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Child Friendly Elephant Toothpaste Experiment

Child Friendly Elephant Toothpaste Experiment

The elephant toothpaste demo is one of the most popular chemistry demos, in which a steaming tube of foam keeps erupting from its container, resembling a smooshed tube of elephant-sized toothpaste. The classic demo uses 30% hydrogen peroxide, which is notsafe for kids, but there is a safe version of this demonstration that is still very cool.  Even with the safer materials ALWAYS have an adult help out!

Elephant Toothpaste Materials

  • mpty 20-oz plastic bottle (or other container)
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (available at nearly any store)
  • Packet of active yeast (from the grocery store)
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent (such as Dawn™)
  • Warm water
  • Food coloring (optional, but it looks nice)

Make Elephant Toothpaste

  1. Pour 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide solution, 1/4 cup dishwashing soap, and a few drops of food coloring into the bottle. Swish the bottle around to mix the ingredients. Set the bottle in a sink or outdoors or some other place where you won't mind getting wet foam everywhere.
  2. In a separate container, mix a packet of active yeast with a little warm water. Give the yeast about 5 minutes to activate before proceeding to the next step.
  3. When you are ready to do the demo, pour the yeast mixture into the bottle. The reaction occurs immediately upon the addition of the yeast.

 

How It Works

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a reactive molecule that readily decomposes into water (H2O) and oxygen:

  • 2H2O2 → 2H2O + O2(g)

In this demonstration, yeast catalyzes the decomposition so that it proceeds much more rapidly than normal. Yeast need warm water in order to reproduce, so the reaction won't work as well if you use cold water (no reaction) or very hot water (which kills the yeast). The dishwashing detergent captures the oxygen that is released, making foam. Food coloring can color the film of the bubbles so that you get colored foam. In addition to being a nice example of a decomposition reaction and a catalyzed reaction, the elephant toothpaste demo is exothermic, so heat is produced. However, the reaction just makes the solution warmer, not hot enough to cause burns.

 

 

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