We are big fans of creative STEM activities and science experiments for kids, which is why it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken us this long to do the classic elephant toothpaste explosion experiment!
The real reason is that this elephant toothpaste STEM project requires one sort of weird material- more concentrated hydrogen peroxide that is used to bleach hair.
Keep reading to find out how to transform this classic science demonstration into a real science lesson and STEM activity. If you love this activity, you’ll also like our entire unit of circus STEM activities!
Elephant Toothpaste Explosion Experiment
If you’re like us, and have never tried this chemistry science experiment before, it’s super fun!
Kids love it and it’s an easy way to show how exothermic reactions work while still being relatively touch-safe.
What is the Purpose of Elephant Toothpaste?
Elephant toothpaste is nothing like toothpaste and it certainly isn’t meant for elephants.
I’m not sure where the elephant toothpaste description came from, except that when it comes out of a bottle, it looks a bit like toothpaste (particualrly if you dye it blue), and it’s big and frothy, so I suppose it would be the size an elephant would need to brush its teeth.
Elepahant toothpaste is actually a chemical reaction between yeast and hydrogen peroxide.
How Does Elephant Toothpaste Work?
The two main ingredients in elephant toothpaste (yeast and hydrogen peroxide) create a carbon dioxide gas, which creates large air bubbles that get trapped in soap, creating a frothy mixture that is fun to look at.
Elephant toothpaste is also an example of an exothermic reaction, meaning that the chemical reaction produces heat. If you put your hand near the foam as it is first emerging, you’ll feel a slight warmth.
It is not advised for kids to touch the foam.
Elephant Toothpaste STEM Project Directions
Follow along with these directions to make your own elephant toothpaste STEM project. Remember to stay safe, some of the ingredients in this project may irritate the skin or eyes, and may bleach clothing or furniture.
Elephant Toothpaste Hypothesis
Before starting the elephant toothpaste STEM activity, have the kids create a hypothesis. What do they think will happen when the ingredients mix?
You can also make a version with and without dish soap. How do the kids think the addition of the soap will change the reaction?
Elephant Toothpaste Questions
It’s always a good idea to ask questions and get kids thinking while doing science experiments. The elephant toothpaste science experiment is a good one to use as a examination of why it’s important to stay safe in the science lab.
Here are some questions you can ask the kids while doing this experiment:
- What is a chemical reaction?
- What is an exothermic reaction?
- Why does mixing the ingredients create a chemical byproduct?
- Would using differnet ingredients have the same reaction?
- Does changing the amount of each ingredient change the reaction?
- Why is it important to stay safe during a science experiment?
Elephant Toothpaste Conclusion
Children should come up with their own conclusions when doing this experiment (you can snag a copy of our STEM worksheet below), but some conclusions might include:
- When chemicals mix, they can react
- Changing the ingredients can change the reaction
- Some chemical reactions can be dangerous
- It’s important to take safety precautions when working with chemicals
What You Need for the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment
You’ll need a few things for this experiment:
- Active dry yeast
- 40 Volume Hydrogen Peroxide (find it at a local beauty store if you don’t want to ship it)
- Dish soap
- Safety goggles (these are perfect for kids)
- Food coloring (these are our favorites)
- Large jar or bottle
- Large plastic tray
How to Do the Elephant Toothpaste Explosion Experiment
Mix 1 tablespoon of yeast with 3 tablespoons of slightly warm water in your jar.
Add some food coloring and stir.
Add about a tablespoon of dish soap to the liquid and stir carefully, so you don’t create too much froth.
Place the jar on the tray.
Put on your safety goggles. There is a small chance you might get some of the foam in your eyes while doing this experiment, so it’s important to stay safe!
Pour about 1/2 a cup of the hydrogen peroxide into a seperate cup.
When you are ready to start the reaction, carefully pour the hydrogen peroxide into the jar and watch things happen!