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Compare absorption ability of Paper towels

Compare absorption ability of Paper towels

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Manufacturers of different paper towels usually claim that their product absorbs more water. There are different paper towels in the market in different price range. We are wondering which paper towel is really the best absorbent. Does it have any thing to do with price? Are there any visual indications that may help us to identify the best paper towel? Roll Paper Towels

This is a typical quality control project usually performed by quality control laboratories.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.  

Project advisor

Information Gathering:

Find out about paper towel and how it is made. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the factors that may affect the ability of paper towels to absorb water. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Following are samples of information that you may find in books or online resources:

Start by learning about the paper history. Use search keywords such as “paper history” or “the history of paper”.

Paper has a long history, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and continuing to the present day. For thousands of years, hand-made methods dominated and then, during the 19th century, paper production became industrialized. Originally intended purely for writing and printing purposes, a wide variety of paper grades and uses are now available to the consumer.


You may also want to search for the “invention of paper”.

Written communication has been the center of civilization for centuries. Most of our important records are on paper. Although writing has been around for a long time, paper hasn’t.
In fact, putting thoughts down in written form wasn’t always easy or practical. Early people discovered that they could make simple drawings on the walls of caves, which was a great place for recording thoughts, but wasn’t portable.


Finally you may want to learn about the types of paper.

Acetate: not a paper per say, but often used as a surface. A thin, flexible sheet of transparent plastic used to make overlays
Acid Free Paper: has no free acid, or a pH of at least 6.5. The use of a synthetic sizing material allows the paper to be manufactured with a neutral or alkaline pH
Acid Sized Paper: manufactured under acid conditions having no surface buffering capacity
Board Paper: grade of paper commonly used for file folders, displays, and post cards
Bond Paper: grade of paper commonly used for writing, printing, and photocopying
Book Paper: grade of paper suitable for books, magazines, and general printing needs
Bristol Paper: type of board paper used for post cards, business cards, and other heavy-use products. Some types of Bristol are referred to as Vellum Bristol, but are not true translucent vellum
Buffered Paper: made in an acid environment and then buffered on the surface to obtain a required pH
C1S: paper coated on one side
C2S: paper coated on both sides
Cardboard Paper: general term for stiff, bulky paper such as index, tag, or Bristol
Corrugated Paper: fluted paper between sheets of paper or cardboard or the fluted paper by itself
Cotton Content Paper: made from cotton fibers rather than wood pulp
Dry Gum Paper: label paper or sheet of paper with glue that can be activated by water
Enamel Paper: another term for Coated paper with gloss finish
Handmade Paper: sheet of paper, made individually by hand using a mold and deckle
Index Paper: light weight board paper for writing and easy erasure
Laid Paper: paper with a prominent pattern of ribbed lines in the finished sheet. It is accomplished in handmade paper using a screen-like mold of closely set parallel horizontal wires, crossed at right angles by vertical wires spaced somewhat further apart
Machine Made Paper: sheet of paper produced on a rapidly moving machine called the Fourdrinier, which forms, dries, sizes and smoothes the sheet; uniformity of size and surface texture marks the machine-made sheet
Manila Paper: strong, buff-colored paper used to make envelopes and file folders
Mold Made Paper: sheet of paper that simulates a handmade sheet in look, but is made by a slowly rotating machine called a cylinder-mould; the machine was introduced in England in 1895
Parchment: paper that simulates writing surfaces made from animal skins
Rag Paper: paper made from fibers of non-wood origin, including actual cotton rags, cotton linters, cotton or linen pulp. Rag papers contain from 25-100% cotton fiber pulp
Rice Paper: common misnomer applied to lightweight Oriental papers; rice alone cannot produce a sheet of paper so rice (straw) is only occasionally mixed with other fibers in papermaking; the name may be derived from the rice size once used in Japanese papermaking
Shrink Medium: not a paper per say, but a sheet of thin clear or opaque plastic that once heated shrinks in size
Specialty Paper: term for carbonless, pressure-sensitive, synthetic, and other papers made for special applications
Synthetic paper: plastic or other petroleum-based paper
Tissue Paper: thin, translucent, lightweight papers available in many colors
Waterleaf Paper: paper with little or no sizing, like blotter, making it very absorbent; if dampening is desired, this paper can be sprayed with an atomizer
Wove Paper: paper with a uniform unlined surface and smooth finish, generally made on a European style mould with a woven wire surface
Vellum: stiff, translucent paper available in clear, white, marbled, colored or embossed
Velveteen Paper: also called plush or suede paper; paper with velvet feel and nap

What type of paper is used for paper towel?

A paper towel is a piece of absorbent paper made for the general purposes of towels, but most often used for drying hands. There are two distinct classes of paper towels in existence: the “domestic” paper towel, and the “institutional” paper towel. Invented in 1907 by Arthur Scott, the paper towel has ascended to provide a simple and efficient method of cleaning.


Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to compare several different brands of paper towels and determine which of them will absorb the most water/moisture. We assume that the most absorbent paper towel would be most useful for cleaning up spills of water and other liquids. We compare similar types of paper towels. The thickness of paper tissues and towels are rated by layers or “ply”. A 3-ply towel would normally be thicker and more absorbent than a 2-ply towel (not always but usually). We decide to use all 2-ply or all 3-ply, etc., in the experiment so that thickness is not a variable in the experiments.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Following is a sample:

Independent variable (also known as manipulated variable) is the type or brand of paper towel.

Dependent variable (also known as responding variable) is the amount of water each paper towel absorb.

Controlled variable is the temperature. (perform all your experiments at room temperature)

Constants are the size and number of layers of each paper towel.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Following is a sample:

Independent variable (also known as manipulated variable) is the type or brand of paper towel.

Dependent variable (also known as responding variable) is the amount of water each paper towel absorb.

Controlled variable is the temperature. (perform all your experiments at room temperature)

Constants are the size and number of layers of each paper towel.


As a hypothesis, the student will state which brand of paper towel is expected to absorb the most moisture. The hypothesis most likely will be based on past experience, intuition or advertising. The hypothesis will then be tested by experimentation. The brand of paper towel will be the independent variable and the amount of water absorbed will be the dependent variable in the experiment.

This is a sample hypothesis:

Among Three brands of Brawny, Bounty and Kleenex that I am testing Bounty is the more absorbent paper. My hypothesis is based on the advertisements and what I have heard from others.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Method #1 – The Drip Method :

The Materials Needed

1. Three sheets of each brand of paper towel to be tested.

2. Scissors

3. A roll of tape.

4. A glass or other container for the water.

5. A large eyedropper

The Methods Used

Tear off one sheet of each brand to be tested. Carefully mark each sheet so the original brand will not be confused. Lay one atop the other to see if each sheet is the same size as all others. If necessary cut and trim all sheets to the size of the smallest sheet. Now fold each sheet in half, in half again, again and again. The sheet has now been folded in half 4 times and is a tight pad only 1/16 its original size.

Next take a long strip of tape and run it along the edges of the last fold to hold the pad closed. Leave several inches of tape protruding from the end of the paper pad.

Use the excess tape to hang the pad from the spigot over the sink.

Finally, fill the eye-dropper with water and begin apply drops of water to the top-most corner of the pad. The moisture will slowly soak its way down the pad as more drops are added. Be certain to COUNT the number of the drops applied. Apply the drops slowly as the pad becomes more saturated… give it a chance to absorb as much moisture as possible. At some point, the pad will become totally saturated and unable to absorb anymore water. At that point it will begin to drip. Immediately stop adding water and record the total number of drops the towel absorbed before dripping.

To be sure the test was done properly, it should be repeated three times. If there is a difference in the number of drops absorbed, use the average value as the final for that brand of paper towel.

Finally, repeat the above for each brand of paper towel selected.

Method #2 – Capillary Action Method

When water is dropped on a paper towel, an immediate “spreading” of the damp spot is noticed. That spreading is due to capillary action, the ability of liquids to be drawn up into narrow spaces. The second method will test the capillary action of each brand of paper towel by having it absorb water against the force of gravity.

The Materials Needed:

1. One sheet of each brand of paper towel to be tested.
2. Two clear glasses
3. One or more foot-long rulers (one for each brand tested is ideal)
4. Food coloring (just a few drops)
5. Magnifying glass (optional)
6. A supply of tape
7. Water
8. A spoon or other kitchen utensil to stir with
9. A watch or clock to keep time with.

The Methods Used

1. Cut 1″ x 10″ strips of each paper towel brand being tested. Label each strip so that the brand identity cannot be confused.

2. Place the ruler(s) on the outside of a clear glass, standing straight up and with the one end of the ruler(s) level on the table top. The inch measurements should be outside the glass. Tape in place. If multiple rulers are used, space them apart by about the width of a ruler.

3. Tape a 1″x10″ sample strip on the back of the ruler, even with its top. Tape the strip only at the top. Although the ruler is outside the glass, the paper strip should hang inside the glass, its bottom hanging down to the 2″ mark on the ruler. If multiple rulers are available, tape the other paper samples onto their rulers as well.

6. Fill the second glass roughly half full of water. Add 5-6 drops of red food coloring and stir to mix.

7. Gently and carefully pour the colored water into the first glass until the water covers the bottom ends of the samples by about 1/16 inch. Record the time. Make a written notation of which sample seems to be absorbing the water the fastest (you will see the colored water seep up the sample).

8. Allow exactly 30 minutes to see what the maximum capillary action will be. Record the stop time for the experiment and also record the height to which each sample has absorbed the colored water. The use of the magnifying glass is optional but may help determine the height, especially of two or more of the samples are very close to each other.

9. Repeat the above method at least 3 times for each brand of paper towels. Use the average height to determine each brand’s capillary capability. Enter your results in a table shown below.


Make a graph:

Make a bar graph with one vertical bar for each brand of paper towel. The height of each bar will be the capillary action height based on your results table below.

Brand Capillary action height

Method #3 – The Squeeze Method

The Materials Needed:

1. Three sheets of each brand of paper towel to be tested.
2. Scissors
3. A large bowl
4. A graduated cylinder
5. A measuring cup
6. Water

The Methods Used

Compare the sheet sizes for each brand of paper towel and if necessary use the scissors to trim all sheets to precisely the same size.

Fill a large bowl with water and place it in the sink. Set the measuring cup nearby.

Lay one paper towel flat in the bowl, and push it beneath the water’s surface. Leave the paper towel submerged for 15-20 seconds to make sure it is fully saturated.

Lift the towel from the water and hold it over the bowl to allow excess water to drain back into the bowl. Wait until there is only one drop every 2-3 seconds, then carefully fold the towel and hold it over the measuring cup. Squeeze as much water as possible out of the towel.

Repeat the above procedure for the 2nd and 3rd sheets of the same paper brand. Squeeze each sheet into the measuring cup.

When all three towels have been squeezed out, pour the water from the measuring cup into a graduated cylinder and carefully note the amount of water squeezed out of the three towels. Make entries in the project log book as to the water measurement.

Next move on to paper towel brand #2 and repeat the process of soaking three sheets one after another and squeezing the water out of them into the measuring cup. Again pour the combined water into the graduated cylinder for accurate measurement.

Repeat the procedure for all brands of paper towels.

The amounts of water now provide the answer as to which brand was the most absorbent. The brand which picked up the most water was the most absorbent.

Results table:

Write your results in a table that has two columns. First column is a list of paper towel brands that you are testing. The second column is the amount of water absorbed by each paper towel brand. Amount of water may be described as the number of drops, the weight of water or the volume of water in milliliters. This is a sample table:

Paper Towel Brand Water Absorbed

Make a graph:

Make a bar graph to visually present your experiment results. Make one vertical bar for each brand. The height of each bar represents that amount of water each brand can absorb. Under each bar write the name of the brand it represents. On the top of each bar write the amount of water it can absorb.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

The data could be presented in written form or a bar graph would be an excellent visual method of displaying the final results. Each brand tested should have its own bar. The length of the bars would be proportional to the amount of water absorbed.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


The bar graphs, or even just the recorded results if no graph is prepared, will make the final results obvious. The student should present those results and decide whether or not the original hypothesis was confirmed or disproved. If possible, the student should also offer reasons as to why the winning brand was the most absorbent. Was it the texture? The way the paper was made? The project report should note any differences in the brands which might account for the outcome.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

After you have completed your experiments and identified the paper towel that is the best absorbent, you may be wondering what is the cause of such difference.

To find an answer you may need to do additional experiments and observations as follows:

  • Use a magnifier or microscope to compare the fibers used in making the paper towels you tested.
  • Also cut one square foot of each paper towel and measure its weight. Find out how much fiber is used in making of one square foot of each paper towel.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


Visit your local library and find any possible books related to paper manufacturing. Find out how the papers are made and what are different types of paper.

List such books in your bibliography as your references.

You must also include your online resources and electronic resources such as websites and encyclopedias on CDROMs.