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Distillation of Water

Distillation of Water

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Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Distillation of water is the only practical way of making pure water. During distillation, pure water vaporizes; water vapors raise and enter a separate container, where it condenses and liquefy. This is almost what is happening every day naturally. Water from oceans, rivers and plants evaporate and form clouds that are nothing but water vapor. When the clouds get to a colder area, they condense and fall in the form of rain.

So rain is supposed to be distilled water and often it is, but in many areas in the world specially cities, rain will absorb a lot of pollutants from the air and by the time that it gets to the ground, it is not pure water any more.

Water distillation can be done using laboratory glassware or distillation machines, but for this project we try to assemble a distillation apparatus by material and equipment that we can find at home. Then we try to distill different aqueous liquids in order to extract pure water from them.


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 what you want to investigate. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the effect or area of study. Keep track of where you got your information from.

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 understanding distillation and how it works. Using readily available materials, we separate a colorless liquid from a common colored solution by distillation.
Higher grade students may need to study one specific question for their project. Most such questions aim to improve the rate of distillation or reduce the cost of the process. Following are two sample questions:

  1. How does the type of impurity affect the process of purification?
  2. How does the temperature of condenser affect the rate of distillation?

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.
Skip this section if you have not selected any specific question.
This is how you define variables for the question 1:

The independent variable (also known as manipulated variable) is the type of impurity (or the type of water solution). Possible values are: Cranberry juice, coke, any other soda drink.Independent variables (also known as responding variables) are the color of the distillate and the taste of the distillate. Constants are the amount of test liquids, the type and the size of distillation apparatus. (So all experiments must be performed with the same or identical distillation devices).

This is how you define variables for the question 2:

The independent variable (also known as manipulated variable) is the temperature of the condenser. Possible values are cold, natural, hot.The dependent variables (also known as responding variable) is the rate of distillation. The rate of distillation is the amount of distilled water produced per hour.Constants are heat source, the amount of test liquids, the type and the size of distillation apparatus. (So all experiments must be performed with the same or identical distillation devices).

Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.
Skip this section if you have not selected any specific question.
This is a sample hypothesis for question 1:

My hypothesis is that if the water contains inorganic impurities such as salts, distillation will produce pure water (with no color and no taste), but if impurities are other liquids and organic compounds and solvents and almost everything that has odor, such material also may evaporate and mix with our distilled water.

This is a sample hypothesis for question 2:

My hypothesis is the rate of distillation will be higher with a colder condensor.

Experiment 1: Simple distillation

Assemble a simple distillation apparatus using a soda can and aluminum foil in place of traditional glassware.


Rinse the soda can clean. Add the solution to be distilled until the can is l/3 to l/2 full. Drop a few pennies or small glass balls in the can to prevent explosive boiling reaction.Mount the soda can above the burner on a wire screen supported by an iron ring (attached to the ring stand). Mount the second iron ring around and near the top of the can to prevent it from tipping over. Insert the smaller glass jar into the larger one and surround liberally with an Ice-rich slush bath. Prepare an air-cooled condenser made of aluminum foil. This is best done by wrapping the foil lengthwise around a dowel rod or broom handle, taking care to seal the seam that runs the length of the foil tube by making several folds of foil neatly pressed back on itself. (Failure to do this will result in. poor efficiency during distillation.) Fit one end of the condenser into the opening at the top of the soda can. Gently bend the other end down and Insert it into the smaller glass jar which serves as a receiver flask for the distillation. Heat the soda can and its contents with a steady flame. As the solution boils, some vapor can be seen escaping from around the mouth of the can. Still, enough vapor makes its way through the air-cooled condenser so that condensation soon occurs In the chilled receiver flask.


For better sealing of the condenser tube, use one of the following procedures. The aluminum foil at the mouth of the can may be sealed with masking tape. Alternately, the condenser tube can be fitted carefully Into corks or stoppers at the mouths of the can and the collection bottle; however, the system should not be completely sealed.


If alcohol burners are used, they should be filled when cold, only by an adult. Adding common salt to the wick of burner makes it easier for you to see the flame and thus avoid possible burns. The aluminum foil condenser becomes quite hot during the distillation. Care should be taken to avoid touching it during collection of the distillate. Goggles must be worn throughout the experiment.

Samples and Pictures:

Here we found a copper tube and matching copper elbow and used it instead of aluminum foil.

The problem was that it took a few minutes for water to warm. We did not use wire screen to speed up boiling process.

Adult supervision and safe experiment area is required in addition to safety goggles.

 In this experiment we are using an electric heater instead of alcohol burner.

The problem was that so much heat was being wasted because soda can is small and the heater element is big.

Adult supervision and safe experiment area is required in addition to safety goggles.

 Hear we used a propane torch as a heat source. wire screen was necessary hear to distribute the flame and heat.

Adult supervision and safe experiment area is required in addition to safety goggles.

Improvised Distiller

Distillation devices may be made in many different ways. This diagram shows how you may use a cooking pot as a distillation device. The natural curve of an upside down pot lid will allow the condensed water drip at the center where you may place a small cup to collect distilled water. Cold water in the lid can accelerate condensation.

The small cup is placed on the top of a brick or ceramic pot to remain relatively cooler.

Experiment 2: Effect of impurity type on the color and taste of the distillate (This experiment is for testing the hypothesis 1)

Procedure: Use any form of distillation set that is available to you and repeat the distillation process with different aqueous (water based) liquids. Such liquids may include Cranberry juice, sea water, coke, any other soda drink, 1% vinegar. All the following conditions must be identical (constant) in the experiments you repeat.

  1. The distillation time (Example: 1 hour)
  2. The amount of heat
  3. The amount of liquid (Example: 500 ml or 1000 ml)
  4. The size and design features of the distillation apparatus. 

Measure and record the amount, the color and the taste of the distillate. Your results table may look like this:

Liquid Amount of distillate Color Taste
Cranberry juice 150 ml clear none
sea water
Soda Drink xx
1% vinegar

Materials and Equipment:


  • crushed ice
  • solution to be distilled–cranberry or apple juice, coke, orange soda, or colored aqueous solution


  • empty soda can–Pepsi, 7-Up, etc.
  • 4 to 8-oz clear glass jar with narrow opening at top larger jar or other container to hold jar above 4-In x 12-in piece of aluminum foil
  • Bunsen or alcohol burner
  • ring stand
  • iron rings wire screen

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.



Summery 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.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Review the processes of evaporation and condensation. Think about the principles which allow distillation to be used as an effective purification tool (i.e., contaminants must be non-volatile). Be sure to compare the color of the starting material with that of the distillate.

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.

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.