Thursday, May 28, 2015

Where does our drinking water come from? Can you make any water drinkable? These are the questions that we attempted to answer with this hands-on water filtration project for kids. Investigate different ways to clean water

Learn More About Our Water Supply

The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks
Yet again we randomly pull one of our The Magic School Bus books to read together and the choice fell on The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, a reprint of one of the original The Magic School Bus released more than 25 years ago. Yet again, I was impressed with the amount of information presented in this book as the kids travel from the mountain stream through the water treatment facility and finally drip out of the faucet in their own school.
Smarty is very focused on “practical science” now, so she was delighted to be able to try her own water filtration project at home as an extension of this book. She, of course, wanted to have all the ingredients of water filtration described in this book including alum and chlorine, but we had to limit ourselves with what we had on hand. Needless to say, I didn’t allow her to drink any water that we collected, and in a minute you will see why.

Supplies Needed
Supplies for Making Your Own Water Filter


  • A filtering container. We made ours out of an empty tennis ball can. I cut off the end of it and put some tape around the opening to make sure Smarty does not cut herself in her rush. We made holes in the tennis can cap with an awl, and put it back on the can.
  • Some clean glasses and a glass with dirty water. To make water dirty, we added 2 TBS of garden dirt every time we tried a different filter, so amount of dirt was our controlled variable.
  • Filter material. We tried three different filters -  coffee filters, thick terry cloth from an old towel, and a “natural filter”.

Making a Survival Water Filter

How to Make a Natural Water Filter

Smarty already knew that she wanted to use gravel and sand in her water filter, because this is what was described in The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks. Of course, we didn’t plan to build an industrial water treatment facility in our backyard, so I also showed Smarty an interesting video on YouTube that explained how to make a survival water filter. I actually learned quite a lot from this video and now might even survive in the wild if I have an empty water bottle with me and another “magical ingredient” – charcoal. Unfortunately, we didn’t have charcoal, since our barbecue runs on gas, so we had to make do without it.

Which Filter Was Best?

How to Make a Natural Water Filter


Smarty predicted after watching a survival filter video that natural filter will work best, but that has not been our experience. Terry cloth filter won. I am actually very interested to try making the natural filter with charcoal and compare the difference. In fact, this water filtration project just “might” be the next year science fair entry.

Your Turn

Science of clean water: making your own water filter

What else could we try for a filter if we are to repeat this attempt to clean water?

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8 comments:

Ticia said...

I love, love, love, love this project. I vaguely knew about charcoal for this, but had forgotten about it.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I love Magic School Bus. You guys might want to check out Episode 1 of Season 5 of the BBC's Rough Science, before you take on the science fair :)

Erin @ Nourishing My Scholar said...

My son loved this activity when we studied the water cycle!

Eileen Teo said...

wow! that were an amazing results! one of the day i would need to show it to my children! thank you for sharing it with us #pintorials

Phyllis said...

What a cool project! This would be great to do for Earth Day.

Ashley said...

Fun experiment and a great skill to have! Featured you on Mom's Library this week!

Lucinda @ NavigatingByJoy.com said...

Ooh - so want to do this! We love that MSB series too. I've learned so much from them!

Rob Benton said...

What a great experiment for kids! I agree that water treatment is an important skill to have. I think using a Terry cloth is a great method when a professional filter is not available. I would not have otherwise known Terry cloths were thin enough for water to seep through at a decent pace. And thanks for the worthwhile challenge of searching for another viable method to filter water. I might give it a try!

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