Science project

Acid Rain: Should We Be Concerned?

Difficulty of the Project



Steel wool pads: $5, Vinegar: $2, Lemon Juice: $2

Safety Issues


Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

Up to 1 week


In this experiment we will be examining oxidation and acid rain. We will establish the effects of pH on corrosion of different metals and assess the acidity of our local rainwater. 


  • Coarse steel wool pads - without soap. Available at superstores or hardware stores.
  • Lemon Juice
  • Vinegar
  • 4 - 250mL glass beakers or glass bowls or glass jars
  • pH paper, or meter


In recent years the effects of industrial waste products such as ozone depletion, global warming, and acid rain, have gained much attention. Rain itself is normally acidic but byproducts of burning fossil fuels react with the air and rain decreasing the pH or amount of hydrogen atoms. Chemical reactions are dependent on pH, most notably in metals. Rust occurs when metal comes into contact with water and oxygen known as oxidation. This reaction has important implications on metal structures, such as bridges. When it rains the rainwater reacts with air and metal structures leading to rust and corrosion. In this experiment we will be examining the oxidation of steel wool using tap water, local rainwater, vinegar, and lemon juice and determine the potential hazards of acid rain.

Terms, Concepts and Questions for Background Research

  • pH
  • Oxidation
  • Corrosion

Research Questions 

  • How does pH affect the corrosion rate of different metals?
  • What is the pH of local rainwater and how does this affect us?

Experimental Procedure

  1. Collect rainwater. You may have to put this experiment on hold until you can collect local rainwater (check your local weather). Place a glass jar outside while it rains and collect 2-4 cups of rainwater.
  2. Test the pH of the tap water, rainwater, vinegar, and lemon juice using pH paper or a meter. Record the pH.
  3. Cut 4 pieces of steel wool approximately 2" x 2". 
  4. Place a piece of steel wool into each beaker.
  5. Fill each beaker and label with the following:
    1. Tap water
    2. Rainwater
    3. Vinegar
    4. Lemon Juice
  6. Leave the beakers uncovered and exposed to air overnight.
  7. On day 2 examine each piece of wool and record your observations:
    1. Is there rust?
    2. How much rust? 25%, 50%, 75%
  8. Place your results on a chart. You can also include photographs of the steel wool.
Tap Water
Lemon Juice
  1. Graph your results: pH vs. percent of rust.


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Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.

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