Be Curious! / Environment / Science

Mission Impossible: Removing Oil From Water

Following up on last Thursday’s post, today we’re looking at a mini-experiment in just how hard it is to remove oil from water.


Scouts are asked to create their own mini oil spill, then try their hand at removing the oil from the water, sand, plant life and feathers using things like spoons, cotton, and paper towels. The cotton was most effective — but then what do you do with it?

I also tried laundry detergent (nope), hand soap (nope), and dish soap (interesting!). The long and the short of it? This is an impossible task. Short of chemical dispersants (which may completely screw up sea life), this is pretty impossible.

I look forward to speaking with a friend who actually has some expertise in the oil industry for more information, but until then:


4 thoughts on “Mission Impossible: Removing Oil From Water

  1. As a former boater, the bilge soak is definitely important. In the event that something escaped the boat to leave a slick on the water, original dawn detergent dispersed it every time.

  2. my daughter did this for her sci-fair project last spring, and we used 6 or 7 different (mostly natural ideas, like yours) items, but the one non-natural thing that worked was from the local boating supply store, sheets of a polymer (also available in a “boom”) about 12″ square that boaters use to soak oil from the “bilgewater” (i’m not a boater, so don’t really know the lingo). these synthetic polymers do soak up the oil from water. then what? don’t know, but made us think about it! also, PETCO gave my daughter dog hair from their salon, which soaked it up (and she hypothesized about what to do with the oil.)

    • I am so fascinated by this, (especially the dog hair, which, frankly, I could’ve scooped up from almost any corner of our house). And yep, at the end of the day, even when we soak up the oil, what do we do with that by-product? Is it recyclable in any way? Great science fair project — great thinking!

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