Science project

Does Environmentally Friendly = Effective?

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Being ecologically friendly is not only growing in popularity, but has important implications in the future health of humans and the environments that they spend time in. As children spend more time indoors than they used to, it is important to consider what they are exposed to in these indoor environments. Many of the chemicals used in commercial cleaning agents could have unknown affect on long-term human health. Although safety precautions are listed on products we often do not know of the chemical reactions that take place when multiple products are used to clean different areas of the same room. There are many safer, simpler, and more economical ways to clean our homes, schools and workplaces. If students can understand the pros and cons of using more natural cleaning agents through experiential learning they will be able to make more educated decisions about their actions and health in the future.

Research Questions

  • How do cleaners break up and “clean” oil, grease and “scum”?
  • What is the pH scale?
  • Where do vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda fall on the pH scale?
  • Why isn’t water alone an effective cleaning agent?
  • What are the health effects of exposure to commercial chemical cleaners?
  • What are the environmental effects of using commercial chemical cleaners?
  • What are volatile organic compounds?
  • Are most cleaners acids or bases?
  • What is the difference between a qualitative observation and a quantitative observation?
  • What variables might there be in your experiment?

Terms to Know

  • Emulsifiers
  • Quantitative and qualitative observation
  • pH scale
  • Acids and bases


The materials for this project are readily available at the grocery or hardware store.

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice
  • Dish soap
  • Glass cleaner, such asWindex
  • Scouring powder, such as Comet
  • All-purpose cleaning spray, such as409 or Fantastik
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Crisco or cooking oil
  • Toothbrush
  • Water
  • Toothpaste
  • Baby powder
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoon
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Sponges with one abrasive side
  • Paper towel
  • 2 mirrors of equal size
  • 4 cookie sheets
  • 3 empty spray bottles
  • Stopwatch

Experimental Procedure

  1. Create 2 “dirty” mirrors: Put a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush and brush it around on a plate. Using your fingers, flick the bristles of the toothbrush at the mirror so that the toothpaste sprays. Let the toothpaste dry on the mirrors.
  2. Once the toothpaste spray is dried, use a ¼ teaspoon of baby powder on each mirror to create “dust”.
  3. Put on your safety goggles and gloves. Mix one part vinegar and one part water in the empty spray bottle.
  4. Use the Windex and paper towel to clean one of the mirrors. Use the vinegar mixture and paper towel to clean the other mirror. Start with one spray each. Count how many sprays of the mixture it takes to clean each mirror. Use the stopwatch keep track of how long you have to wipe the mirror before it comes clean. This is your quantitative (number) data. Record it in a table like the one below. (Table 1)
  5. Make qualitative observations about how clean the mirrors look. Do they have streaks? Are they cloudy?
  6. Make qualitative observations about the cleaners. Did they have a harsh smell? Were they difficult to wipe off? etc.Add your qualitative data to the table you began for this experiment. (Table 1)
  7. Now you will compare the scouring powder with the baking soda. First spread 2 tablespoons of spaghetti sauce out thin on each of two cookie sheets. Let the sauce sit and dry out overnight.
  8. Fill one of the empty spray bottles with water.
  9. Put on your rubber gloves. Measure out a small amount of baking soda. Measure out the same amount of scouring powder. Sprinkle the baking soda over one dirty cookie sheet. Sprinkle the scouring powder on the other cookie sheet. Record the amount of powder you used in a table like the one below. (Table 2)
  10. Spray both cookie sheets with equal number of sprays from the water bottle. Record the number of sprays you use in your table. (Table 2)
  11. Scrub the cookie sheets with a sponge and water until they are clean. Record how much water you use. Use the stopwatch to record how much time it takes you to scrub. You may need to add more cleaner. Record how much additional cleaner, water and time it takes to clean the cookie sheet.
  12. Record observations about how the cookie sheet looks when it is cleaned. Are their lots of scratches or streaks? Does it still feel oily?
  13. Record observations about the cleaners. Did they smell? Were they easy or difficult to work with? Did you have to use the abrasive side of the sponge?
  14. Now you will compare the All-purpose cleaner with the lemon juice cleaner. First spread 1 tablespoon of cooking oil or Crisco around each of the 2 remaining cookie sheets.
  15. Put on your rubber gloves and goggles. Fill the remaining empty spray bottle with 2 parts of lemon juice and one part water, add ½ tablespoon of dish soap and shake well.
  16. Spray one of the cookie sheets with the all-purpose cleaner. Use the stopwatch again to record how long it takes to clean. Using paper towel wipe and spray the cookie sheet until it is no longer oily or greasy. Record the number of sprays you used, how many sheets of paper towel it took, and how long it took to clean the cookie sheet. Create a table like Table 3 below for this data
  17. Repeat step 16 for the lemon juice cleaner and the other cookie sheet.
  18. Make qualitative observations about the clean cookie sheets and the cleaners just as you have in your other experiments. Record your observations in your table. (Table 3)
  19. Look over your data tables. Draw conclusions about which cleaner was more effective in each experiment. Then take into account the economic and environmental factors of using each type of cleaner.
  20. What are some of the variables in this experiment? How might they have affected the results?
Table 1
Mirror 1: Windex
Mirror 2: Vinegar cleaner
# of sprays to clean
# of minutes to clean
Streaks/No Streaks?
Other observations
Table 2
Cookie Sheet 1: Comet scouring powder
Cookie Sheet 2: Baking soda
Amount of powder used
# of sprays of water used
# of minutes to clean
Difficult or easy to use?
Other observations
Table 3
Cookie Sheet 1: All-purpose cleaner
Cookie Sheet 2: Lemon juice cleaner
# of sprays to clean
# of sheets of paper towel
# of minutes to clean
Streaks/No Streaks?
Difficult or easy to use?
Other observations


Author: Sarah Benton
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