What Burns Best?

3.8 based on 47 ratings

Updated on Dec 09, 2011

Grade Level: 5th to 7th; Type: Physical Science


This project determines what types of objects burn, and which burn faster and cleaner.

Research Questions:

  • What types of materials burn, and which do not?
  • Which materials burn cleaner (with less smoke)?

Fire has many uses, from cooking to fireplaces to combustion engines. Learning what types of materials burn and how quickly can determine which materials are better for certain applications. It is also good to know which materials to keep away from fire and heat sources to keep ourselves and our houses safe.


  • Outdoor grill or fire pit
  • Lighter or matches
  • Varying materials to test for flammability: different types of cloth (know what the composition of each type is, for example polyester, cotton, nylon), green vegetable matter, dried twigs, paper, crayons, green and brown leaves
  • Water for putting the fire out, just in case
  • Notebook and pencil to record all observations
  • Stop watch
  • Adult to supervise all activities involving fire

Experimental Procedure

  1. Set up the grill or fire pit in an open area on concrete, brick or asphalt, away from any low-hanging branches or leaves.
  2. Place each object in turn at the bottom of the clean grill or pit. Watch whether it burns, and observe how it burns: is there black smoke? How much smoke? Does it burn quickly? Is there any smell? Does it melt? Is there any ash or does it all burn away?
  3. Time each one and record the time.
  4. Make a chart showing the material tested, whether it burns, observations, time it takes to burn completely, and if there is ash.
  5. Determine which material is most and least flammable. Make suggestions for applications for each material involving fire.

Terms and Concepts: flammability, applications, fire safety and use

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