Science project

Which Oil is Easier to Cleanup with Diaper Powder?

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Three oil types will be mixed with water and equal amounts of sodium polyacrylate will be added. A notation will be made of which oil(s) will be absorbed to form a sponge-like mass. Based on the results of this investigation a data table will be prepared. A practical application of the results of this project is to offer a possible alternative to the use of chemical dispersants in oil spill cleanups.

  • What is the project about?
  • What are the goals?

Research Questions:

  • What is sodium polyacrylate?
  • What is the affect on oil when sodium polyacrylate is added?
  • Which of the oils tested was the easiest oil to remove from the water?
  • Why would a chemical like sodium polyacrylate be a good choice to use in an oil spill on the ocean?

Materials and Equipment/Ingredients

A large disposable diaper, lamp oil, Marvel Mystery® oil, baby oil, plastic cups, 10 ml graduated measuring cup, large plastic bags, and rubber or Latex disposable gloves.

All of the items for this project can be a purchased locally at most major retail (Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar general, etc) discount department stores. Sodium polyacrylamide can be purchased as a white powder online from the Online Science Mall at (

  • What materials are required?
  • Where can the materials be found?

Experimental Procedure

Name of oil that produced sponge-like mass
Easiest oil to remove from the water

  1. Take one unused super absorbent baby diaper.
  2. Remove its inner lining to expose the cotton like pad.
  3. Place the diaper in a large plastic bag. The bag is to prevent fibers and chemical from drifting into the air.
  4. Pull apart the inner lining and rub the liner and pull apart the pads to remove as much of the sodium polyacrylate as possible within the bag.
  5. Shake the bag to get the sodium polyacrylate to one corner, snip off the corner and pour the contents into a cup.
  6. Remove any remaining trash from the sodium polyacrylate.
  7. Fill three plastic cups half full of water.
  8. Add 10 ml of Lamp oil to one cup, 10 ml of Marvel Mystery Oil to the second cup, and the same amount of baby oil to the third cup. All three will form layers on the surface of the water.
  9. Sprinkle small equal amounts of the polymer onto the layers of oil.
  10. Watch and record what happens to the oil.
  11. If a sponge-like mass forms, wearing gloves attempt to remove it from the cup(s) and place into a clean cup(s).
  12. Record which oil(s) was the easiest to remove by hand:
  13. After the oils have been made solids, sprinkle table salt on them. This will turn the solid into a liquid, and will be a demonstration on how easily absorbents can break down.
  14. In gel form the compounds can be disposed of in a solid waste container. The addition of table salt will re-liquefy the gel allowing it to be safely poured down the drain.

Terms/Concepts:Sodium polyacrylate; synthetic polymer; molecule; hydrocarbons; oil spill


References to related books

Title: Smog, Oil Spills, Sewage, and More: The Yucky Pollution Book

Author: Alvin Silverstein, Virginia B. Silverstein, and more

Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc. ISBN-13: 9780766033139 and ISBN: 0766033139

This engaging book is about things that make “our planet dirty” including pollution problems like smog, litter, and oil spills.

Links to related sites on the web

Title: What is the crystalline substan Wce found in disposable diapers?


Title: Sodium Polyacrylate (Diaper Polymer)


Title:Why Oil and Water Don't Mix


NOTE: The Internet is dynamic; websites cited are subject to change without warning or notice!

Author: Michael Calhoun
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