Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oil Spills and Advertising, a Grease Fighting Experiment


A while back, Just Playin' Around performed an experiment to show the power of dish soap on an oil spill in water. Just about that same time I caught an NPR story entitled, "Why Dawn is the Bird Cleaner of Choice in Oil Spills". As I'm sure was their intention, it got me thinking.

Is Dawn really the best dish washing detergent for cleaning the oily feathers of birds affected by the oil spill? I know their advertising, that it's "tough on grease, but gentle on hands/birds", but do they really have the market cornered, or are they just the best at promotion?

I played the radio broadcast for the children (click the link above, to hear it for yourself), and pointed out how the reporters at NPR hint at impropriety, without actually saying anything concrete. There is mention of the fact, that Dawn contains petroleum. There is a sound clip from a manufacturer of a green cleaner, saying he's sent a truckload of his cleaner to the gulf, but hasn't heard of anyone using it. There's the giggly admission of a veterinarian involved in the clean-up, that you shouldn't ask a old eco-hippie if she uses Dawn at home.

The subtle message is there is something not quite right about using a cleaner that contains petroleum for cleaning up birds covered in petroleum. And even, that there might be some type of corporate conspiracy going on. Hmm...

That, certainly sounded like fodder for another science experiment to me. So this morning, we followed Just Playin' Around's example, and mixed up some cooking oil, and cocoa powder gunk (I would have loved to have used some old motor oil, but I didn't think it would be good to bring to the breakfast table).

I had the children add the gunk to three bowls filled with blue colored water (the blue was just so we could see the water better).


Then, after we performed the usual dipping-the-feather-in-the-oil-and-trying-to-clean-it-off experiment...


...we followed it up by adding a couple of drops of Dawn...


...a Green Works cleaner...


...and a generic dish soap...


...to our bowls. Interestingly, the grease cutting abilities of each of the soaps seemed about the same. In fact, if anything, the generic cleaner might have been a little better.

This is not to say, that Dawn should not be used to clean up birds, and wildlife affected by the oil spill. This experiment looked only at the grease cutting abilities of the soaps, and with cooking oil not petroleum. There is still the matter of gentleness to the bird, or to your hands. That, would have to be approached in some other way.

But it does make you think.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

8 comments:

Julie said...

Interesting experiment! Glad to provide a little inspiration to you. :-)

Kim said...

Oh wow, this was interesting. I didn't know about the petroleum in Dawn... I used to work in veterinary hospitals, and we always used Dawn to clean animals that had gotten themselves soaked in something toxic. All I know is it does work, and it is gentle enough for the critters.

Phyllis said...

You really show the Scientific Method really well. As always, Love Your Post.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I am always amazed to see dishwasher working on grease - it looks like magic. I wish it was as easy to clean the Gulf and sea critters covered in oil as it is to clean a frying pan.

Christy said...

Another great experiment! It does make me think too. I usually try to buy the green stuff, and it does the job. Most of my dishes go in the dishwasher.

How do you decide on the experiments you are going to try?

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Christy - Sometimes the experiments go along with something we're learning, but this week, it's really just been whatever has caught our eye, and been interesting.

Wonder Mom said...

NOW you should test the "soft hands" theory, as demonstrated by Palmolive and Madge in the '80's... :0)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzmTtusvjR4

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Wonder Mom - I was totally thinking of Madge the whole time we were doing this experiment :)