Monday, January 25, 2010

Tea Bag Rocket

Here’s another I’m doing to show off my astounding talents for our Family Talent Show…

Take an unused tea bag ([wrinkles her nose] something icky like licorice) and empty it of its contents. (Just take out the staple, and unfold it.)

Open it up so that it will stand upright, as a cylinder.

Light the top of it on fire with a match or lighter.

Count down…

and then shwoosh!!!

Up it goes into the sky.

Have another one ready for back up, ’cause they’ll probably wanna see it again. And again.


How it works: “Everyone knows that hot air rises and this experiment demonstrates that idea as well as the principles of convection currents. As the tea bag burns, hot air is being created, as well as a thermal, or convection current, under the bag. When the tea bag burns down into a small enough ball of ashes, the convection current causes it shoot up in the air.”
[Quoted directly from Steve Spangler Science.]


  1. what am I doing wrong. Mine just burned. It was quite unimpressive.

  2. Jenny - when I transferred this post to this OLM, I lost the comments, so they're not here.

    One person used a bag that was like cloth, instead of the paper-like ones.
    Only the ones that are like paper will work.

  3. THe paper is similar to the sort of paper that coffee filters are made out of.

  4. Tried this today. Worked great. The kids were very surprised at the tea 'paper' rising up. Thanks for the idea!

  5. I have been meaning to do this for ages!

  6. Like this idea! Can you tell me why it takes off? Is there some sort of combustible? What's the chemical reaction??

  7. Tina, the explanation is at the bottom of the post. It's convection.

  8. Would love to do in school with my high does it go and how fast does it burn out... Don't want to set off a fire drill.

  9. I did it in my kitchen and set off no alarms. It rises quite high but never hit the ceiling... maybe 4 feet off the ground. It burns really fast too. As long as the students are careful, no one should get burned. I think you could easily do it in a classroom.

  10. Annie and Penny - yes. Sorry, I meant to get to right away, Annie and got busy.
    I'd say 4-6 feet (at the most), and just a few seconds. 3-5?

  11. This does not work!!!!
    We tried 5 different bag types and there was no success!
    Don't waste time or tea

  12. I've done it several times, amleber, and it absolutely does work.
    You need the papery, fiber sort of teabags, as has been mentioned.

  13. Would anyone mind giving the name/brand of the tea bag being used..? We used about 8 different types (Lipton - olong) and nada! Kiddos are a bit disappointed .. Ok ok, I am too! :/

  14. Does anyone have any idea which brand of tea bags work?

  15. Maybe it would help for someone to indicate what brand of tea was used.

  16. Sheesh....
    Have they changed tea bags so much, then?
    I used two or three different brands of tea and they had the same tea bags... nowadays I buy non-stapled and herbal teas.
    Let me think about (and see at the grocer's) what I have used in the past.

  17. From one Science teacher to another; Let me try to help...

    1) The problem with some tea bags is that when you open & empty them you are NOT left with a cylinder. Some tea bags are sealed on 3 sides and have a bottom. If you try to do this with a bottom, it will not work. The convection current needs the open cylinder to draw up cooler air as the warmer air is created by the flame.
    (I just tried 6 different tea bags that we have in the cabinet - only Bigelow and regular Lipton could be unsealed, emptied and created into a cylinder with open top & bottom.)
    2) The convection current doesn't draw up until the cylinder is almost completely burned. Be patient and wait for it.
    3)If you do this in an area with low ceilings (or like I did once, on the glass top stove with a venting hood) the cylinder will not take flight because it can not get the lift it needs from the air currents. Try moving to a more open space.

    I hope this helps those who have been struggling!
    Happy Experimenting!

    1. you can use any paper tea bag. you just have to cut the bottom off as well as the top, so that you can open it into a cylinder. I'm sure the long cylinder is more impressive, but we used the regular cheap glued tea bags and got the rockets to work just fine!

  18. For those who asked about brand of tea bags, I tried many different brands the only one that worked was twinnings

  19. I just did this with my 8 year old son. I used the cheapest black tea bags you get 100 in a box for about $1. We cut the staple off so it would be level when we unfolded and stood it up. It really burned all the way to basically ash but still had a flame when lifted. He loved it.

  20. It worked great here. We opened a Bigelow tea bag, dumped the tea, removed the staple, and stood up the open cylinder (which was now open on both sides). When we lot the top, it burned down then wafted upward about 4 feet, still burning, but turned to ash before it hit the ceiling.

  21. Works great! Used Bigelow peppermint tea bag. My daughter was with me and was a bit concerned as I don't do projects involving fire....but this was awesome! We did this outdoors...kind of freaked her out a bit as the bag drifted close to house (fire was out by then, plus we took squirt gun, just in case). I was the one thinking "cool!" Can't wait to show our scholars that one this year!


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!