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How to Make Elephant Toothpaste in the Classroom

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Elephant toothpaste is a demonstration students will remember forever. This lesson outlines how to make elephant toothpaste, and then explains why it works. Finally, it offers suggestions for extensions that can be used following the demonstration.

Why Elephant Toothpaste?

Including demos with chemistry helps students retain information, and increases engagement. One such demonstration is called elephant toothpaste, which is a reaction where hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water and oxygen gas. The reaction produces overflowing foam that looks like toothpaste, and there's so much foam that someone started calling it 'elephant toothpaste.'

Let's check out how to make elephant toothpaste in the classroom. Note: the foam makes a mess, so complete the demo on an area that can be easily mopped up/cleaned.

Materials Required

You will need several materials in order to perform this demonstration:

  • Safety goggles
  • 1/2-cup of 6% hydrogen peroxide
    • This can be purchased at beauty supply companies as '20-volume developer'
  • Graduated cylinder or measuring cup
  • An empty 16-ounce soda bottle
  • One package of dry yeast (1 tablespoon)
  • 3 tablespoons of warm water
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Funnel
  • Stirring rod or spoon
  • Plastic cup

Instructions

  1. Put on safety goggles, and use the funnel to pour the hydrogen peroxide into the empty soda bottle.
  2. Add food coloring (optional).
  3. Add 1-2 tablespoons of dish soap to the soda bottle, and mix.
  4. In the plastic cup, combine the yeast and the warm water (and allow it to sit for 30 seconds to a minute).
  5. Use the funnel to pour the yeast-water mixture into the soda bottle.

Why It Works

Hydrogen peroxide will eventually break down into water and oxygen gas, but the reaction is very slow. The yeast, however, acts as a catalyst, meaning it speeds up the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen gas. Yeast is able to do this because it contains a catalyst called catalase. Yeast produces byproducts that are harmful during metabolism, including hydrogen peroxide. By using catalase, the yeast can speed up the decomposition of the harmful hydrogen peroxide, thus turning it into water and oxygen (both of which are harmless).

The water produced in the reaction mixes with the soap, and the oxygen gas bubbles cause the soap-water mixture to bubble up and foam out of the container. The optional food coloring is to make it look more fun.

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