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Science Fair Info: What cleans a penny best?

Q. Why do acids clean better than bases, and what cleans a penny better, baking soda with water, Tide laundry detergent, lemon juice, coke, or dishwashing liquid?

Alyssa R. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Chaska, Minnesota, USA


A. Hi Alyssa,

There are different types of cleaners for different types of jobs. Acids don't always clean better than bases, because it depends on what you're cleaning. I know you wouldn't want to replace your laundry detergent with an acid cleaner. ;-)

Think about what needs to be cleaned and then you can try to figure how to clean it. For example, the detergents in dishwashing liquid are there to remove oily, greasy material from your frying pan. Taking the oxidation off of a penny, however, requires a completely different solution because it's a completely different type of soil.

George Gorecki
- Naperville, Illinois

A. I wouldn't say that acids clean better than bases. Which one works better depends more on the type of dirt. As to which liquid will clean a penny best, I recommend getting some liquids and some dirty pennies and find out.

James Totter
James Totter, CEF
- Tallahassee, Florida

I have a question for my research which household liquids cleans a penny best? So I'm trying to find out on research about this and I need information about this experiment. I used 7 types of liquids which are acetone [on eBay or Amazon], hot water, cold water, clorox, vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon], lemon lime, baking soda. Please help me.

Aileen E.
- Miami, Florida

A. Hi Aileen,
You said you used these 7 liquids. What did you find out from having used them? Which appeared to clean pennies well and which appeared ineffective? We can help you interpret your results if you tell us your results.

I'm glad you did the experiment before the "research" because that's the way to avoid "junk science" (doing the research first, deciding what the results should be, then talking yourself into tweaking or ignoring your experimental results because they were "wrong".)
Let's take a one-minute lesson from one of the world's most famous physicists and best teachers ⇨

Good luck with your report!

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Ed. note: Please see our F.A.Q. on cleaning pennies.

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