The Effects of Household Chemicals on Household Plants

This topic submitted by Amy Hall, John Wood, Chris Kolososki, Matt Howell ( at 5:20 pm on 12/10/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins

Amy Hall
John Wood
Chris Kolososki
Matt Howell

The Effects of Household Chemicals on Household Plants


When you need to dispose of household cleaning products, how do you do it? Do you use a special hazardous waste disposal service? Chances are that you will just dump everything down the drain. But what if those chemicals escape into the ecosystem, what damage might result? We shall attempt to prove that household chemicals have a negative impact upon the growth and development of plants. We are growing new plants in eighty cups in the Boyd greenhouse. One-fourth of those plants is receiving ordinary water, while the rest are receiving one of two household cleaning products, diluted in water. Our experiment is not yet completed, but already it has displayed interesting results. The plants that are receiving chemicals appear to growing at a noticeably slower rate than the control plants, and more of them are dying. We hope that this data will help us to prove our hypothesis.

The purpose of our lab is to test the effects of two common household chemicals on the development of young plants. Specifically, we will be using glass cleaner and dish soap. We hypothesize that these chemicals will negatively affect plant growth and development, and result in abnormal coloration and smaller size. We also hypothesize that the ammonia in the glass cleaner will have a stronger effect than the dish soap. Through our studies we plan to see how the chemicals affects the plants. We decided on this project after much thought and group discussion. We all seemed to agree that we wanted to do an experiment involving plants. We wanted to test how something affected plants, but we couldn't*t decide on a factor to test. Eventually we narrowed it down to pollution, which is a major concern of modern day science. We finally chose to test the effects of toxic substance one would find around the home. Initially we chose to do motor oil and drain cleaner, but instead we settled for dish soap and glass cleaner. After settling the matter of the ratio of chemical-to-water dosage to give the test groups of plants, we felt that we had a fairly sound experiment.


This study is relevant because many common, potentially hazardous substance such as these are frequently disposed of by pouring them down drains, or even by dumping them directly into the ecosystem, which could allow these chemicals to seep into the water supply that plants depend on. We will try to find if the improper disposal of household chemicals might have a strong negative effect on plant development. We find this research interesting because we are using chemicals that are used everyday and they are disposed of without any consideration to if they might be harmful to nature. Our project is closely related to the study —The Effects of a Drought on Water Pollution,* by Leslie B, Jackie K, Adam G, David S, Peter K, and Matt W, in Nicholsonís section. Both are focused around water pollution, although our project is concerned more about the effects of pollution in water, not what effects pollution in water. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a large amount of articles that were directly related to our topic. We did find some articles on pollution. We also found some on-line resources concerning the toxic substances contained in household chemicals. One article we came across, Application of Diluted Chlorine Dioxide to Radish and Lettuce Nurseries Insignificantly Reduced Plant Development (Angel Carrillo, M.Esther Puente, AND Yoav Bashan, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, pp 35, 57ñ66, 1996.), described an experiment that actually suggested the conclusion that some diluted toxic substances have little or no effect on plants, which is the opposite of our proposal. Our research relates to the important issue of pollution's effect on the ecology of our world. By finding out if plants are vulnerable to a common form of pollution, we hope to emphasize the importance of caring for our environment, and the importance of properly dealing with hazardous materials.

Materials and Methods

The following are materials we will use: Styrofoam beverage cups, soil, seeds, Ajax lemon liquid dish soap, ammonia glass cleaner, and water. The experiment will be conducted in the greenhouse adjacent to Boyd Hall. We decided that it would be best to grow the plants from seeds. We will purchase a large quantity of seeds, and distribute them among 80 Styrofoam cups. 20 of these cups will contain the control group of plants, which will receive 20 ml of ordinary water. 30 total will receive 20 ml of a solution containing water and dish soap. For 15 of these, the solution will be .5 ml of dish soap and 19.5 ml of water. The other 15 will receive 1 ml of dish soap and 19 ml of water. The remaining 30 cups will receive 20 ml of a solution containing water and glass cleaner. For 15 of these, the solution will be .5 ml of glass cleaner and 19.5 ml of water. The other 15 will receive 1 ml of glass cleaner and 19 ml of water. The plants will be watered three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. Watering will begin when the seeds to sprout from the soil. We plan on running this experiment beginning the week of 10-3, and through 12-2. We will collect data about the development of the plants each time we water them. For each of the substances the plants receive we will record the number of plants, the color of the plants, and the length of the leaves on the plants. The data will be placed on a data sheet, and we will compare the data from session to session, to see if any patterns emerge relative to the substances and the dosages given. We feel that we can get an accurate reading of how the plants were developmentally effected in this time span. Our experimental design was originally fairly different from its present state, and it has been modified significantly to make it more realistic and statistically sound. Originally, we were only going to do about 20 groups of plants, instead of 80. We will include the class by having them discuss the possible effects that harmful chemicals in these household cleaners could have on the plants. We will also bring them out to the greenhouse to show them our plants, which would be unlabeled. The class will examine the plants, looking for the same specifications as we do, including number, size, and color. The class will then use the information to fill out a sample data sheet. Then the class will have to guess which plants have been treated with what chemical. After the class has made their hypothesis we will then explain to them which chemicals were actually used. We will also ask them why they think the soap killed the plants in such a hurry. We will also have the class help us interpret the data we put into Statview. Next we plan on asking the class to critique our experimental design, telling us what we might have done better, and what areas of our design were weak. We feel that this will strengthen both our groups' knowledge of the experimental method as well as the other groups in the class.


From the beginning of our research, it was obvious to us what the results would tell us. Though our research mostly went as planned, there were some aspects of our observations that we were not expecting. Being that the window cleaner that we used had Ammonia in it, we thought that this would wipe out the plants in no time. So, what we did was follow our study as planned, and over a period of two weeks, we were able to see that it wasn't going to be the concentrated window cleaner that was going to cause the quickest death for our household plants, but it was going to be the soap concentration that caused the most damage on the plants. Over time the chemicals that we used did effect the plants the same way, destroying them, but the household chemicals both destroyed them at their own rate. For instance, both concentrations of the soap killed our plant, and both concentrations of the window cleaner also took their toll on the plants, yet the soap started killing the plants after the first week, while it took us longer to notice the window cleaners effects. When we would go to water the plants we also noticed that there was a noticeable difference in the way the soil, and leaves looked between the different groups. The controlled plants looked great throughout the experiment. When watered we would always find moisture from out previous watering on the soil, and there was also moss growing all along the soil, we did not find this for any of the other plants. Both concentrations of the soap dried out the soil. The plants and soil looked very parched and unhealthy, and the colors of the leaves were not as bright a green as the others. The window cleaner did take some time before it effected the growth and health of the plants. We did find a few plants that had moss, and also some of the plants stayed very moist. After we completed our observations we had tons of data that we collected. There were many different ways that we could present our data so people would be able to understand our results. But the two different types of statistics that we decided to focus on were the Interaction Bar, and the Scheffe's Chart. For each one of these statistical displays we broke the different concentrations in different categories. We broke them down by longest leafs, their color, and the number of living plants in the cup. After we plugged all of this information in, we knew that this would allow us to show our findings. Attached are the graphs, tables, and statical tests that we calculated.


In conclusion, our experiment went as planed. Our twenty cups in the control group were the largest and most healthy out of the experiment. We wanted these plants to be healthy so we could compare each of our experimental groups to them. In the .5 ml. concentration of Windex the the plants were the next most healthy. These plants were considerably different form the control because of the treatment of Windex which acted like a diluted poison, slowly killing and stunting the growth of the plants. The concentration of Windex acted like a more concentrated poison to the plants. This concentration stunted the growth of the plants and killed them faster than the .5 ml. concentration. Each concentration of the Windex we noticed that the soil would be very dry when we checked it. We feel that this was caused by the ammonia in the Windex. If you have ever cleaned windows and used Windex, the cleaner will evaporate on the window. We figured that this evaporation could be linked to the plants as well. The soap was very lethal to the plants. Even the lesser concentration killed the plants within a few days. The soap acted like a film that either didn1t let the water mix with the soil or coated the plant so that it was not able to suck in the water. This was true for both concentrations of the soap. Every time we would check on the soap plants they would be very dry. There are also a few things that we would like to do if we could do this experiment again. We would like to experiment on different types of plants. In this experiment we only used one type of plant. We would also like to test these chemicals on plants at different stages in their life cycles. We treated these plants from when they were very young and not strong. We might have come up with different results if the plants were older and stronger. We would also like to try some different chemicals that might be more relevant to the industrial world. Some of these chemicals might include motor oil, antifreeze, diluted acid or other chemicals used in industrial situation. Application of Diluted Chlorine Dioxide to Radish and Lettuce Nurseries


Insignificantly Reduced Plant Development (Angel Carrillo, M.Esther Puente,
AND Yoav Bashan, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, pp 35, 57ñ66,

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