Introduction: Awesome Chemistry Experiment!! (Just 4 Simple Steps)

Picture of Awesome Chemistry Experiment!! (Just 4 Simple Steps)

I would call this experiment... Awesome.  It involves the same materials used to create a worx bomb, but instead of trapping the Hydrogen gas inside a sealed container, the gas is captured with a standard party balloon and ignited in the safest way possible.

First: Stern warning / disclaimer... Don't try this at home.  I am in NO way encouraging anyone to make a "worx bomb".  I recommend suggesting the activity to a chemistry teacher or someone who will have the proper safety tools at their disposal.  I am not responsible for any injury you may sustain during the recreation of this experiment.  You assume all risk and liability.  The chemical reaction involved generates a significant amount of heat along with an aqueous aluminum chloride solution, and can be dangerous if one does not take the proper precautions.  Now let's have some fun!

This instructable will be submitted in both the Mad Scientist contest and the Teacher's Contest. 

This experiment is perfect for the mad scientists out there because of the intense reaction.  It is also perfect for science teachers because the materials are cheap and easy to come by (always a plus on an educators' budget), and the reaction that takes place is quite simple for students to understand.

Educational objectives can be modified for different ages and ability levels.  NOT recommended for students younger than 8th grade.

Student will demonstrate ability to...

create a replacement reaction.
describe what happens during a chemical change and four possible clues that it has taken place.
apply the law of conservation of mass to chemical reactions
relate pure chemistry to applied chemistry.
describe the relationships among the temperature, pressure and volume of a gas
write a word equation.
write a balanced chemical equation.

Extension: identify areas affected by chemistry research

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

First, gather all materials.

Safety Goggles
Worx toilet bowl cleaner (20% hydrogen chloride) Unfortunately, I'm not sure they produce it in this concentration anymore :( I went to purchase some for a class experiment and all they had was the watered down version. No fun!! I'll have to check a few other vendors.
Aluminum Foil
250 mL Flask
9 inch balloon
Binder Clip
Matches (now you know this is going to be awesome!)

You may want to have a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.

See why in the video (Filmed with the GoPro2... the room doesn't fill with smoke, it's just a little condensation on the lens. Check out step 4 for more video action).

Step 2: Procedure

Picture of Procedure

First: Place safety goggles on your face.

Second: Add 100 mL of worx cleaner to your flask

Third: Measure and cut a 6 inch by 6 inch square of aluminum foil.  (If you use more than 6x6, you risk the balloon bursting and spraying droplets of very hot aqueous aluminum chloride on everything within a 10 foot radius :( )

Fourth: Get ready for your adrenaline to start pumping.

Fifth: Before proceeding with the experiment, read the chemical formula below to help understand the chemistry behind the reaction.

The reaction of Aluminum and HCl: 2Al + 6HCl --> 2AlCl3 + 3H2

Sixth: Go to the next step with the picture of the inflated balloon.

Step 3: Procedure Continued

Picture of Procedure Continued

1. Crumple the aluminum foil into a ball.

2. Drop the aluminum into the flask containing the hydrogen chloride.

3. You will have approximately 30 seconds before the reaction gets going.  Don't waste a single second when fixing the balloon over the mouth of the flask.  The balloon must be placed over the mouth of the flask immediately after the aluminum and HCl are combined.

4. As the aluminum breaks down and the balloon starts to inflate, I like to clamp my fingers around the mouth of the balloon to prevent it from popping off the flask.  Once the balloon starts to inflate, I remove my fingers and sit back a few feet.  When the reaction really gets going, bubbles will form.  These bubbles will climb higher and higher inside the flask.  It is not uncommon for some of the bubbles to enter into the balloon.  If you use more than a 6x6 sheet of foil, chances are very good the experiment will end with less than desirable results.  These bubbles are very hot and the flask will become too hot to touch.  

5. When the bubbles settle down and the reaction is finished, twist the balloon 3 or 4 times to trap the hydrogen gas inside.

6. Pinch the area you twisted and remove the mouth of the balloon from the flask.  

7. Tie off the end of the balloon.     

Step 4: Experiment Part 2... Check the Combustive Properties of Hydrogen Gas

Picture of Experiment Part 2... Check the Combustive Properties of Hydrogen Gas
Now we want to double check to make sure we captured hydrogen.

Here's how I tested it.  You can use your brains to figure out the best way with what you've got.  I tied string to a beam running along the ceiling of my classroom.  I had the string hang down near the middle of the room where I made sure there was no danger of anything catching fire.  I tied a large binder clip to the end of the string (more mass).  I attached the hydrogen-filled balloon to the binder clip. 

I used duct tape to combine two meter sticks.  A small binder clip was attached to the end of one of the meter sticks with a small strip of duct tape.  Two matches were placed into the clamp of the small binder clip.  A third match was used to ignite the matches in the grasp of the small binder clip.

Hold the matches near the bottom of the balloon, but not directly at the bottom.  I have found that water vapor (or some other liquid) ends up in the balloon with the heat of the reaction.  If you hold the match at the lowest point of the balloon, there is a good chance some of the liquid has pooled there.  You won't get the big BOOM the students are expecting.  Instead, the hydrogen escapes in a narrow stream and takes off like a rocket on a string (check out the slow mo video).  Although it's still pretty cool to watch, the BOOM is better.  Students will feel the blast in the form of a mini shock wave (another teachable moment).

Finally, make sure the balloon isn't on fire.  I have a sink near the test site where I can place the balloon into a water bath.  It might also be a good idea to place a bucket of water beneath the test site so that if the balloon does catch you could simply cut the string and allow it to fall into the water.


yasmina11 (author)2016-08-11

quick question

How long do you think the experiment would take

yasmina11 (author)2016-08-06

I look forward to doing this experiment everything looks like it's going to work, so can't wait! :)

yasmina11 (author)2016-07-28

my experiment is to choose an element from the periodic tableland research about how it changed the world. I've chosen aluminium and hydrogen. at the end we have to come up with an experiment that relates to the elements. thats why i chose this experiment. Looks really fun. Cant wait to try it

Biodynamic (author)yasmina112016-07-28

Unfortunately, the company changed the ingredients in the cleaner and it can no longer react with aluminum. Your teacher might allow you to use a small amount of hydrochloric acid (if they have any). You would only need about 20 mL. I believe there is also an instructable on how to make your own Hydrogen Chloride if you can't get any from school. Sounds like a fun assignment! Be careful!!

yasmina11 (author)2016-07-28

i have an experiment to make at my school in front of my class, and i was thinking if i could make this experiment. just one question, could you tell me where (supermarket) i could find Works, because I've looked everywhere and i couldn't find it.

let me know soon, I'm very eager to try this experiment. :)

hmsimone (author)2016-04-08

Have you tried this with less than 100 mL of works? I'm trying to decide if I want to do this as a demo, or let the student lab groups each make a balloon (7/class) and then ignite them all one at a time at the end of class. 700 mL x 6 classes adds up. Do you have the students make the balloons?

Biodynamic (author)hmsimone2016-04-09

The last time I did this experiment a few months ago I had to use hydrochloric acid instead. I'll have to check the bottle to see the concentration. I had to use HCl because Workx changed their formula and it was no longer strong enough to create a reaction. I had each group of students (3 or 4 per group) complete the reaction. Good luck. Make sure to get slow motion video of the explosion!

andrew.larson.14289 (author)2015-08-21

If u need HCl, I can tell you how to get or make it easily

I have HCl in the acid cabinet at school, but how can you make it easily? Sounds like a fun experiment in itself!

douglas423 (author)Biodynamic2015-12-02

A very dilute solution can be made from vinegar and table salt

NaCl + CH3COOH --> Na(OOCCH3) + HCl

TrickRaines (author)2014-06-26

Just wondering, but wouldn't this experiment yield a greater quantity of H if you used actual HCl(aq) instead of the works cleaner? Other than that, nice project!

Biodynamic (author)TrickRaines2014-06-26

Yes! HCl would yield more H, but I'm sure you know how dangerous it can be. The main reason I use Worx toilet bowl cleaner is because I can get it at dollar general right down the street and it's cheap. I'm not sure where I could pick up a high concentration HCl somewhere other than one of my science teacher catalogues. Thanks for looking. Let me know if you try it.

TrickRaines (author)Biodynamic2014-06-28

Understandable to use the Worx toilet cleaner. I actually can make my own HCl, (I used this method by NurdRage. The link is below.) But I also bought some because I gave what I made to my school. Anyways... I bought mine on Amazon and it was around $20-30 and that was for 1000ml. I will for sure let you know if I do this experiment.

Mr. Gadgets13 (author)2013-04-07


LesB (author)2011-12-22

Your students must love this. Not many things in school as exciting as an explosion in the classroom!
For years I've wanted to make airborne soap bubbles with hydrogen inside so that when touched with a match would rupture with a good "pop". Any idea of how to accomplish that with these materials?

Lance Reichert (author)LesB2012-04-29

My dad was a high school chem teacher; he enjoyed the hydrogen soap bubbles trick as follows:

He would use electrolysis into a balloon to generate and capture an oxygen/hydrogen mix. then release the gas under soapy water to make the bubbles. When the kids trooped into the classroom, he'd be "washing" his hands in the sink, then, with a handful of bubbles, he'd "dry" them over a waiting Bunsen burner. Note, have your mouth open in a yawn before you ignite the bubbles!

Lance ==)-------------------

LesB (author)Lance Reichert2012-04-29

Okay. Then with the baloon full of explosive gas I could instead of pumping it under water I could blow it into a soap bubble ring and blow bubbles that way. And then set them off with a butane lighter.
Your dad was a cool teacher; kids musta loved him.

Lance Reichert (author)LesB2012-04-30

You could do that. The larger bubbles will probably tend to rise, as the gas content will weigh about one-third of the air around them; it will depend on the weight of the surrounding membrane

Measuring, plotting, and explaining the difference in bouyancies of large vs. small bubbles could make for an fascinating class in itself. Such an effort could be complicated by membrane weight changes due to dripping & evaporation as well as gas weight changes due to hydrogen migration through the membrane.

Yeah, the kids loved him, and he loved the kids. His teams were the only ones the school district ever sent to national academic competitions; there was a budgetary line item just for them, since they took state almost every year. Unlike larger schools, his dinky rural school sent two teams to state, usually taking second or third in addition to first places. Unfortunately, he had to take early retirement for medical reasons and died early. The state student engineering society named an award after him.

He did cool stuff like firing a rifle into a ballistic pendulum to measure the speed of the the bullet (in the classroom!). I inherited a lot of his cool toys, like a 7' demonstration slide rule and a Super Ball look-alike that doesn't bounce (he loved switching it in as he passed a Super Ball around when they were doing a unit on elasticity deformation; frustrated the daylights out of the jocks). When the state required him to clean "dangerous" chemicals out of his storage room, a lot of them found their way home. He shot up an old bottle of picric acid on my uncle's farm; no BOOM!, unfortunately.

Lance ==)------------------

That would be a great instructable if you can get your hands on all the materials. I'm sure everyone else would love to see it too. Thanks for letting me know. His students must have sh@" themselves.

Biodynamic (author)LesB2011-12-22

Hydrogen bubbles would be even cooler. They might take off on you though :). You might want to think about something with liquid detergent over the mouth of the flask like they can do to make CO2 bubbles with dry ice.

rajan007RJ (author)2012-02-01

Its really a very nice experiment for a chem geek lyke moi...

Stoveboy (author)2012-01-20

'Just come across this and it's pretty awesome. When we bored at work we blow ballons up with either oxy acetelyne (expensive but loud) or oxy-lpg, (cheaper and still great fun). For some reason MAPP gas doesn't explode, the balloon pops and a moment later there is a fireball, but no "explosion" as such.

cjbikenut (author)2011-12-22

Very nicely done instructable. Would this work with regular chlorine bleach replacing the toilet bowl cleaner?

Biodynamic (author)cjbikenut2011-12-22

It won't work with bleach because there is no hydrochloric acid in the bleach. The aluminum needs to replace the hydrogen to get the reaction. You could always try it and see what happens. I believe there are reactions that take place with drano or liquid plumber, but I don't like messing with that stuff! Thanks.

apburner (author)Biodynamic2011-12-23

Drano is sodium hydroxide and it reacts with aluminum virtually the same way as HCl does. and produces hydrogen. I used to make hydrogen balloons when I was in high-school many years ago. I used a glass 2 quart coke bottle to do the reaction in. and the outside of the glass would get too hot to touch. but it would blow up balloons with no trouble.

Biodynamic (author)apburner2011-12-25

Very cool. I would use drano, but I think it's more expensive than the worx. I can get it at dollar general for cheap. Thanks for letting me know about the drano. It would be a good way to have my students balance a different type of chemical equation.

apburner (author)Biodynamic2012-01-04

Ya no problem. It is one of the few metals that react exothermically with both an acid and a base. Your students should find it most enlightening. And be forewarned it is a very exothermic reaction. the water will boil after a while so be careful. boiling lye is nothing to take lightly .

148734 (author)2011-12-31

Good cheap way of collecting hydrogen in a lab, I use a volumetric flask instead of a conical flask, it has a much longer and narrower neck, which means the hot solution doesn't get into the balloon and it's easier to put the balloon onto the flask.

inspecter gadget (author)2011-12-30

Fantastic experiment:- Draino works well too.... Electrolysis is the best way to avoid chems..well except water and small amount of electrolyte.....I used a cycling drinks bottle adapted to take stainless washer electrodes and placing a balloon on the pull up cap -12 volt batt charger and wait for the balloon to increase to soft ball size and use same ignition set up-------------em..... you may need ear defenders, goggles and some clean underware though.........

miinecraftfreak44 (author)2011-12-24

I know almost nothing about Chemistry, but I know that it is a very fun thing and is a lot like, well, making something.(My school doesn't teach Chemistry yet, so I don't know much about it.)

LargeMouthBass (author)2011-12-21

Excellent project! It takes me back to when I was a freshman in college, and I would make balloons like that in my dorm room bathroom. When ignited they would make a nice thud that must have left a few others in my wing scratching their heads.

When I made mine, I used a beer bottle to hold the acid, and I used the pop tops from pop cans for aluminum. I would also dilute my acid a bit to slow the reaction, otherwise I tended to get a bubbling noxious mess that went out of control. I also found that I could slow the reaction by having the lower part of the bottle in a tub of water to cool it. It took longer,(~20 minutes to fill a balloon), but I found that I go less water vapor in the balloon and they would actually be light enough to float.

Another good source of HCL is just the straigh muriatic acid they sell in the paint departemnt. Only about $5 per gallon.

Again, good work. I like that you also point out the chemistry principles at play, so the students actually learn something too!

Thanks for the comment and the advice!

Biodynamic (author)Biodynamic2011-12-22

Adding a water bath will be a great way for my students to compare and contrast the reactions. I didn't think I could find an acid cheaper than the solution in the worxs... Looks like I'm gonna have to find a pool supply store. Thanks again!

I've found that the muriatic acid is available in pretty much any hardware store. I don't think you would need to go to a pool supply store. I don't know all its uses, but I remember my parents using it to keep the toilet clean, perhaps similar to what the works is intended for.

Dr.Bill (author)2011-12-22

I had a 6th grade teacher that did this kind of thing with electrolysis of water.
We filled the balloon with Hydrogen gas and put a match to the balloon.
We called it the Hydrogen Bomb Experiment.

Walter Bates will be remembered for that experiment for as long as we live.
Quite a legacy.

ilpug (author)2011-12-22

Okay, depending on what state you are in, this is a felony and could get you jail time or terrorism charges. It happend to my friend here in California.

Just sayin.

That said, awesome experiment!

Aron313 (author)2011-12-21

Ohh! I never knew that tin foil and the works made hydrogen!

Biodynamic (author)Aron3132011-12-22

Just make sure you use aluminum.

artworker (author)2011-12-21

Super cool experiment. Why didn't the teachers teach in this way when we were in school?

TeacherChair (author)2011-12-21

Your kids must love this demonstration. I love the title of the final video, too. Awesome.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a middle school science teacher going on 15 years in the classroom. I've taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I'm constantly ... More »
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