The Chemistry of Soap Bubbles


Who hasn’t spent a summer day trailing behind floating spheres of rainbow colors with the intention of bursting them before they inch out of reach? Hanging out with friends competing to see who can create the biggest bubble? It would be hard to find anyone, young or old, who hasn’t spent hours playing with one of the oldest and simplest of all toys… Soap bubbles!! Soap bubbles are not just for play, though. They are used in the arts to enhance various performances. They are studied in mathematics and physics, used to promote muscle development in speech therapy, and even studied in Chemistry! I have always been fascinated with soap bubbles and that is why I chose to learn more about the chemistry of soap bubbles.

Composition of ...

    • Soap
    • Water (H2O)
    • Glycerin (C3H5(OH)3 )

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Liquid Soap (Dawn): Dawn dish soap has multiple ingredients. The ingredients are: water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Lauramine Oxide, Alcohol Denat, Sodium Chloride, PPG-26, PEG-8 Propylheptyl Ether, PEU-14 PEG-10/PPG-7 Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Triclosan, Methylisothiazolinone, and Fragrance. Soap is used as a solvent, cleaning agent, and antibacterial agent.

Water (H2O): is composed of Hydrogen and Oxygen. Water has many uses and surrounds us everyday. It is a necessity of life.

Glycerin (C3H5(OH)3): Glycerin is composed of carbon, hydrogen, and hydroxide. Glycerin is sweet and nontoxic. It is used in food as a sweetener or as a food preservative. Glycerin is also used in pharmaceuticals and antifreeze. In bubbles it is used to strengthen them and help them last longer.

Chemistry's Role

Soap molecules consist of chains of atoms of carbon and hydrogen. The chain itself is non polar however, the two ends of the chain of the soap molecules are different. One end of the chain is hydrophobic which means that it dislikes or repels water. The other end of the chain is hydrophilic which means that it is attracted to water. When the hydrophobic end nears water it is repelled from it the same way that oil and water do not mix. The hydrophilic end on the other hand mixes with water.

When soap molecules are added to water they form clusters. The clusters of the soap molecules are called micelles. When these clusters are formed the hydrophobic ends are in the middle of the cluster with the hydrophilic ends surrounding them. The micelles then move to where their polar ends are in the water and the nonpolar ends are located on the surface of the water. This arrangement results in lower surface tension on the surface of the water and this lower tension allows the surface to have more elastic properties. When a bubble wand is dipped into soapy water it breaks the surface tension. As the wand is removed from the water, the top layer of the soapy water is transferred to wand. This film is what you blow into to make a bubble. The bubble film is made up of two soap molecules with a water molecule in between them. In the film the hydrophobic ends of the soap molecules go to the surface to avoid water. This causes a separation from the water molecules. The water molecules then spread out, which lowers the surface tension. The lowering of the surface tension is what allows the bubbles to form. Glycerin is often added to bubble solutions to help the bubbles last longer and be stronger. Glycerin does this by making the bonds stronger so that they can stretch out farther.

Background Research

Soap bubbles are often made in factories for large distribution, but soap bubbles can also be made at home. Bubbles are made by water, soap, and glycerin. It is easy to make bubble solution all you gotta do is combine the three and stir. Then to make a bubble you take a wand which can be plastic or just a wire that is bent to form a circle and dip it into the solution. Once the wand is covered with the film, that is when a bubble can be blown.


Talks about the background of bubbles and what all uses are. Like fun, school, and even science.

Used for entertainment. Like performances, art, play, and in education.

Used studies for mathematics and physics.

This talks about how bubbles are made and how they combine, and solutions.

When bubbles meet tcurl -s | shhey merge together.

Glycerin= C3H5(OH)3

Bubble solution is made up of water, soap, and glycerin

This talks about the forming of bubbles and goes deep into the past of bubbles.

the film of a bubble is a layer of water between two soap molecules.

bubbles are the shape they are in order to reduce the energy of the film of soap.

bubbles have became more popular since the 18th century.

details of percentages of ingredients in bubbles, and the best recipe for bubbles.

Has good figure of soap molecule

In a recipe for bubbles: soap/detergent, glycerin, and water.

Water makes up usually makes up over 90% of bubbles, Glycerin and Soap both make up about 5% each.

Increasing Glycerin and Soap in small amounts makes bubbles stronger.

Different pages of how about different parts of soap bubbles.

hydrophobic= dislike water

hydrophilic=like water

bubbles always share with each other, in a combining way.

smaller bubbles always have a higher internal pressure, so they will go into larger bubbles.

The chemistry of soaps and detergents.

Talks about how and what soap is made of.

history of glycerin

about glycerin

ingredients of Dawn dish soap

functions of Dawn

About the Author

Karlee Steen is a senior at Billings Senior High School. After graduating, Karlee plans to attend Gallatin College. She is pursuing a degree in Interior Design. Karlee was a varsity swimmer for three years. Karlee is graduating with honors.