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Investigating Natural and Synthetic Indicators on Household Products

Rosemarie Needham
Kalynn Chapman

For the purpose of this experiment, we will be investigating properties of various

solutions to determine levels of acidity or basicity with the use of indicator solutions. Our
research question is to determine if a natural indicator is as accurate in determining pH as
synthetic universal indicators. For this experiment, colour pigment was extracted from Rosa ssp.
to represent a natural indicator and this was compared to online general consensus for pH
through using universal synthetic indicator results.

It is important to understand properties of acids, bases, and pH indicators before

completing this lab. A paper by the University of California (2014) discussed the essential
elements of acids and bases and determined that acids are substances that produce hydrogen
ions (H+) in solution, while bases produce hydroxide ions (OH-) in solution. He then went on to
explain that acids are proton donors, while bases are proton acceptors. Each acid has a
corresponding base and vice versa; these are called conjugate acids and bases. When an acid
loses a proton the species produced is the conjugate base and conversely, when a base gains a
proton the species produced is the conjugate acid (Sen, 1998).

pH measures the amount of hydrogen ions or hydronium ions within a solution. Most pH
indicators, like Rosa ssp., are slightly acidic and are used to detect the amount of each ion within
a solution (Ophardt, 2003). A colour change will occur depending on which ions (H+ or OH-) are
predominantly present within the solution. The colour change works by the dissociation of the
H+ ion from the indicator itself. The equation below shows the dissociation of the H+ ion of the
pH indicator (at equilibrium) (Escobar, Blosse, and Nakajima, 2014; Pennsylvania State
University, 2016).

Figure 1: Explanation of acid/base dissociation (Escobar et al., 2014; Pennsylvania State University, 2016)
The acid and its conjugate base have different colours (as illustrated in Figure 1). Keep
in mind that the equation provided is at equilibrium, so if you were to increase the acid
concentration (high pH, low concentration of H3O+) the equilibrium will shift towards the
products, and the equilibrium will have the color B. Inversely, if you increase the base
concentration (low pH, high concentration of H3O+) the equilibrium will shift towards the
reactants, thus the equilibrium will have the colour A (Escobar et al., 2014; Pennsylvania State
University, 2016).

In a solution, the concentration of hydrogen ions [H+] is referred to as acidity and the pH
is the calculated concentration of hydrogen ions. The negative log of the hydrogen ion
concentration is how we define pH and it is shown through the following calculation:

pH = - log[H+]

The pH of a solution is measured against a universal scale of acidity and basicity (see
Figure 2). Neutral pH is when a pH (pOH) of 7 is present, as is the case with water. Any
substance that has a pH determined to be less than 7, where the hydrogen concentration is greater
than the hydroxide concentration, is considered acidic (Sen, 1998). Conversely, any substance
that has a pH greater than 7, where the hydroxide concentration is greater than the hydrogen
concentration, is basic (Sen, 1998). Colour change as a result of adding indicator to a solution
occurs at a range of hydrogen ion concentrations and resultant colours displayed in Figure 2,
Universal pH Scale (Okoduwa, Mbora, Adu, & Adeyi, 2015). The pH scale is logarithmic, which
means that the difference in 1 pH unit is a difference of 10 times the acidity or basicity. For
example, if a solution has a pH of 3 it is 10 times more acidic than a solution with a pH of 4 and
1000 times more acidic than a solution with a pH of 7. Conversely, a solution with a pH of 11 is
10 times more basic than a solution with a pH of 10 and 100 times more basic than a solution
with a pH of 9 (Sen, 1998).

Figure 2 - Universal pH Scale. Note scale ranges from 0-14 with less than 7 representing more acidic solutions (higher H+ ion
concentration), 7 represents a neutral pH, and more than 7 representing basic solutions (higher OH- ion concentration) (Himme,
Traditionally, many universal synthetic indicators such as Phenolphthalein and Methyl
Red have been used to determine the pH of a solution in the laboratory. Unfortunately, these
indicators are only able to determine pH within a specific range and cannot represent all ranges
along the pH scale (Okoduwa et al., 2015). For example, Phenol Red appears yellow in solution
with a pH less than 6.7 and shades of red/pink in pH ranges of 6.8 - 8.2 therefore not giving a
clear representation of pH (Acids, Alkalis, and the pH Scale, 2015). For the purpose of this lab
data obtained was compared to research consensus for pH of various household solutions.

There are also many naturally occurring indicators in the environment around us which
are increasingly in demand to avoid the high cost, chemical pollution, and possible toxic effects
of synthetic indicators to the user (Okoduwa et al. 2015). Pigments can be isolated from a
number of sources including flowers, fruits, and vegetables which contain chemical substances
that change colour in solutions of varying pH. Rosa ssp. also known as the common red rose, is
usually slightly acidic or alkaline in nature and will change colour when combined with a
solution with an opposite pH (Okoduwa et al. 2015). Rosa ssp. contains the chemical compound
anthocyanin, which is a water-soluble pigment derived from flavonoids (Acids, Alkalis, and the
pH Scale, 2015). Anthocyanins contribute to the colouration of red, purple, and blue colours in
flowers and therefore are located in the outer cell layers of leaves, stems, and roots. This natural
indicator changes to an orange/red colour in acidic solutions (pH of 3 or lower), purple/green in
mild alkaline solutions, and yellow in strong alkaline solutions (Vankar, 2010).

For the present experiment, we will be determining the effectiveness of a natural

indicator, Rosa ssp. in determining pH compared to data from universal synthetic indicators, on
commonly used household products. For the purpose of this experiment the independent variable
will be represented by the household products used in each trail. The independent variables
tested include vinegar, baking soda, Palmolive dish soap, egg whites, sprite, 3-D Multi-care oral
rinse, tums, lemon juice and Clorox bleach. In turn, the dependent variable will be represented
by the colour and pH of solution achieved when Rosa ssp. indicator is added. We will determine
how accurate naturally existing Rosa ssp. determines pH in comparison to a universal indicator
through using a standard pH scale with nine household solutions. Variables in this study that will
remain constant to prevent error include: the temperature of test solutions will remain at room
temperature, test solutions will be mixed with distilled water (if applicable), water picks will all
be the same size and material, and the same size and type of utensil will be used for measuring
liquid amounts. Finally, our control variable was represented by a water pick filled with natural
pH indicator, Rose ssp. in order to compare data to a baseline. Through this experiment we
predict that Rosa ssp. indicator will accurately indicate a solutions level of pH when compared to
researched synthetic pH values within 2.0 points of researched values.


In our study of the effects of natural and synthetic pH indicators on household products,
we believe that our natural indicator, Rosa ssp., will provide a more accurate pH reading for a
large range of household products than a synthetic indicator. For the purpose of this study it is
hypothesized if Rosa ssp. indicator is added to a solution, then it will accurately indicate the
solutions level of acidity or alkalinity within 2.0 points of researched values.
- 4 L distilled Water - 1 tablespoon
- Thermometer - Phenol Red solution
- 3-5 roses (Growers Direct Flowers, Thunder - Clear tape
Bay) - Small cooking pot
- Strainer - Safety goggles
- 5 mL Lemon Juice - Plastic gloves
- 2 Tums capsule - 1.0 mL dropper
- 5 mL Natural Vinegar - 5 ml syringe
- 5 mL Palmolive Dish Soap - Green Apple - Kitchen stove
- 1 egg - Stirring utensil
- 5 mL Baking Soda - Stir sticks
- 5 mL Clorox Bleach - Scissors
- 5 mL can of Sprite - 3 small bowls
- 1 measuring cup (250 mL) - Paper towel
- 10 water picks - Markers
Safety Precautions:
Please use caution when dealing with chemicals that can irritate skin and eyes. Do not
taste or ingest chemicals. Wear goggles and chemical-resistant gloves when handling solutions.


For this experiment, flower petals of Rosa ssp. were obtained from Growers Direct
Flowers, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to represent a natural indicator.

Begin by removing petals from three to five roses and place them into a small cooking
pot until 75 average size petals are attained. Using a measuring cup add 250 mL of 25
distilled water to the pot with the rose petals and place over an element on the stove, bringing it
to a boil. When boiling is attained, reduce heat to medium temperature of 80 monitoring with
a thermometer. Start a timer for 10 minutes, constantly stirring mixture with a stirring utensil.
After ten minutes, carefully remove the pot from the element, leaving the thermometer in the
solution. Allow the solution to cool to 25 which should take approximately one hour. As you
are waiting for the natural pH indicator to cool, begin to prepare test solutions for analysis. Be
sure to properly clean measuring utensils (bowls, syringe, spoons) between various test solutions
using hot water and paper towel before use. This method was modified from Natural Indicators
and Household Substances (2016).

Use a small bowl, 5 mL syringe, a water pick, clear tape and a marker to collect and label
each test solution for analysis. Isolate a small amount of each solution from the original
container into a bowl for collection, to eliminate cross-contamination. Dispose any leftover
solution down the sink - DO NOT return it to the original packaging. See Table 1 for preparation
techniques of each solution. Place 5 mL of each solution into a water pick using a 5mL syringe.
Tape the water pick to a wall with a white backdrop and label the test solution on the backdrop
above the solution. Fill one water pick with Rose ssp. indicator solution, this will act as the
control for this experiment. There should be 10 water picks (1 control, and 9 test solutions) total
when complete.

Test a number of different household products with Rosa ssp. indicator. Household
solutions will include: vinegar, baking soda, Palmolive dish soap, egg whites, sprite, 3D Multi-
care whitening oral rinse, tums, lemon juice and Clorox bleach.

Table 1 - Preparation of Individual Test Solutions

Test Solution: Indicator Solution Preparation:

1. Vinegar Collect 5 mL of pure vinegar using a 5 mL syringe.

2. Baking Soda Using a teaspoon, gather 5 mL of pure baking soda and place into a small
bowl. Measure 10 mL of distilled water using a 5 mL syringe and pour into
the bowl with baking soda. Mix the water and baking soda for 30 seconds
using teaspoon.

3. Palmolive Dish Soap Green Apple Using a teaspoon, gather 5 mL of dish soap and mix with 10 mL of distilled
water gathered using a 5 mL syringe in a small bowl. Stir solution with a
teaspoon for 30 seconds.

4. Egg Whites Crack open an egg and separate the egg yolk from the egg whites. To do
this, have two separate bowls available and crack the egg. Slowly and
gently shift the yolk from one half of the egg shell to the other over a bowl,
being careful not to break the yolk. The egg whites will separate out and
fall into one of the bowls. After you have repeated this a few times, you
will end up with just the egg yolk within the shell. Place the remaining egg
yolk into the second bowl and place to the side. Gather 5 mL of egg whites
using the 5 mL syringe.

5. Sprite Gather 5 mL of sprite using the 5mL syringe.

6. 3D White Multi-Care Whitening Oral Gather 5 mL of 3D White Multi-Care Whitening Oral Rinse using the 5 mL
Rinse syringe.

7. Tums Crush one Tums tablet between two spoons into 10 mL of distilled water
(gathered using the 5 mL syringe) and dissolve through mixing with a
teaspoon. Gather 5 mL of the solution using a 5mL syringe.

8. Lemon Juice Gather 5 mL of lemon juice using a 5 mL syringe.

9. Clorox bleach Gather 5 mL of Clorox bleach using a 5 mL syringe.

Once all solutions are prepared add 3 mL of the rose petal indicator solution to each test
solutions. Mix the solutions thoroughly using a stir stick. Record observations in Table 2 using
the below pH scale for reference. Researched pH was determined through online sources. See
Figure 3 - Universal pH Scale (Lab 12 pH of Items. (n.d.))


The image below was attained after each solution had received 3 mL of natural Rose ssp.
indicator solution and mixing. Data in the table below is representative of these observations.

Figure 4 Control and test solutions post natural indicator application.

Table 2 - Observations from Rosa ssp. indicator with various household products. Observations were conducted before and after
addition of solution. Researched pH included. Researched pH was determined through online sources. See Appendix.

Test Solution Observations Before Rosa ssp. Indicator Researched pH Difference

Observations Estimated
After pH

Clear, transparent liquid, Deep red, 1.5 3 - 1.5

Vinegar strong odor translucent
White solution, opaque Strong purple, 8.5 9 - 0.5
Baking Soda (in transparent

Palmolive Dish Viscous, translucent, green Lighter purple, 8.0 12

Soap- Green Apple tinge opaque - 4.0

Translucent, viscous solution Dark purple/green, 9.0 8

Egg Whites opaque +1.0

Clear, transparent liquid Deep red, 1.5 4 - 2.5

Sprite translucent

3D White Multi- Clear, transparent liquid Light pink colour, 6.5 5.4 +1.1
Care Whitening transparent
Oral Rinse (mouth

White solution, opaque Opaque, purple- 7.5 10 - 2.5

Tums (Antacid) pink

Light yellow coloured, Opaque, 1.5 2 - 0.5

Lemon juice translucent liquid pink/orange

Clear, transparent liquid, Light yellow colour, 12.0 13 - 1.0

Clorox Bleach strong odor transparent

The baking soda, egg whites, mouth wash, lemon juice, bleach showed a difference of
0.5-0.1 from estimated pH using the natural indicator to researched pH. Dish soap, Spite, Tums
solution showed a difference of 2.0 or more pH points.


Traditionally, synthetic indicators such as Phenolphthalein and Phenol Red are utilized in
the laboratory to determine pH values within a certain range. For example, Phenol Red appears
yellow in solution with a pH less than 6.7 and shades of red/pink in pH ranges of 6.8 - 8.2
therefore not giving a clear representation of pH (Acids, Alkalis, and the pH Scale, 2015). It was
determined in this experiment that Rosa ssp. acts as a universal natural indicator as it was able to
accurately determine values across the full pH scale. Although we were able to utilize this
indicator for both acidic and basic household solutions the accuracy of the numbers attained are
dependent upon the subject determination of colour, thus leaving room for error. For the purpose
of this experiment, accuracy for pH values were acceptable if within +/- 2.0 points from
researched values. If more precise measurements for pH are required, then it is suggested that
other methods for determining pH should be used. For instance, a pH meter will attain precise
results and can be used to eliminate subject choice (determination) of colour (Acid-Base
Indicators, 2016).

Our results identified differences ranging from 0.5 to 4.0 with Rosa ssp. indicator
solution on the nine test solutions. Keeping in mind that the pH scale is logarithmic, any
differences observed could be quite significant in value. Recall, a solution with a pH of 11 is 10
times more basic than a solution with a pH of 10 and 100 times more basic than a solution with a
pH of 9 (Sen, 1998). The baking soda, egg whites, mouth wash, lemon juice, and bleach showed
a difference of 0.5 to 0.1 from estimated pH values using the natural indicator to researched pH.
For the purpose of this experiment these values are considered accurate as they are less than 2.0
points of deviation from researched values. Dish soap, Spite, and Tums solution showed a
difference of 2.5 or more pH points compared to researched values. Dish soap and Tums solution
could have resulted in pH error as a result of poorly mixed solution before and during indicator
application. Dish soap was viscous in nature which may have prevented proper mixing while the
Tums solution may not have dissolved fully in solution before indicator was applied and pH
recorded. The dish soap had the greatest amount of discrepancy between the pH value observed
to the researched value obtained (difference of 4.0). Another factor that could have had an
impact on the results observed for the dish soap was its green colour, which could have skewed
the results.

This experiment posed areas for error that may have altered results. Should this
experiment be completed again modifications to the following would be of consideration. Using
a larger sample size in order to see a more pronounced change in solution colour may have been
useful when estimating pH. Use a clear colored dish soap to eliminate the possibility of the
colour impacting the results. Furthermore, when creating the Rosa ssp. solution, the use of dried
versus fresh flowers could have made a difference in the colour/strength of the indicator solution.
The additives used to keep flowers fresh and hydrated could have impacted the results of our
tests when using Rosa ssp., as a natural pH indicator. It was determined that four separate
products are used in the transportation and display of the flowers within the shop. The four
solutions include Easy Dip Professional 1, Transport and Display Classic Professional 2, Vase
Solution Professional 3, and Clear Crowning Glory Solution, respectively. The solutions are
used by the shop to improve the health and vibrancy of the flowers for sale. Table 3 outlines the
application and use of each product.

Table 3: Additives used on fresh cut flowers to improve their overall health and life expectancy (Growers Direct
Flowers, 2017).

Product Product Details

Easy Dip Professional 1 Easy Dip is a hydrating stimulant applied directly to flowers to open up
Chrysal the vessels of the stems. It improves the absorption of water and
additional Chrysal conditioners to obtain maximum freshness of the
flowers throughout the floral handling process. It promotes longer lasting
healthier flowers for customer enjoyment.

Transport and Display Classic Transport and Display Classic promotes the absorption of water and
Professional 2 provides the correct amount of food during transport and sales period. It
Chrysal prevents premature flowering. This product lowers the pH, dissolved in
clear water and is odorless.
Vase solution Professional 3 Vase solution is a liquid food used to keep flowers in optimal condition,
Chrysal promote flower development and bud opening in immature flowers, and
guarantee customer satisfaction. This product lowers the pH, dissolved
in clear water and is odorless.

Clear Crowning Glory Solution Clear Crowning Glory Solution is used to keep designed vase or foam
FloraLife arrangements fresher. It is a spray on liquid shield for cut flowers,
foliage greens, and both needle and broadleaf evergreens. Used to
reduce water loss to maximize the flowers beauty and customer

These products could have altered the natural pH of the Rosa ssp., which would have
negatively impacted the effectiveness of the Rosa ssp. indicator solution to accurately determine
the pH of household products. Results of this lab could also have been altered due to human
error. This includes measuring liquid amounts as well as cross contamination from using a single
utensil with various solutions. Although we did try to prevent cross contamination by thoroughly
washing and drying utensils before use, there still could have been trace amounts of another test
solution on the utensil therefore altering data. For the egg white test, it was difficult to mix this
solution due to the high viscosity of the solution. It would be a consideration in the future to
water down this solution in order to be able to achieve a stronger colour change when indicator is
added. Furthermore, it would be useful to not have solutions taped to a stationary object as this
posed a problem for stirring solutions accurately when indicator was added. This may have
resulted in improper colour appearance. Finally, it would be useful in the future to design a
universal pH scale that is accurate in representing colours attain from Rosa ssp. indicator. This
could help to decrease error when comparing solution colour to pH.

After completing this experiment our observations suggest that Rosa ssp. indicator was
accurate in measuring pH of our tested household solutions within 2.0 points of deviation when
compared to researched pH. The results of the study therefore support our hypothesis that Rosa
ssp. will accurately indicate a solutions level of acidity. Implications in the future include using
natural indicator in laboratories as an alternative to synthetic formulas. Furthermore, a large
benefit of using Rosa ssp. indicator as appose to common synthetic formulas such as
Phenolphthalein or Phenyl Red, is a result of its ability to read a large range of pH values. As
mentioned previously, synthetic formulas often read within a short range of the pH scale. Rosa
ssp. indicator could be a cheaper, readily available, less toxic and environmentally friendly
option in the future (Okoduwa et al. 2015).

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C - Researched pH values for soapy water and bleach

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