Examine types of water pollution and cleanup measures

Introduction: In this lab, we will examine types of water pollution and cleanup measures.


  • Two small, clear containers (approx. 16 oz)
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Oil
  • Coffee filter and rubber band (or powdered detergent or corn meal)


Fill both containers about one third full of water.

Contaminate each glass of water with a pollutant. Add two drops of food coloring to one class and about two tablespoons of oil to the other. The food coloring will represent a pollutant like excess nitrogen from fertilizers that mixes with water. The oil will represent pollutants like oil that do not mix with water. (If you do not have food coloring, start with a water-based liquid that has a strong color like a sports drink, do NOT use orange juice.) Let the mixtures stand for 10 minutes and record your observations below:

Observation Table
Observations after adding contaminant
Observations after adding water
Observations after attempting physical removal


Now, add water to each container, at least doubling the current water level. Note your observations on the table.

Finally, try removing the contamination by filtering through a coffee filter. Use rubber band to affix coffee filter to another container and carefully pour through (do not run through a coffee machine/maker as you don’t want to contaminate your coffee machine/maker). If you do not have a coffee filter, carefully add detergent or corn meal. Let it sit without stirring and then remove before noting your observations above.

Follow-up questions:

  1. What was the difference you noticed between the coloration pollution and the oil pollution before adding more water?
  2. Some people say, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” What do you think of that after trying it (adding water was dilution)?
  3. After noting the differences between adding water and attempting to filter out the contaminant, what do you think about pollution remediation for water contamination? Are the same methods going to be successful for all pollution types?
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