No Stain, No Pain!
It’s happened to most of us; you wear a brand new shirt to school or work, and in the middle of lunch, get a giant ketchup stain right in the middle of the shirt. Or maybe peanut butter. Or maybe spaghetti sauce. Whatever the stain is, it’s always ugly, and can be tricky to remove. Did you know that there are many different kinds of stains, and each requires different types of cleaning to get the stain out? If you try to clean a mustard stain using shower cleaner – you probably won’t get good results. Why does the type of stain matter? In today’s activity we’ll explore a few different kinds of stains, and try to determine the best method for cleaning them!
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
There are many different types of household cleaners, because there are many different types of messes to clean up! Stains can be roughly grouped into four different categories; enzymatic (such as blood or grass stains), oxidisable (stains like coffee or tea), greasy (butter or oil) and particulate (your typical, run of the mill dirt stains).
Enzymatic stains are generally the result of protein action, and therefore enzyme cleaners will help break down these proteins into smaller, soluble (dissolves in water) chunks. Oxidisable stains are usually brightly colored, like wine or juice. These stains are removed by using a bleaching agent, such as hydrogen peroxide. These oxidizing agents break down the color-causing components of chemical structures, so that the stain becomes invisible! In the case of greasy stains, the best cleaners are usually surfactants. Surfactants surround the greasy stain, and expose the water soluble sections of the stain-causing chemical structure, helping it to dissolve in water and wash away. Finally, particulate stains are usually cleaned with compounds called ‘builders’. These builders help remove positive metal ions, such as calcium and magnesium ions, breaking down tough dirt stains and allowing them to be washed away.
In this activity we will test the cleaning power of 3 different cleaning solutions made from household products. We will evaluate how well they clean 3 different types of stains. Keep track of your results, and maybe you’ll get to help with the laundry when you’re finished!
WARNING: This activity uses household chemicals that, if handled incorrectly, can be dangerous. Please have an adult help you!
Extra: Repeat this activity testing other household products and foods that commonly cause stains. For example, mustard or cooking oil. Compare your results.
Extra: Test whether leaving the cleaning solutions on the stain for a longer period of time changes your results.
Observations and Results
During this activity you experimented with 3 different household products, to see how effectively they removed different types of stains from fabric. All of these products are excellent stain removers, however, they all work in different ways, and therefore they are most effective with different types of stains.
To start, vinegar works as a very effective household cleaner because it is an acid. Acids remove stains and clean by adding a chemical charge to the molecules of the stain. Much like a magnet being pulled by another magnet, these newly charged molecules become attracted to the positive and negative charges in water. As a result, they pull away from the fabric and can be rinsed away by water. Vinegar works well on dirt, mold and mineral deposits, as well as on other acid stains like coffee. Therefore, you may have found that vinegar did a good job removing your coffee or tea stain.
Hydrogen peroxide works differently than vinegar, and is better at removing different types of stains. Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t actually remove stains, it just makes them invisible! It breaks up strong chemical bonds in stains like ink, and in doing so it makes the stains colorless – but they’re still there! As a result, you may have found in your experiment that peroxide did the best job of ‘removing’ the ink stain.
Finally, cornstarch works well as a stain remover because it attracts and absorbs the molecules of the stain. Cornstarch works especially well on grease stains and food stains, so you may have found that it did a good job with the ketchup stain on your fabric.
More to Explore
Megan Arnett, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
Acids, absorption, bleaching, solubility
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