Acids and alkalis are substances that can be found in the science laboratory and at home all around us. We can make a very easy red cabbage indicator to find out whether a substance is an acid or alkali.
Acids can be found in the food we eat, in our body and around the home. Some acids, especially those found in cleaning products can be very harmful so take care around them and always read their hazard labels.
Alkali’s are another group of chemicals that react with acids. Substances such as soap are alkalis and bicarbonate of soda which we use in baking but also harmful things like bleach.
How to make a red cabbage indicator
We use a substance called an indicator to test the pH of a substance. An indicator will change colour in the presence of an acid or alkali.
You can make an indicator using red cabbage.
- A grater or blender
- Red cabbage
- Hot water
- A saucepan
- A sieve
- Cups or small containers
- Different substances to test (I use bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and water but you could try any other substance in the home as long as supervised and act with caution) Wearing latex gloves and goggles are good safety practices when using chemicals.
1. Grate or blend the cabbage.
2. Tip into a saucepan and pour over boiling water from the kettle.
3. Heat until simmering and leave for 10 minutes.
4. Sieve the water and cabbage into a jug – you will notice that the cabbage liquid is very purple in colour.
5. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes and the indicator is ready to use.
6. Add a small amount of each test substance to a separate cup or container, try to keep the amount of test substance the same.
7. Use a pipette to drop about 20ml of red cabbage indictor into each cup and record the colour the indicator changes to.
Wear safety goggles if using strong acids/bases.
An adult should help with the chopping and heating of the cabbage.
In this case of red cabbage indicator the colour will change from purple to red if it is an acid and from purple to green if it is an alkali. The different shades of colour will depend on the strength of the acid or alkali. If there is no colour change the substance is said to be neutral.
Why does this work?
Acid and bases are opposites, acids have a low pH and bases have a high pH.
Red cabbage contains a pigment called anthocyanin which is what changes colour.
- Make your own pH indicator strips by soaking filter paper in the red cabbage indicator and leave to dry. Once dry cut the filter paper into strips and dip into test substances. Try testing milk, fizzy drinks or soap. Can you predict their pH before testing?
- Try using beetroot juice instead of red cabbage, which works the best?
- You could also try blowing into the indicator. What happens?
The indicator should turn red, as the carbon dioxide we breathe out reacts with the water to form carbonic acid.