Introduction: Are You Breathing Ozone Pollution? Find Out With Rubber Band & Water Bottle Test Kit

About: Physicist. I love to study air pollution!


Ozone pollution is a toxic air pollutant that can damage your lungs. Air pollution kills nearly 5 million people per year, according to the World Health Organization. Air pollution is at record low levels. But as the quarantine ends, air pollution will come back.

Ozone pollution damages rubber bands similar to the way ozone damages lung tissue. (Please look at the photo with actual damage to a rubber band in this experiment after just a couple days of exposure to ozone pollution.) How do you know that the damage to your rubber bands is from ozone pollution? Because ozone pollution is the second most common outdoor air pollutant, behind particulate matter. Particulates don't commonly damage rubber.

This Instructable will show you how to use two rubber bands, two small water bottles and two thumbtacks to measure Ozone pollution at your home or workplace. As a "Global Ozone Rubber Participant" (GORP) you'll do a fun, simple project, and it will give you a real glimpse into a usually invisible and odorless pollutant. After you take your data, send your results to the GORP Study, sponsored by You'll be eligible for prizes like Special Edition Crunchy Case boxes, t-shirts, and every participant who returns their data sheet will receive an envelope by mail containing a Galaxy Gauge Scientific Gauge, a Special Edition FixIt Clip keychain tooltape, and other goodies, while supplies last.

Have fun, do science, get smart, help out your neighbors with the gift of clean air and get a really sweet participation gift.

This quarantine offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to measure air pollution with clearly-defined events that directly correlate to clean air and empty roads.

Scientific Background

Ozone pollution has been shown to burn and harden healthy lung tissue, similar to the way a soft, flexible rubber band eventually becomes hardened. Ozone pollution damages rubber bands in a similar way that it damages lung tissue. It does this because ozone is an unstable molecule that wants reacts with certain natural materials. When it reacts with things like healthy tissue and soft rubber bands, it can harden and damage the surface.

We can measure this damage by using some basic physics and then compare the damage to the setup outside (exposed to ozone) to your control indoors (protected from the ozone pollution).

No complex electronic circuits, no need to program a computer, no need to print anything in 3D. You likely have everything you need to do this experiment right in your kitchen and you'll be up and running in just a few minutes.

And as the days go by, you'll be able to directly see the effects of ozone pollution in your life. You'll also see the difference in the pollution as road traffic increases as the Quarantine ends. When you submit this data to the Crowdsourced Ozone Pollution Study, we'll correlate your data to official EPA ozone measuring sites, to give us all a really useful picture of how ozone pollution impacts all of us where we live and work.

You might wonder, how can something as simple as a rubber band and a water bottle give repeatable, scientific results? It works because we test many different setups in our own ozone lab, with carefully-measured amounts of ozone and then compare results. We also test rubber bands in temperature swings, like they would see outside of your home. When you send your data, we will correlate your results to known ozone measurements and to our laboratory results. We can tell all kinds of things about your conditions by looking at your data and at the used rubber bands that you send back to us. Your data will help us see the bigger picture of how ozone pollution impacts your life and other's.

Thank you for your hopeful participation in this important event!


  • 2 empty plastic water bottles (they have to be exactly the same size and shape)
  • Assorted rubber bands (they need to be fairly new, and from a reasonably-sealed bag)
  • 2 thumbtacks
  • Tape
  • Pen
  • 2 prints (ink jet or laser) of the Crowdsource Ozone Pollution Study (COPS) test sheet, available for free download from this Instructable.

Step 1: Gather Your Stuff ...

  1. Print out TWO copies of the GORP Sheet in this step. It's a high-resolution PNG file (there is also a PDF file here, same print), and it should print easily on letter-sized paper. (If possible, use a laser printer or copier so the ink won't run if it gets wet.)
  2. Get your bag of fresh, sealed rubber bands. (Old, cracked and dried-out rubber bands will not work for this home ozone test.)
  3. Find two identical rubber bands, same color same length, same thickness. (This is easy with a fresh bag of rubber bands.)
  4. Note the closest thickness of the rubber bands on the GORP sheets, and circle the closest thickness on both sheets.
  5. Get two thumbtacks ready and two identical-sized empty water bottles with screw caps and also get a roll of tape. At the end, you will also need a small plastic bag, two envelope and stamp.
  6. Fill in the locations, name, email, etc., on each sheet. Please mark one sheet indoor (control) and one sheet outdoor (ozone). The rest of the info should be identical.

The thickness of your rubber band should work well with the size of your bottle. I used 1/16 inch thick rubber bands with 8 ounce bottles. If you bottles are larger and heavier, then you will likely want to use a thicker rubber band. In the next step, a well-paired rubber band to bottle should allow the bottle to hang about 3 to 6 inches when you hang the bottle from the end of the rubber band if you put it over your finger. If your bottle doesn't stretch the rubber band enough, then you won't see the effect as clearly, if your bottle stretch the rubber band too much, then it will likely break the band in a day or two.

Step 2: Prepare the Bottles and Rubber Bands ...

  1. Set the bottles down in the sink and fill each bottle with cold water.
  2. Use a small cup to top off each bottle so the water is as high as it can go in each bottle.
  3. Place one of the rubber bands around the ledge of the bottle screw, so that when you screw on the top, the top will clamp the rubber band between the top and the ledge.
  4. Gently pull on the rubber band so it stays tight around the bottle screw, and gently lower the screw top and screw it on.
  5. Tighten the cap and test, the rubber band should not slip off.
  6. Note the side of the bottle's ledge with the rubber facing you, this side should face you in the next steps.
  7. Repeat this with the other bottle.

Step 3: Hang Up Your Experiment Outside and Inside ...

  1. Find a wall outdoors that is exposed to the air and ozone pollution, but is not exposed to direct sunlight, and is protected from the rain, small animals and excessive wind. Under a porch or overhang is a good spot. If you have an outdoor shielded weather station, that would work well too.
  2. Use a thumbtack to hang up one of the water bottles from the rubber band.
  3. Place your "outdoor (ozone)" sheet behind the bottle and rubber band and adjust so that the thicker 0-line at top of the scale is directly behind the top of the bottle's label. Adjust your position relative to the bottle so that you can sight directly across from the top of the label. Move your sheet up or down until it aligns with the top of the label.
  4. Tape the top two corners of the sheet.
  5. Check to make sure it's aligned well, adjust if necessary.
  6. Tape the other corners to secure the sheet.
  7. Record the month, date and year on the top line.
  8. Repeat Steps 1 to 7 for your "indoor (control)" sheet.

You are now done with the measuring setup! The next steps are after exposure for a day or two.

Step 4: Record Your Data and Find Out How Your Ozone Pollution Changes With Time ...

  1. Every day or other day or so (it's not that critical to check it every day), go to the "outdoor (ozone)" GORP test station, and carefully sight directly to the bottle against your GORP data sheet, and make note of where the top of the label aligns against the GORP scale.
  2. Make a mark with a pen, and fill in the month, date and year.
  3. Draw an arrow to the mark you just made.
  4. Repeat Steps 1 to 3 at your "indoor (control)" test station.
  5. Repeat Steps 1 to 4 every day or so (outdoors and indoors) for a week or as long as your outdoor setup holds up without the rubber band breaking.

You will likely find that the indoor (control) test station rubber band doesn't stretch too much more after the first day or two. And after that, you may not have to change your mark, but please continue to record the month, day, year on the sheet.

However, unless you are in a pristine area with very clear air, you will likely notice that the rubber band at the outdoor test station will stretch a bit more each day, as the rubber is weakened and cracked by outdoor pollutants. Eventually, the outdoor rubber band may break completely.

Please feel free to repeat this experiment as often as you like after the your first test, we can use all the data that you generate! Your data will be correlated to EPA ozone data, which will allow us to see a much more precise view of ozone damage throughout your area and throughout the world.

Step 5: Submit Your Results to Get Your Free GORP Gear!

  1. Get a small zipper seal plastic bag, (or use plastic wrap and seal well) and write your Experiment date on the outside of the bag.
  2. Remove your two rubber bands from the bottles, the indoor rubber band (which will likely show little damage) and the outdoor rubber band (which will show cracking and degradation if ozone pollution has come to your area.
  3. Gently examine your rubber bands so you can see the real-life effects of ozone pollution. Not the change in color and texture with the outdoor band. Please be careful not to overstretch your bands, they might break. (If you rubber band did break, please send us the broken pieces!)
  4. Place your rubber bands or broken pieces into the plastic bag and seal.
  5. Address an envelope to us: GORP c/o Scientific Illustration Services, 1019 8th Street, Ste. 107, Golden, CO 80403, USA
  6. Please put the bag with the rubber bands and fold your data sheets and put them into the envelope. If you want to keep your original data sheets as record of your work in the project, please free free to send us copies.
  7. Take a second business-sized envelope and write your address in the TO area. We will use this to send you your free GORP stuff for being a Global Ozone Rubber Participant. You do not need to put postage on this one, we'll add the postage. Fold this envelope and put inside the envelope that you will mail to us.
  8. Please put a stamp on main envelope that you mail to us! The Post Office in your area will not deliver these to us without postage. Drop in the mail!
  9. Depending on how backed up we are with research, we'll mail your GORP Gear to you within one to four weeks, while supplies last. GORP Participants will receive special special gizmos and gadgets that fit into that envelope; participation awards, FixIt Clips, Galaxy Gauge Scientific Gauges, and 4bySeven gear, while supplies last. You'll also be entered to win free Crunchy Case gear boxes, free FixIt Clips, and other prizes.

When you mail your data sheet (or a copy) and your old rubber bands back to us, you will allow us to measure ozone damage in your area! When you send it back to us, your research will help global efforts to clean the air for all of us! So please mail it back. You'll love your GORP Gear that you'll get when you participate.

Remember, your envelope that you mail to us will have the following things ...

  1. Both the indoor and outdoor data sheets, or copies,
  2. Both rubber bands (or pieces) in plastic bag,
  3. Your self-addressed envelope with your address on it so we can mail you stuff,
  4. A stamp on the outside envelope so it gets to us.

Thank you!