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Oil Spill Experiment

Find out what happens when oil spills, and experience how this affects animals, such as birds, when their bodies are covered in oil.

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  • What materials do you need for this activity?
  • How could you clean up oil from water? What might be the most effective way?
  • What kinds of materials will you want to use to test your cleanup?


Make the oil spill: 

  • To build the ocean, fill the aluminum tray with 3-5 cm of water. Add 5 drops of oil to your “ocean.” This will be your oil spill.

Cleaning the oil spill:

  • Your challenge is to clean up the spill. As a group, decide what materials you want to use and how. Compare different methods. Try out three or four different ideas.
  • Keep track of how much time it takes you to clean the spill.
  • Come up with a system to record the results of your clean-up so that you can compare different methods.
  • To test another method, add a few more drops of oil to replace what you cleaned up. Try something new this time. For each method, ask yourself if you were able to clean up all the oil.

Create another oil spill:

  • This time, add five drops of detergent directly on the oil. Stir the water to mix the oil and detergent. Record your observations.

Containing the spill:

  • One of the first things workers do after an oil spill is try to keep the oil from spreading. Try this yourselves.
  • Figure out which material works better to contain the oil.


  • In most cases of oil spill clean-up, materials are used to absorb the oil. This means that the material soaks up the oil. Try this yourselves.


  • What was the easiest way to clean up the oil?
  • What was the best way to safely clean birds and other animals?
  • What did you find out about oil spills?
  • How long did it take you to clean up all the oil? Was it even possible?
  • What effect did the detergent have on the oil spill? How do you think this method can safely be used and in what circumstances?
  • What do you think should be done with the oil after it is out of the water?
  • What other human activities do you know of that have had a negative impact on the environment? 
  • Remember to submit your activities on our Scouts for Sustainability Take Action Map


Per Small Team:

Feel free to swap out some of these items for anything else you can imagine!

  • Aluminum tray (at least 10 centimetres deep)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kitchen absorbent cloths
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton balls
  • Nylon stockings
  • Styrofoam
  • String
  • Spoon
  • 2 eye droppers
  • Hay
  • Liquid detergent 
  • Sand or dirt 
  • Newspapers or tarps (to cover the tables)
  • Bucket for waste
  • Rubber gloves
  • Clock, watch or cellphone for keeping the time

Keep it Simple

  • In your Lodges, Lairs or Patrols, make an oil-spill-simulation experiment. Simulate a crude oil (canola or vegetable oil and cocoa powder) spill in a large container. From here, try to decide how to clean it up and save the ocean wildlife. Does a spoon work best? Perhaps a sponge works better?

Take it Further

  • What species are endangered due to the poor health of our oceans? Use the Ocearch Tracker to see what wildlife is being tagged around the world and how we can help save them. Share what you find with your friends, family and classmates. Host a Mission Animal Rescue—the first step to helping endangered species is to get people to care!