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Melting Ice Science Experiment with Salt and Liquid Watercolors

by Jean Van't Hul
July 24, 2012

Melting Ice Science Experiment - top image

Melting ice with salt and then adding liquid watercolors is a simple kids’ science experiment that we’ve done before. But sometimes you have to try something more than once to really get it right.

The last time we did our melting ice science experiment, it was so much of a salt and watercolor free-for-all that we couldn’t see what was happening to the ice under all the salt.

This time we got it right. And I have to say, it truly is a beautiful and fun learning experience.

Melting Ice Science Experiment 

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The Melting Ice Science Experiment

Step #1) Make The Ice

For fun, and for experiment’s sake, I filled many different sizes of bowls with water and left them to freeze overnight.

I recommend this! Not so much for quantity, but I’d suggest trying at least two or three different sizes. Make at least one of them shallow. The Tupperware container you can barely see in the back of the photo above was great for this.

Melted Ice Science Experiment - ice

Step #2) Set Up Your Melting Station

The next morning I loosened the ice from the bowls with a little warm water and set them in a big plastic finger paint tray with a raised edge.

I remembered how much the ice melted last time— that’s the point, right?! —and I didn’t want a salty, painty mess all over my table. A baking tray with sides would also work. I also set our tray over an old towel for extra protection.

Ice for Science Experiment - ice station on table

Step #3) Add Salt

Maia’s friend Stella was over for the morning and the three girls were very excited about the melting ice science experiment! I gave them each a bowl of table salt (inexpensive Morton’s salt) and they sprinkled it over the tops of the ice domes.

Two notes ::

  1. Rock salt, or another coarse salt, would be good to try as well, but we didn’t have any. (I did have some sea salt in the kitchen, but felt it was too expensive to use like this.)
  2. Also, I purposely gave them each a modest amount to sprinkle. I didn’t want a repeat of the salt dumping excuse for a science experiment we had last time.

Melting Ice Science Experiment - ice detail

They got excited when they first noticed the little ravines where the salt was melting the side of the ice!

Time To Add Color To The Melted Ice

Melting Ice Science Experiment - watercolors

Once we could tell that the salt was melting the ice, I got out the liquid watercolors. I squeezed a little bit of a few different colors (yellow, pink, purple, turquoise) into jelly jars and added a dropper to each.

Note: You can also use food coloring for this project. The color selection may be more limited, but it works just as well.

The girls squeezed the watercolors onto the ice.

Melting Ice Science Experiment - girls paint

Daphne had just as much fun with it as the older kids did, but it took her a few tries before she figured out the droppers, such as when to squeeze and when to release.

Melting Ice Science Experiment 17

The color is beautiful on its own, but the real reason for adding the liquid watercolors is to highlight the ravines, crevasses, and tunnels that are forming in the ice as the salt melts it.

We talked about how the salt melts the ice, both before and during the science experiment. Since it was a hot summer day, we agreed that the ice would melt anyway.

Then we talked about how salt makes ice melt differently, and that it will melt ice at much cooler temperatures. So, wherever the salt touched the ice it would melt faster than the rest of the ice.

Melting ice Science Experiment - colors on 4

The pooling swirls of liquid watercolors in melted ice water were beautiful, too!

Melting Ice Science Experiment - swirls

In fact, we had A LOT of melted ice water, so the girls took turns with a turkey baster to suction the water out.

You don’t have to take the water out, but I thought it would be easier to see all the exciting tunnel action if the ice wasn’t swimming in a lake. Also, our handy dandy plastic tray was cracked along the lip and I didn’t want the water to reach that level.

Plus the kids thought that using the turkey baster was as much fun as the rest of the project.

Melted Ice Science Experiment - 2 girls baster

Even Daphne had to take her turns with it!

Melting Ice Science Experiment - Daphne

We took a few of our ice pieces out on the porch to look at them in the sunlight. The watercolors really helped to highlight where the ice was melting!

Look! A colored ice suncatcher!

Melted Ice Science Experiment - suncatcher

We oohed and ahhed for a while. They were that beautiful.

From the bottom of the shallower ice pieces, we could see a whole bunch of tiny bubbles of color where the mixed salt and watercolors pooled as they slowly ate away and melted the ice. We thought that was SO cool!!

Melting Ice Science Experiment - close up outside pink blue

After our break to admire the ice in the sunlight, we brought them back in and turned each over.

We wanted to see what it would be like if we melted tunnels and ravines through both sides of the ice.

So we added more salt (yes, there was some salt dumping action this time—mostly on Daphne’s part), and let it melt awhile. Then we added liquid watercolors.

Note: Some of the salt (especially where it was dumped) had hardened into a solid mass. We chipped those away before adding the liquid watercolors because we really wanted to be able to see the ice tunnels.

Melting Ice Science Experiment - salt on other side

Just for variety’s sake, we brought out different colors of the liquid watercolors: red, blue, and gold (the metallic gold paint was pretty amazing!).

Melting Ice Science Experiment - red and blue

I LOVED seeing how into this melting ice science experiment the girls were!

Melting Ice Science Experiment - 3 girls at table

And the results were beautiful and interesting! You can see that the salt ate away at both sides of this ice piece so that there are holes through the middle.

Melted Ice Science Experiment is Beautiful

We took all the ice outside and admired them in the front yard as they continued to melt.

Melted Ice Suncatchers

This melting ice science experiment is one worth doing (and repeating).

I hope you try it! And if you’ve tried it before, give it another go!

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

Pin It for Later 

This melting ice science experiment uses salt to melt tunnels in the ice and color to highlight the tunnels. Beautiful and fun for kids and adults alike! #kidsactivities #scienceforkids #summerfun #colorful #kids

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