly increase the amount of water for both recipes.

Testing the Bath Bombs

  1. In your lab notebook, make a data table like Table 2, below. You will be recording your data and observations in this data table.
 Trial Temperature
(in °C)
Time to Dissolve
(in sec)
Observations
Normal Recipe 1   
2    
3    
Extra Cornstarch Recipe 1   
2    
3    
Table 2. In your lab notebook, make a data table like this one in which to record your results.
  1. Fill a bowl with hot tap water (at least as deep as the height of the bath bombs). Use a metric measuring cup (or graduated cylinder) so that you can record exactly how much water you added to the bowl in your lab notebook. Add the same amount each time you fill the bowl.
  2. Using a thermometer, measure the temperature of the water. To simulate a bath, you will want the water to be hot, somewhere between 32°Celsius (C) and 43°C (or 90°F and 110°F). Record the exact temperature of the water in the data table in your lab notebook.
    1. If the temperature of the water is too cold to be within the temperature range, empty the bowl and repeat steps 2–3 with hotter water.
    2. Tip: To get the water at the temperature you want it to be, try filling the bowl with really hot tap water and then measure the temperature as it cools down until it is within the range you want it to be for your test.
  3. Get a stopwatch or timer ready, and if you have a helper, have him or her get ready to time the reaction (i.e., how long it takes a bath bomb to dissolve in the hot water).
  4. Drop one of the normal bath bombs into the bowl of water and start the stopwatch right when the bath bomb touches the water. How does the bath bomb react with the water? When the bath bomb stops bubbling, stop the stopwatch. Record the time (in seconds [sec]) in the data table in your lab notebook as trial 1 using the normal recipe.
    1. It can be tricky to tell exactly when the bath bomb has completely dissolved because the water may become cloudy and the bath bomb may sink. This is why it is best to observe the bubbles and time how long it takes for the bubbles to stop being made.
    2. Record any other observations you make in the data table in your lab notebook.
  5. Repeat steps 2–5 using the other two normal bath bombs, one at a time. Use the same amount of water in the bowl each time and make sure the water is within about 0.5°C (or 1°F) (plus or minus) of the original temperature you used. Be sure to record your results in the data table in your lab notebook.
  6. Repeat steps 2–6 using the bath bombs made using the extra cornstarch recipe, testing one bath bomb at a time. How does the reaction between these bath bombs and the water compare to the reaction you saw with the normal bath bombs and the water?
    1. Again, make sure the temperature of the water is within about 0.5°C (or 1°F) (plus or minus) of your previous trials.
    2. Be sure to record all of your results in your lab notebook.

Analyzing Your Results

  1. Calculate the average time to dissolve (in seconds) for each recipe. Record your results in your lab notebook.
    1. For example, if the bath bombs in the three trials using your normal recipe dissolved after 95 sec, 80 sec, and 100 sec, the average time to dissolve would be 92 sec for the normal recipe (since 95 sec + 80 sec + 100 sec = 275 sec, and 275 sec ÷ 3 = 92 sec).
  2. Make a bar graph of your results. Put the average time to dissolve (in seconds) on the y-axis (the vertical axis) and the two different recipes on the x-axis (the horizontal axis), making a bar for each recipe.
  3. Based on your graph and observations, try to answer the following questions:
    1. Which bath bombs dissolved faster?
      1. What does this have to do with their reaction rate? Hint: Reread the Introduction in the Background tab if you need a refresher on what a reaction rate is.
    2. Which recipe made the most impressive bath bombs?
    3. How does having more or less filler (i.e., cornstarch) affect the fizziness of the bath bombs?
    4. Why do you think you got the results that you did?

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Variations

  • Try making a two-colored bath bomb by combining bath mixtures made following different recipes. Can you make a bath bomb where part of it dissolves faster than the other part? Can you make it move or spin around in a certain way by doing this?
  • In this science project, you tested your bath bombs in hot water, but they might dissolve differently in colder water. You could repeat this science project, but this time use cold water instead of hot water. Do the bath bombs take a different amount of time to dissolve depending on the temperature of the water?
  • Instead of citric acid, you could experiment with making bath bombs using citric acid substitutes, such as cream of tartar or lemon juice. How do bath bombs made using citric acid substitute compare to bath bombs made using citric acid?
  • In this science project, you tried varying the amount of cornstarch, but you could try making bath bombs without any cornstarch. If bath bombs are made that do not have cornstarch, how do they compare to bath bombs made with cornstarch? Are they different?
  • Do some research on other recipes used for making bath bombs. How are the chemical reactions used in those recipes similar or different from the one used in this project?

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