Swirling Milk Experiment

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Classic ‘Swirling Milk’ or ‘Magic Milk’ demonstration – fun science kids love!

Magic Milk - Dish soap and milk fat reaction

What I love about this Swirling Milk (or magic milk) experiment is that it takes only minutes to set up, and it uses everyday items that you probably already have at home. It’s a fun and easy experiment for both toddlers and preschoolers, and you if you like, you can introduce colour mixing concepts to extend it for school-aged kids too.

Magic swirling milk reaction - fun science kids love

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To do the Swirling Milk experiment, you need:

  • Full cream milk (full fat milk)
  • Dishwashing liquid (washing-up liquid or dish soap)
  • Liquid Food colour
  • Shallow bowl
  • Small bowl
  • Paint brush (optional)
  • Pipettes (optional)

What you need to do the Swirling Milk experiment

Classic swirling magic milk reaction

What to do


1. Pour a small amount of dishwashing liquid into the small bowl. Pour milk into a larger shallow bowl, until about 1cm deep.

2. Add small drops of food colouring to the milk.
This is easier if you have pipettes or food colouring with droppers – that way kids can help. It’s fun and great for fine motor skills. 🙂

3. Dab a drop of dishwashing liquid to the colourful areas of the milk, and watch the milk swirl!
We used paint brushes to lightly dab on a drop of dishwashing liquid.

Look for two reactions. The first is the instantaneous repelling of the milk (and food colouring) away from where the dishwashing liquid drop initially touched. It’s like a growing white circle with a circumference of colour!

Swirling Milk

The second reaction is a beautiful swirling motion that you can see a few moments later. It looks like the milk and colours are dancing.

Making swirling milk with food colouring and dishsoap

If your milk stops swirling, try adding another touch of dishwashing liquid. You’ll probably be able to start the reaction all over again.

Classic magic milk science experiment

The science behind the Swirling Milk experiment

Milk contains water and fat (among other things). Dishwashing liquid is made up of micelle molecules that are in part hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-repelling).

When you add dishwashing liquid to milk, two things happen. Firstly it lowers the surface tension of the milk (making it easier for the food colouring to flow around). Secondly, the hydrophilic part of the detergent molecule dissolves in the milk ‘water’, whilst the hydrophobic part is attracted to the milk fat.

The ‘swirling milk’ effect is the race for the hydrophobic part of the dishwashing liquid to pair up with the fat globules in the milk, pushing aside everything else. The food colouring in itself doesn’t contribute to this process, but it allows us to see what is going on.

'Magic' swirling milk experiment

Suitable for

This is an easy science experiment for both toddlers and preschoolers. Bumble Bee was 2 years and 10 months old here, and she loved doing this activity (over and over again)! You can also extend the activity for kindergarteners, with colour mixing concepts by using two primary colours to create a secondary colour. Jewel was 5 years and 2 months old here, and she was able to start predicting what colours she could create.

Magic Milk - fun science for preschoolers

The photos don’t do this experiment justice. The milk is constantly moving, creating new swirls and colour combinations. It’s really pretty!

Colourful swirling milk reaction

Fat & Dish soap swirling reaction

Please note…

The ingredients used here are non-toxic and safe for young kids to touch, but dishwashing liquid is obviously not meant to be tasted. All kids’ activities on this blog require attentive adult supervision. Parents and carers will need to judge whether a particular activity is appropriate their child’s age and skill level. Click here for more information.

Swirling Milk Experiment - fun classic science for kids
* This post contains affiliate links to similar products used. An affiliate link means I may earn advertising / referral fees if you make a purchase through my link, without any extra cost to you. It helps to keep this little blog afloat. Thank you for your support.

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11 Comments

  1. Mary's mom

    I am just commenting to let you be aware of the experience our princess found viewing your site. She came to find so many things, which included what it’s like to have an amazing helping spirit to get other people clearly fully understand chosen problematic subject areas. I appreciate you for offering such useful, safe, revealing and fun guidance to Mary.

    Reply

    • Thank you! I’m so glad she’s enjoying it. Go Mary!

      Reply
  2. Robyn

    One happy little girl!!

    Reply

  3. Thank you have just discovered your site and its awesome to do these with my 4 year old and have all the ingredients at home already! Love it x

    Reply

    • Thanks Kim! Have fun!

      Reply
  4. Anna

    I did this with my almost 4 year old as today as her “big kid only” activity (her mummy alone time since her baby sister has been born)
    It was great, kept her busy while having fun learning and watching the colours swirl!

    We are going to do it again tomorrow but with a dish each of full cream milk, skim milk and milk with added cream to see if changes the experiment.

    Reply

    • Ooh, I love your idea of using the different milks! Let me know how you go!

      Reply

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