Oil Spill Clean-up

Good afternoon scientists! My little scientist and I just finished cleaning-up a Vegetable Oil Spill. You can help your little scientist discover the joy of science and the importance for taking care of the environment with this fun lab.


Oil Spill Cleanup (3)

Vegetable Oil (You could substitute with a different cooking oil)

Cotton Balls

1 Medium or Large Plastic Container

2-3 Small or Medium Plastic Containers (For dry cotton balls, wet cotton balls, & Oil that has been “cleaned-up”)

Optional but Recommended: Paint Shirt/Waterproof Apron


  1. Fill large plastic container about halfway up with water.
  2. Pour Vegetable Oil on top of the water in the large container.Oil Spill Cleanup (4)
  3. Have your little scientist hold or drop a cotton ball into an oil spot. Watch as the oil is absorbed or sucked into the cotton ball.Oil Spill Cleanup (8)
  4. Have your little scientist squeeze out the water from the cotton ball into one of your empty containers and throw the remaining cotton ball into the other container OR place the wet cotton ball into an empty container. This is totally up to you and your little scientist. We tried it both ways and mine liked squeezing the cotton balls out.Oil Spill Cleanup (14)
  5. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until out of cotton balls, the water with the oil spill is gone or until your little scientist is finished cleaning-up all of the oil spill.

Talking Points

My little scientist is a huge fan of a certain pups saving the town from disaster show. He really liked the episode where the pups clean-up an oil spill. The vegetable oil simulates motor oil that is sadly sometimes spilled into our waterways. The cotton balls simulate Sorbents, material that pulls in oil from the surface of water. Plants and animals both suffer from oil spill contamination or pollution. It is important for scientists to continue to develop better ways to quickly clean-up oil spills, perhaps your little scientist will have a great, new idea.

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