The Science of Hand Washing
Experiments & Fun


 Just What Does It Take To Give Germs The Slip?  Some of us act like a quick rinse under warm water will do the trick.  Or worse yet, we just run from one activity to another without even thinking about the germs we may have picked up along the way.  But studies have shown that even those who do stop to wash just don't wash long enough or well enough.

So try this....  Go to the kitchen and put a spoonful of vegetable oil on your hands (please check with a grown-up first).  Then, try to wash it off in cold water -- without soap. 

Feel your hands; are they still oily?  Okay, now try this same experiment again in warm water -- no soap.  How do they feel?  Probably still kind of moist and slickery.

 Okay, now start over again from the beginning.  If you want, you can mix cinnamon in with the oil.  Then you can pretend the specks of cinnamon are really germs!   Add the oil, and this time wash in warm water with plenty of soap. The oil washes off much more effectively. 

What this experiment shows is that plain water, especially plain cold water, is not as effective at cleansing as warm water and soap.   Think about it, if plain water can't even get oils off your skin (like the ones that naturally build up their while you work and play), how will it rinse away the germs that hiding in it or under it-- and in all the folds and creases of your skin?  It can't.  It takes lots of soap, hot water, and some good scrubbing. (Learn more.)


If you want to take this experiment to the next level, get yourself some "GloGerm" 

This is the stuff they use to teach preschool teachers, nurses, and other hygiene professionals about the importance of really scrubbing your hands well in order to get the germs off.   How it works is:  you rub the GloGerm on your hands (instead of the oil), and then you head for the sinks for some really good soap and water scrubbing.   Then, when you're all done, you put your hands under a black light (available at party stores) and -- SURPRISE -- THE GloGerm shows up on your hands wherever you haven't scrubbed it off.





Why Things Sink With Soap -- A different kind of experiment.  Soap is pretty interesting stuff.  How it helps us send germs down the drain is only one part of the story.


Why Does Soap Make Your Eyes Sting --  This activity requires soap and... cabbage.  It may sound strange, but it will demonstrate just why it is soap makes our eyes turn red and sore when soap and shampoo get in there.


Soap Science: A Science Book Bubbling With 36 Experiments
by J. L. Bell,
William Kimber

Gr. 3-6.  This fun book explains all about soap and bubbles.  The author shows you what soap is made of and how it interacts with water, salt water, dirt, and oil-- as well as how soap can change the surface tension of water, make a bathtub ring, or power a toy boat!  Also explores electricity, light, and other science topics.




Virus Picture Gallery: The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses

Visit this site to see images of different viruses.  A cool way to take a peek at an otherwise invisible world -- without blowing all your money on high end microscope.


The Big Picture Book  

Check out this catalog of virus pictures.   You can take a look at the small pox virus, the influenza virus, hepatitis, and the ebola virus, as well as many others.   You'll never see these germs on your hands, even if they are there, so learn to wash properly and check out these images to see what you're missing!

See How They Grow

Check out the bacteria cam to see how quickly bacteria can grow and multiply.


The Microbe Zoo

The Microbe Zoo is a useful site for anyone curious about bacteria and all the amazing jobs they carry out.  You may have known that we need bacteria to make yogurt, but did you know we need bacteria to make chocolate?   So hey, not all germs are bad!  ...But still, don't forget to wash your hands before you eat your chocolate, or anything else for that matter.





Bubbles  -- For Fun & Learning


Recipes for Bubble Solution -- Make your own bubble blowing liquid!


Recipe #1

1 cup Dawn dish detergent (the original blue variety)

10 cups water (distilled works best)


Recipe #2   

1/3 cup cup dish soap

1 1/4 cup water

2 tsp sugar


Recipe # 3

2 cups 1 cup Dawn dish detergent (the original blue variety)

6 cups water (distilled works best)

1 cup light corn syrup


Directions:   whichever recipe you use, mix ingredients gently together so as to avoid making it frothy/bubbly.   Just gently blend!

Remember to that when doing bubble play with small children, supervise them closely so that they don't wipe at or rub their eyes with soapy fingers.    Keep a sports bottle of plain water close at hand to use for rinsing eyes if necessary.   Have some place for them to rinse hands as needed (a sink, hose, or bucket of plain water).




Fun with Bubble Art! -- Try these fun and easy art activities that help you learn about bubbles while having fun and making something cool to hang your your wall.


 The Art & Science of Bubbles  -- Learn how to make some really awesome bubbles, and do some impressive "magic" tricks!


Bubble Observation --  It's hard to really examine bubbles because they're always popping or blowing away.  Here's an experiment that allows you to watch bubbles close up as they float on a layer of carbon dioxide (made with baking soda and vinegar).


Why Soap Can Make Bubbles   --  A nice clear explanation of how soap in water can turn into bubbles.   Once these secrets of bubble lore have been revealed, you too might be able to blow a bubble that lasts 361 days!  Also talks about Bubble Colors, the Shape of Bubbles, Joined Bubbles, and the Sticky Properties of Water.


Learn even more  about bubbles with one of these great books:


The Science of Soap Films and Soap Bubbles
by Cyril Isenberg


Superb presentation of the molecular and macroscopic properties of soap films and bubbles, including many demonstrations that can be readily performed with simple household materials. Emphasis on application of soap films to solution of physical problems, e.g. the motorway and minimum area problems. Over 120 black-and-white illustrations, 41 color photographs. 220 pages.



The Unbelievable Bubble Book
by John Cassidy, David Stein

 Buy it with a bubble thing  to make incredibly huge bubbles.  Contains secret formulas for expert bubble blowing.  From the makers of Klutz-proof craft and activity kits.






History of Soap


How People Make Soap The Old Fashioned Way!

This project involves making soap from ingredients like fat and lye (originally made from wood ash), so it is not recommended for kids.  Lye is poisonous and very caustic -- it can do terrible, painful damage to skin and eyes.   But this site is full of interesting information about how soap is made and about the different kinds of soap that be made.  For instance, did you know that soap made from coconut oil is the only one that will lather up in salt water?  

For a look at truly old-fashioned soap making be sure to check out this page on Colonial Soap Making and other soap history facts.  


You can also read this  History of Soap Making  or this super short history.


If you don't want to risk working with dangerous lye, you can still have fun making your own soaps!
try our fun soap making craft.






When To Wash!

Common places in the home where germs lurk


Make your own Germ Coloring Page


Sink Those Germs


 a nice little "comic book" that the kids can cut out,
 sequence, and put together, plus other activity pages
more suitable for older children.



Please note that some of the resources in this section require the Adobe Reader for pdf files.
If you don't already have this program, you can
download it here.

Get Adobe Reader



Hand Washing Songs

 Songs are indeed a great idea to help younger kids get a sense of how long to wash.  There are a number of them out there in use, but here's some that I like best...

Wash Wash Wash Your Hands (Tune of Row Row Row Your Boat)
Wash, wash, wash your hands.
Wash them nice and clean.
Wash them on top, wash them on bottom and fingers in between.
(Sing twice through while washing hands in bathroom)


A hand washing song to the tune of Frere Jacques 
Tops and Bottoms, Tops and Bottoms, (Rub top and bottom of hands)
In between, In between, (Rub fingers inside on both hands)
All around your hands, All around your hands, (Just like it says)
Makes them clean. Makes them clean. (Flash all ten fingers)
All around, All around


A hand washing song to the tune of Wheels on the bus.
The soap on your hands goes sud, sud, sud.
Sud, sud, sud.
Sud, sud, sud.
The soap on your hands goes sud, sud, sud.
And the germs go down the drain.






We wash our hands to keep them clean.
The cleanest hands you've ever seen!
Use soap and water-that's the way
To chase those yucky germs away!



More Activities:


Sink The Germs Bean Bag Game



Softsoap page with activities





Handwashing Chart





The Hidden World of Deadly Germs

Hand Washing 101:


Bubble Fun

History of Soap


Hand Washing Songs


Soap Making Crafts

For Parents & Teachers

More Activities


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