Not Sure What I Did Wrong

One of the Two-Minute Drills that I organized for my class on Monday evening involved a demonstration using water, food coloring, and bleach. You fill a clear glass with water (about half full), add a drop or two of food color to represent sin, stir, and then add bleach to make the color disappear, representing the effect of God’s grace. Many catechists and Sunday school teachers use this demonstration to show how grace dispels sin. Here are some examples:

I could swear that I’d done this demonstration before and the water immediately became clear after I poured in the bleach…but maybe I’m dreaming! I tried this at home before class on Monday and the bleach only made the colored water lighter and very slowly made the water clear.  I tried various food colors: red, green, even black, but they all worked (or didn’t work) the exact same way. The same thing occurred in class…it was very un-dramatic.

I’m not sure if I did something wrong or if I’m thinking of some other demonstration that has a more immediate and dramatic effect. Any thoughts or suggestions?

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. I use this with my reconciliation prep kids – with the verse from Isaiah – ‘your sins are scarlet and I will make them white as snow.’

    Two things: ratio is really important. The smallest drop of food coloring you can imagine. (A little goes a long way.)

    Second, the largest amount of bleach you can use. I try to make it at least fifty-fifty water to bleach. I use a large clear bowl, so one tumbler of water, a tiny drop of food coloring and a tumbler of bleach.

    However, it doesn’t get clear instantly. It is sort of pinkish and then clears. At least for me.


  2. I found that I needed to use a drop of the coloring and about two ounces of bleach to make it work. I also stirred the solution and it cleared up with 3o seconds and became clearer as it stood.

  3. I haven’t ever tried to dramatize this in class, but I love props. Offhand this seems like an intuitive way to do it….I haven’t come up with anything else after reflecting for nearly 30 seconds!

  4. We’ve done this several times for penance services. I agree with lots of bleach to minimal food coloring – in addition – when it hasn’t worked as quickly as we’d like our pastor relates that sometimes it takes a little while for grace to work in our lives – because we have to let it! And beware of reds – that takes the longest to clear up

  5. I did something similar for a Vacation Bible school a few years back but used an Oxciclean solution instead of bleach. It gave that instant color change you might be looking for.

  6. It works instantly if you use drops of iodine instead of food coloring. I had the same experience of the food coloring taking a while to change – and never quite getting truly clear. The iodine, however, works instantly and is much more effective.

      • Tried this today with the beach & iodine. Took a while to perfect! Colorless iodine & bleach actually turn the water black! It’s all about the ratios; less iodine more bleach.

        • I did this today twice. First time it worked well but second time I had more of iodine which took long time when mixed with bleach.

  7. A similar illustration (technically referred to as turning “water into wine”) achieves an instant change from clear to red, then back to clear. Go to It requires two basic chemicals that you might have to order online, but they’re available at for under $4 each, and will last for quite a while. This illustration connects most obviously to Jesus changing water to wine, but can also be tied to forgiveness of sins.

    • Leonard, as Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating!” Before long I’ll be wearing a lab coat when teaching religious ed! 🙂

  8. Joe: I buy disappearing ink! I also write the steps of reconciliation on large card stock (Contrition, Confession, Absolution, Penance), the last card is God’s Forgiveness. My kids are to stand on Contrition and recognize their sins and name a few (I disobeyed my parents…) as I drop in the ink for each sin. They can see their sins in the cup. I do this quickly because I don’t want the ink to disappear to fast! Then I cover the clear class cup with a cloth because we can’t actually see our sins just it’s effects. Then they walk through the steps and when they get to the God’s Forgiveness card the cloth is removed and the water is clear. They love it!!

  9. We’re on the third day of VBS (Go Fish program). Am doing the lesson demo re forgiveness. Put 10 drops iodine tincture (representing the 10 commandments and our failure to follow) into 4 cups water. Water became a little yellowish – murky. Then poured 1/2 cup bleach into the murky water. The water turned inky black ! Since the idea was for the water to ‘come clean’, representing God’s forgiveness, this would not have worked. Thank God I was at our kitchen table and not in the front of class ! Ouch. Am working with your other ideas with food coloring and so on. Thanks !! (I’ve got about 6 hours befor the lesson, so plenty of time to get it right, huh ????!!!!)

  10. what I eneded up doing is a little more labor intensive, and requires a little more discipline on the part of the kids, but it ended up being a clear and quick demo of the concept of forgiveness. Now that I think about it, you probably could adopt this to other lessons. Anyway – this is what I did: 1) With grey chalk,draw cross on plain white paper towel , place clear glass bowl on paper towel so that
    cross shows through bottom of bowl. I did this on food tray on floor so kids coul look though bowl and clear water and see cross under neath.. 2)(this is where the discipline comes in) – have kids gather round on floor so they can see the cross trought water under bowl. 3) add 4-5 drops of red food coloring and mix – explained this as original sin – we can still sort of see the cross , but its ‘cloudy’ 4) add 4-5 drops of green food coloring to reddish water , one drop as a sin is mentioned by one of the kids. The drop will swirl and ‘blacken’ the water but will discipate slowly enough to talk about how its getting harder to see the cross. After 4-5 drops swirl into red water, mix water well. Cross will not be visible throuh blackness of water, like our sins completely blocked our view of the cross. 5)Use a 1 C Pyrex measuring ‘glass’ for this step. Have a mix of 1/4 C vinegar and 3/4 C bleach ready in 1 C measuring cup with spout. As you pour this mixture into the black water, talk about forgiveness because Jesus died on the cross so we could see Him and God once againg. Water will clear almost immediately. Cross becomes visible again. Did this on a food tray on the floor so kids could look throught bowl and see cross. Worked well, and was quick enough for us to stay on schedule. PTL ! Things went well.

    • John, you’re a real trooper for seeing this through…thanks for sharing your results and your “recipe” with us!

  11. Your Welcome. Sorry about the ‘long windedness’ of my comment. Comes from doing task analysis in special ed settings.
    Ttfn, God bless, and de colores !!!!!!!!!!!!! IHL, John Reinhart

    PS: A part of this VBS was for kids to learn how to locate verses in the bible. Location of books, etc. Time really didn’t allow for this. And then the bibles the kids were using were NOT kid oriented re size of letters, clear labeling
    of books , chapters and verses . I’m thinking that when kids are expected to find verses etc. in such a short time, that all this needs to be taken into account
    long BEFORE VBS. Others wise we loose the message to mechanics.

    • John, isn’t it amazing how many “minor” details are involved in making sure that things go effectively?

  12. ADD VINEGAR TO THE WATER WITH THE FOOD COLORING FIRST!!!! I spent half a Sunday trying to figure this out because I’d seen it before too, and it didn’t work over and over with bleach, at least not quickly like you said, but the vinegar made magic I tell you! I found the suggestion on Maybe somehow it could represent how Christ is necessary for repentance to work, that you can’t become clean again without the power of His atonement!!

  13. Use a mason jar and fill it about a quarter full of water. Add your food coloring drops as needed. then use another mason jar (these work the best because you can put lids on them and have them pre prepared for the lesson) about 1/2 to 3/4 full of a mixture of bleach and white distilled vinegar. Stir with a spoon. It disappears within seconds. I don’t remember the combination of vinegar and bleach but I don’t ever remember it being too specific – half half maybe.

  14. I was having the same problem – just a side note – some one said to add vinegar. While this will help speed the process, those two chemicals combined make a toxic gas! No object lesson is worth it!

  15. Hello! I found your page by googling for easter ideas. This is a way of doing it: Fill a glass of water, and pour half of it into another glass. Stirr 2-3 teaspoons of sodium thiosulphate into one of the glasses. Add approximately one third bottle with 2% iodine alcohol into the other glass. The content then becomes brown. Compare with sin and Jesus as the clear water. Pour the “dirty” water up in the clean and everything becomes clean.

  16. Hey guys. I have tried this several times but can’t get it to work. What type of iodine do I need? And when you say bleach, are you referring to hydrogen peroxide, and if so what strength. Any help would be very useful. Really hoping to do this on easter Sunday with my Sunday school class. Thanks

    • Hi Andrew. I recommend that you read through the entire thread of comments above…some folks seem to have figured it out!

  17. Try using iodine. it sometimes works for me when I used it in sessions at camp. I never had problems with it and never use color dye because it never seems to work for me. sorry this is a late comment I just saw your thing.hope you use this solution in your next session.

    • kind of feel stupid now just saw your above comments you want to use the strongest type of iodine. and you want to use the bleach you would use to wash some clothing.

    USE BAKING SODA. It will make bleach clear up the food coloring. No vinegar, iodine, etc. needed. It may slightly cloud the water, but the reaction is notably faster with a quick stir. Add it to any, preferrably all of the liquids in use. The more you use tge faster the reaction.
    It’s a catalyst: makes chemical reactions faster. If your liquid doesn’t clear up in 15 seconds with stirring add more soda and a little more bleach to your solution.

  19. when you add bleach into water with coloring food, it mixes and fades.
    Why doens’t food coloring mix when we add it to water with bleach on it?

  20. I did the experiment according to the bleach/vinegar method without knowing that this creates chlorine gas and now my lungs have steadily been acting up since yesterday (when I did the experiment). It feels like I got full on bronchitis in a matter of 12 hours. DO NOT MIX BLEACH AND VINEGAR. You can do a better job with Water, Iodine and Sodium Sulphate and it’s much safer since it does not release chlorine gas. Also, you should especially not do this while kids hover their heads over the bowls.

  21. When I did this, I changed it up with great success. I had 3 beakers and one was marked you, one was marked Jesus and one was marked the world. Each beaker had what appeared to be clear water. I explained how you (and I) are born in sin and poured red food coloring into the beaker marked you and how you and I are continually adding to our sin til I had a decently dark shade of red. I explained how Jesus died for our sins and when we believe our sins are removed and cited how we all need Jesus. I poured Jesus into you and the water instantly became clear. But I also explained that Jesus didn’t die just for you, but the whole world and poured some into the world (which was a deep red color) and it instantly cleared. The secret? Jesus had a tablespoon of Iron Out in the water (undetectable by sight or smell). You must dispose of this immediately as Iron Out is toxic.

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