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Does Detergent Affect Oil Absorbency?

Does Detergent Affect Oil Absorbency?

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Science Fair Project Description

The purpose of this experiment is to investigate how various detergents affect the absorbency rate of polypropylene pads.
Complexity level:6
Project cost ($):30
Time required:15 minutes preparation time, 15 minutes to observe
Material availability:Polypropylene pads should be available at hardware shops. If not, students can purchase it in bulk from the supplier. Detergents are available in almost supermarket. Engine oil is available at nearby petrol kiosks and in some supermarkets/hardware stores.
Safety concerns:Teacher supervision required. Beware of highly flammable oils. Gloves and safety goggles should be worn at all times for safety reasons.


Detergent decreases the ability of polypropylene pads to absorb oil spills.


What is Polypropylene?

Polypropylene is a durable type of plastic that can withstand wear and tear. It is widely used in the manufacture of packaging materials, food containers, roofing materials, loudspeakers, furniture, piping and other forms of products that require durability and strength. It is a strong material and it is generally resistant to many chemicals, acids and bases.

Here, polypropylene is used to make oil-absorbent sheets which can be used to soak up oil spills and leaks.

Scientific Terms

Polypropylene, polymer


To carry out this experiment, you will need:

-    600 ml of Engine oil
-    3 liters of water
-    15ml Tide
-    15ml Wisk
-    15ml Jet dry
-    15ml Dawn dish soap
-    2 empty bottles / trays (make sure they are large enough to contain 1 liter of liquid substances)
-    30 equal-sized  polypropylene pads
-    Stirrer
-    Weighing scale


1.    The independent variable of this experiment is the type of detergent used. The dependent variable is the mass of oil absorbed by the polypropylene pad. The constants of this experiment include the amount of water used, the type of oil used, the amount of oil, the amount of detergent and the size of the polypropylene pads.

2.    Fill the container with 600ml of water.

3.    Pour 150ml of Engine oil into the same container.

4.    After that, pour 15ml of Tide into the same container.

5.    Stir and mix the 3 liquids evenly until they dissolve in water.

6.    Leave the mixture to set for 20 minutes.

7.    Weigh a polypropylene pad. Record its weight in the table

8.    Put 1 polypropylene pad into the container containing the mixture.

9.    Leave it to set for another 40 minutes.

10.    Remove the polypropylene pad from the container and let it drip dry for 10 minutes.

11.    Weigh the polypropylene pad and calculate the amount of oil absorbed by subtracting the resultant weight from the original weight of the polypropylene pad (from step 7).

12.    Repeat the steps above for detergents Wisk, Jet dry and Dawn dish soap. For the control group, do not add any detergent into the mixture (omit step 4)



The readings in the table below are recorded during the experiment.

Type of detergent Mass of oil absorbed (g)
Tide 48.7
Wisk 46.5
Jet dry 44
Dawn dish soap 43.4
Control group 55.5

For Tide, the mass of oil absorbed is 48.7g.
For Wisk, the mass of oil absorbed is 46.5g.
For Jet dry, the mass of oil absorbed is 44g.
For Dawn dish soap, the mass of oil absorbed is 43.4g.
For the control group, the mass of oil absorbed is 55.5g.


The results of the experiment show that detergents do interfere with the oil absorbency of polypropylene pads, though the difference is not very significant.

This experiment can help educate the public to be aware of the effect of detergents on the oil absorbency of polypropylene pads. In order to get the maximum oil absorbency out of the polypropylene pads, we should not mix the oil spills with detergents.

Oil spillages at seas create a lot of problems for marine life, birds and sea mammals. The layer of oil blocks sunlight from entering the water, thereby affecting the water plants and algae which help keep the seas oxygenated and provide food for the sea creatures respectively. In addition, the oil may get stuck in the wings of birds, thus resulting in them losing their ability to fly.

Also consider

Will temperature affect the absorbency of polypropylene pads?
Besides detergents, what other liquids might affect the absorbency of polypropylene pads?
What might happen if another type of oil was used instead of Engine oil?
Some other alternatives besides the detergents mentioned above are:
-    Dynamo
-    Kleen
-    Kleenex


Related videos

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