How to Do the Blue Bottle Chemistry Demonstration

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How to Do the Blue Bottle Chemistry Demonstration

Turn a blue solution into a clear solution then back to blue.
Turn a blue solution into a clear solution then back to blue. GIPhotoStock / Getty Images

In this chemistry demonstration, a blue solution gradually becomes clear. When the flask of liquid is swirled around, the solution becomes blue again. Instructions are given for performing the reaction, the chemistry is explained, and options for making red -> clear -> red and green -> red/yellow -> green color change reactions are explained. The blue bottle reaction is easy to perform and uses readily-available materials.

Blue Bottle Demo Materials

  • tap water
  • two 1-liter Erlenmeyer flasks, with stoppers
  • 7.5 g glucose (2.5 g for one flask; 5 g for the other flask)
  • 7.5 g sodium hydroxide NaOH (2.5 g for one flask; 5 g for the other flask)
  • 0.1% solution of methylene blue (1 ml for each flask)

Let's perform the demonstration...

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How to Do the Blue Bottle Chemistry Demonstration - Procedure

The blue bottle demonstration is more interesting if you prepare two sets of solutions.
The blue bottle demonstration is more interesting if you prepare two sets of solutions. Sean Russel / Getty Images

Blue Bottle Color Change Procedure

  1. Half-fill two one-liter Erlenmeyer flasks with tap water.
  2. Dissolve 2.5 g of glucose in one of the flask (flask A) and 5 g of glucose in the other flask (flask B).
  3. Dissolve 2.5 g of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) in flask A and 5 g of NaOH in flask B.
  4. Add ~1 ml of 0.1% methylene blue to each flask.
  5. Stopper the flasks and shake them to dissolve the dye. The resulting solution will be blue.
  6. Set the flasks aside (this is a good time to explain the chemistry of the demonstration). The liquid will gradually become colorless as glucose is oxidized by the dissolved dioxygen. The effect of concentration on reaction rate should be obvious. The flask with twice the concentration uses the dissolved oxygen in about half the time as the other solution. A thin blue boundary can be expected to remain at the solution-air interface since oxygen remains available via diffusion.
  7. The blue color of the solutions can be restored by swirling or shaking the contents of the flask.
  8. The reaction can be repeated several times.

Safety & Clean-Up

Avoid skin contact with the solutions, which contain caustic chemicals. The reaction neutralizes the solution, which can be disposed of by pouring it down the drain.

Learn how it works...

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Blue Bottle Chemistry Demonstration - Chemical Reactions

The rate of color change of the blue bottle demonstration depends on concentration and exposure to air.
The rate of color change of the blue bottle demonstration depends on concentration and exposure to air. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

How the Blue Bottle Reaction Works

In this reaction, glucose (an aldehyde) in an alkaline solution is slowly oxidized by dioxygen to form gluconic acid:

CH2OH–CHOH–CHOH–CHOH–CHOH–CHO + 1/2 O2 --> CH2OH–CHOH–CHOH–CHOH–CHOH–COOH

Gluconic acid is converted to sodium gluconate in the presence of sodium hydroxide. Methylene blue speeds up this reaction by acting as an oxygen transfer agent. By oxidizing glucose, methylene blue is itself reduced (forming leucomethylene blue), and becomes colorless.

If there is a sufficient available oxygen (from air), leucomethylene blue is re-oxidized and the blue color of solution can be restored. Upon standing, glucose reduces the methylene blue dye and the color of the solution disappears. In dilute solutions the reaction takes place at 40-60°C, or at room temperature (described here) for more concentrated solutions.

Try other colors...

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Blue Bottle Chemistry Demonstration - Other Colors

The indigo carmine reactions is a red to clear to red color change chemistry demonstration.
The indigo carmine reactions is a red to clear to red color change chemistry demonstration. Pulse / Getty Images

In addition to the blue -> clear -> blue of the methylene blue reaction, other indicators may be used for different color-change reactions. For example, resazurin (7-hydroxy-3H-phenoxazin-3-one-10-oxide, sodium salt) produces a red -> clear -> red reaction when substituted for methylene blue in the demonstration. The indigo carmine reaction is even more eye-catching, with its green -> red/yellow -> green color change.

How to Perform the Indigo Carmine Color Change Reaction

  1. Prepare a 750 ml aqueous solution with 15 g glucose (solution A) and a 250 ml aqueous solution with 7.5 g sodium hydroxide (solution B).
  2. Warm solution A to body temperature (~98-100°F). Warming the solution is important.
  3. Add a 'pinch' of indigo carmine, the disodium salt of indigo-5,5’-disulphonic acid, to solution A. You want a quantity sufficient to make solution A visibly blue.
  4. Pour solution B into solution A. This will change the color from blue -> green. Over time, this color will change from green -> red/golden yellow.
  5. Pour this solution into an empty beaker, from a height of ~60 cm. Vigorous pouring from a height is essential in order to dissolve dioxygen from the air into the solution. This should return the color to green.
  6. Once again, the color will return to red/golden yellow. The demonstration may be repeated several times.