Kid science experiments: inflatable balloon

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This is kid science experiment number two and science failure number two. Maia flipped through our Super Science Experiments book and picked out a project that involved inflating a balloon with the carbon dioxide gas created by mixing baking soda and lemon juice. The ingredients were simple: 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon water, the juice of one lemon, a balloon, and a soda bottle.


We followed the instructions, adding the baking soda and water to the bottle, mixing them, then adding the lemon juice. It started to fizz immediately (and create carbon dioxide) and I pulled the balloon over the top of the bottle as quickly as possible. Maia got so excited when the balloon started to inflate, but when it was a couple minutes later and it still hadn’t gotten any bigger, she felt let down.

So what happened? Not enough carbon dioxide perhaps? Or maybe we didn’t get the balloon on quick enough and a lot of the carbon dioxide escaped into the air?


So then we tried again, this time using vinegar (an optional variation included in the book) and doubling all the ingredients in the hopes of making more CO2. Again, I put the balloon on as quickly as I could. It inflated more than the first balloon, but still not as much as we had been expecting or hoping.

I wouldn’t say this experiment was quite the fail that our invisible ink was, but it also wasn’t an unqualified success. So now I’m wondering — do you have any favorite kid science experiments? I’d like something tried and true for next time. And if you have an awesome science experiment book to recommend, please let me know as well. I’m not as thrilled with this one as I’d like to be.

P.S. Want more science? Here’s my current collection of fave artful kids science experiments

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  1. Barbara Zaborowski says

    When we do it at school, I put the vinegar (a couple of Tablespoons) in a water bottle and the baking soda in the balloon (using a funnel.) They don’t mix until the balloon is on the bottle and pulled upright. When the class has ooooh’d and aaaah’d and demanded I do it again (extra bottles and balloons ready to go), we get into a discussion of “Is it magic? No, it’s science.”
    Perhaps it’s time to talk to Maia about how much we can learn when experiments (or art projects) don’t work…or at least, not the way we thought they would. A former pastor of mine always used to say “There are no failures here. Some things just don’t work out like we expected.”

  2. says

    We have enjoyed growing a salt crystal garden using liquid bluing. Use food coloring! Also, my 5 year olds favorite experiments have been making a volcano with baking soda and vinegar and this ballon on a string one. We put a drinking straw onto a long string, then tied each end to a door so it stretched straight across the room. We put two pieces of tape about two inches long on the underside of the straw so the sticky side was up. Then we blew up a balloon and stuck it to the straw. When we let the balloon go, it zipped across the room. My kids thought it was awesome for some reason and have asked to do it over and over.

  3. says

    One of my daughter’s favorites last year involved salt, food coloring and ice. I’ve found a lot of great experiments on Scholastic’s “Magic School Bus” site as well. A good many of our experiments don’t work exactly as planned, but I think most research scientists would tell you that that’s the way it goes with science.

  4. says

    I think people can have false hopes for seeing extreme results with some of these science experiments. The balloon did inflate – you can see that in the pictures. Is it going to inflate as much as it does when you’re forcing all the air out of your lungs into it? Probably not. Just as with art, it’s more the process than the product. Keep that in mind and try to enjoy the experiments more than the end results. Maia learned with that experiment that doubling the amount of ingredients and changing an ingredient changed the outcome. It’s all a learning process that should not be overlooked. Talk to her about why those ingredients create the gas… why the vinegar works better than the lemon juice. Try not to get discouraged!

  5. Katie says

    Try pre-stretching the balloon. Just blow it up a couple of times and it should inflate easier.

  6. wendy says

    I just saw this on an old episode of mr. rodgers, bill nye the science guy came and put the baking soda in the balloon with a slurpee spoon/straw and the vinegar in the bottle. then you pull over the balloon and tip it up to pour the baking soda in.

  7. says

    Oh, I can see the let down expression on Maia’s face. She must have expected so much more fun seeing the pics in the science book.
    We haven’t done this experiment yet, but recently we did a water racing in the bottle experiment that explains the relation between height and pressure. That was super duper fun for Pari. And, more so since it’s summer time and the experiment involves water!
    You can see here:

  8. says

    A great easy experiment is to put a white flower (carnations are easy) into a glass with food colored water. You can keep checking on your flower throughout the day as it changes color. You can look at where the color is concentrated. This is a big hit with all ages and my preschoolers loved it.

  9. Dana says

    We like to do this and add dish soap and glitter and food coloring in different sized shaped bottles and call it our mad science brew!

  10. says

    I see some kind person linked to our balloon inflation experiment. Thanks, Anastasia!The vinegar works great. We also tried it with yeast and sugar, which was not so exciting. I also think Steve Spangler’s website is a great resource.

  11. says

    Must use vinegar, and like others have noted, it’s best to put the baking soda in the balloon and not let it drop into the vinegar until the balloon is already sealed in place. A fun variation of this that we did recently was to use a drinking class with vinegar in it, then pour the baking soda into a latex glove. Put the glove over the glass (it must be an air-tight fit) then let the baking soda drop in and watch the “hand” spring to life!

  12. says

    As others said, put the vinegar or baking soda into the balloon. And do notice the changes. They may not be as big as you wanted, but they are there. Great introduction of the scientific method (hypothesis, theory, testing, retesting, changing variables). One experiemtn we did that my kiddos loved was newspaper rockets. We built a launcher out of PVC using a 2L soda bottle as the air pump. They loved jumping on the bottle to shoot their rockets into the air. You can see our version here as well as instructions here:

  13. Jenn says

    Have you played with red cabbage juice? That’s always a fun one here. Make cabbage juice by boiling red cabbage in water. Then, fill a few containers with the juice. Add baking soda to one, vinegar to another. You should have blue and red juices now. Mix the two and you get…purple foam!
    We also do lots of sink/float experiments. Fun ones are to fill a clear container with oil and water, let them separate and then try and find items in your house that will float between the two.

  14. Suzie says

    I love all the comments – especially the reminder about process not product. Maybe you could also encourage Maia to think that she’s being a real scientist – and part of the scientific process is experimentation – trying something, seeing if it works, learning about why it might not work if it doesn’t then changing something and trying again. Many many scientists ‘fail’ / don’t get their expected outcome before they succeed!

  15. Alea says

    We’ve done a similar balloon experiment. Put a balloon on a pop bottle as you did. Then place the bottle in a bowl of warm water. The air inside the bottle will expand and the balloon will blow up some (not completely). Then move the bottle to a bowl of cold water and the air will come out of the balloon. It’s fun to go back and forth.

  16. says

    I was going to say the same thing. Do you ask her to predict what is going to happen, maybe difficult if she has picked the experiment but if it is a first time one. Try and get her to think of several possible ideas of what will happen.
    For this experiment my book says to put the baking soda in the balloon.

  17. says

    We used to grow Alum crystals with my grandma (a geologist) — I don’t remember exactly what the water/alum ratio was but I’m sure it could be found online. It was a slow thing though, took patience to wait for the crystals to form. Also, my big girl’s teacher did a great experiment using crushed up leaves (in the fall so there were a variety of colored leaves) mixed with water and litmus paper — I think that is what it was at least — and then the kids would observe what colors showed after the water soaked up the paper and dried. (Did that just make any sense at all?!) Happy experimenting!

  18. says

    I agree with Jenn… try the cabbage juice! Shred up some purple cabbage and let it boil/soak for a long time to get the water nice and dark. I like to put out a small glass bowl with about 1/2C cabbage water set on a white surface (piece of paper) for each child. I also set out a some other bowls with lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda, with eyedroppers for the liquids and small spoons for the baking soda. Then we have fun mixing “magic potions.” You can replace the cabbage water whenever they want to start over. I got the idea here:

  19. says

    We had spectacular results blowing up a balloon when we used yeast. Warm water, yeast, some sugar in a bottle – it really blew up the balloon! (It always helps to blow up the balloon first to relax the latex.) Plus, the lesson was all about how yeast is alive and it burps and farts! and that’s the holes in our bread! My little ones loved this.

  20. Mary says

    This is a good science book; “Mudpies to Magnets.” Should be able to find it at the library. There is a fun one called “Dunking Raisins,” that works great.

  21. Sharon says

    We did this one with Pop Bottle Science ( and they recommend putting the baking soda in a paper towel, then rolling up the paper towel and stuffing it inside the bottle. This gives you a good few seconds to fit the balloon on the mouth of the bottle before the paper towel has absorbed enough vinegar to provoke a reaction with the baking soda.
    Another variation (also from the book) has you fit a cork in the mouth of the bottle. Then back up quickly and watch your cork blast sky-high. This was a particular favorite and we did this one several times (outdoors only, unless you have a particular grievance against your light fixtures). Again, the addition of the paper towel buys you some time to step back and avoid a cork in the eye.
    The book is full of other great ideas and comes inside a bottle you can twist open, a cork, some balloons, a funnel, and measuring spoons. We bought it at but you can reliably find it at Amazon also. I can’t recommend it enough.

  22. Katherine says

    I volunteered for several years doing science experiments with elementary school children, and I found that a consistent favourite was the “super-hero eggshells” experiment! Essentially you stack books on top of egg shells to see how much weight it takes to crack the shells. Kids love this because it usually takes quite a few books to break the eggs, and the suspension in the room is palpable! You can find some good “egg-speriments” here: The experiment I am referring to is #4. However, I think it is much more fun to use whole raw eggs instead of empty halved egg shells, because the kids love it when the eggs break (although if you do it this way, I recommend using lots of newspaper and a piece of cardboard under the books to protect them from the egg mess.) Have the kids guess how many books it will take to break the eggs and see how close they come!

  23. Molly says

    It also works to use latex gloves (or non latex if you are allergic). Put the baking soda in the thumb (use a small funnel). Tie it off with a twist tie. Put the vinegar in the hand part. Tie the glove closed!!!
    when you are ready for the experiment, untwist the thumb tie and mix with the vinegar.
    The glove will inflate! :) To everyone’s joy. Also you will be able to feel the cold of the chemical reaction (just in case you want to teach about endothermic reactions :)).
    I would have to look to see how much of both you need … otherwise just experiment and see how it works. It’s fun!

  24. Christina says

    You’ve inspired me to try some experiments with my kids. So yesterday I went to the library and got out a couple science books for kids. Can’t wait to try some of the cool things. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

  25. kennedy says

    maia its not going to workif u double it the second time u probaly didnt do it right the first time no offense how long did it take u to do this experiment? It should take u about 10 minutes or longer if u want to do it right): good TRY though better luck next time Maia.(:

  26. ggg says

    that is true ur really pretty maia.u did a great job with that experiment but u could have streched the balloon so it will be easier to inflate.did u know that i am doing the same experiment for my science fair?its cool!

  27. says

    Hi Jean- First of all, I just want to say I really admire what you do here! Fantastic stuff!
    I conducted a similar experiment with my class of 3/4 year olds a few weeks ago. We used yeast to blow up the balloon because we were preparing for passover and learning about how yeast makes bread rise. We put up two control experiments for comparative purposes; one was an empty bottle with a balloon that did not inflate, and the other was just to activate some yeast in a bowl so that we could watch the bubbles of carbon dioxide forming a little more clearly.
    I’ve done this experiment a few times and I find that using a smaller bottle, rather than double the ingredients, works best. Those one-pint Poland Spring bottles are great for this.
    I hope you’ll try it and let me know how it works out!

  28. says

    We LOVE to do science experiments at our place! This one may work better if you put the vinegar in the bottle and put the baking soda into the balloon. That way when you put the balloon on the bottle the baking soda goes directly into the vinegar and you catch all the CO2 in the balloon.
    Another one we love to do is really simple. Just put some dry ice into a glass of water. You can add food coloring to the water if you want to. Then add a squirt of dish soap and it becomes a bubbling machine! The bubbles are full of carbon dioxide fog, so they are fun to pop and play with. It’s one of our favorites.