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Most people know that keeping themselves and their environment clean is important, but have you ever wondered how soap works? Did you know that scientists carefully develop soap in order for it to work properly?

The soap you use today to wash your clothes and clean your hands is the result of many years of research in chemistry. It takes the right mix of ingredients in order to create a product that will work properly. Soap has changed a lot over the years, as scientists have learned new and better ways to clean.

The American Cleaning Institute has created an activity to showcase the chemistry of cleaning products by interactively introducing participants to product formulation while creating sand art. The goal is to encourage students to think about how science impacts their daily lives.


During this activity, students will be simulating the creation of a liquid hand soap to learn about the chemistry that goes into their production.


1 per participant - Small, clear containers or test tubes (0.5 mL works well) with a lid or cap
6 - Colors of sand
8 - Containers to hold the sand
6 - Small spoons or scoops
6 - Funnels


Space will be needed for eight (8) separate stations.

We recommend using the print-outs available for download to label each station.

Students will move in order from Station 1 to Station 8. At each station they will learn about a specific group of ingredients that serve a common purpose. The students will create their own "soap product" by adding colored sand into their container in proportions they think represents the content of a hand soap.

The ingredients components for a general liquid hand soap are as follows:



STEM Solvent critter  Solvents help to blend the ingredients and give soap the right consistency so it’s easy to use.
 STEM Surfactant critter Surfactants are the chemicals in soap that remove germs and dirt. These chemicals hold onto the germs and dirt as the water washes them away.
 STEM Fragrance critter Fragrances add a pleasant, sweet smell to the soap.
 STEM Preservative critter Preservatives protect the product, keeping microscopic bugs from growing and eating the soap ingredients.
 STEM pH critter The pH adjusters raise or lower the pH of a solution making it either more acidic, or more basic, respectively. The pH level affects how well the soap does its job.
 STEM Other critter Other ingredients in a soap may include: dyes, thickeners, moisturizers, foam enhancers, builders, and antimicrobials.


For detailed instructions see the Lesson Guide


Lesson Guide
Student Handout
Station Printouts
Science of Soap Video
Soaps and Detergents Book

Classroom ActivityGlossary