Igniting iron

So you think iron doesn’t burn?

Difficulty:
Danger:
Duration:
10 minutes
Igniting iron

Reagents

Safety

  • Put protective eyewear on.
  • Conduct the experiment on the plastic tray.
  • Keep a bowl of water nearby during the experiment.
  • Keep flammable materials and hair away from fire.
  • Place the burner on the cork hot pot stand. Do not touch the burner after the experiment – wait until it cools down.
General safety rules
  • Do not allow chemicals to come into contact with the eyes or mouth.
  • Keep young children, animals and those not wearing eye protection away from the experimental area.
  • Store this experimental set out of reach of children under 12 years of age.
  • Clean all equipment after use.
  • Make sure that all containers are fully closed and properly stored after use.
  • Ensure that all empty containers are disposed of properly.
  • Do not use any equipment which has not been supplied with the set or recommended in the instructions for use.
  • Do not replace foodstuffs in original container. Dispose of immediately.
General first aid information
  • In case of eye contact: Wash out eye with plenty of water, holding eye open if necessary. Seek immediate medical advice.
  • If swallowed: Wash out mouth with water, drink some fresh water. Do not induce vomiting. Seek immediate medical advice.
  • In case of inhalation: Remove person to fresh air.
  • In case of skin contact and burns: Wash affected area with plenty of water for at least 10 minutes.
  • In case of doubt, seek medical advice without delay. Take the chemical and its container with you.
  • In case of injury always seek medical advice.
Advice for supervising adults
  • The incorrect use of chemicals can cause injury and damage to health. Only carry out those experiments which are listed in the instructions.
  • This experimental set is for use only by children over 12 years.
  • Because children’s abilities vary so much, even within age groups, supervising adults should exercise discretion as to which experiments are suitable and safe for them. The instructions should enable supervisors to assess any experiment to establish its suitability for a particular child.
  • The supervising adult should discuss the warnings and safety information with the child or children before commencing the experiments. Particular attention should be paid to the safe handling of acids, alkalis and flammable liquids.
  • The area surrounding the experiment should be kept clear of any obstructions and away from the storage of food. It should be well lit and ventilated and close to a water supply. A solid table with a heat resistant top should be provided
  • Substances in non-reclosable packaging should be used up (completely) during the course of one experiment, i.e. after opening the package.

FAQ and troubleshooting

I accidentally tore the iron wool when fluffing it up. What should I do?

Not a problem! Just gently arrange the pieces so that they’re touching one another.

The iron wool isn’t igniting. What should I do?

The problem is likely that oxygen can’t access the iron well enough to support combustion. Fluff the iron wool again and try to light it one more time.

What should I do with the iron wool after the experiment?

Be sure to wait till everything cools down and the thermosticker turns black. The iron wool is perfectly safe, so you can dispose of it with ordinary household waste.

Step-by-step instructions

This experiment looks better in the dark.

burn_iron-wool_en_iks-s-01

Steel wool, also known as iron wool, is made of fine iron threads. Fluff the wool up a little bit to make it easier for oxygen to access the iron.

burn_iron-wool_en_iks-s-02

It's going to be quite hot, so put the iron wool in your stove. Ignite the iron wool.

burn_iron-wool_en_iks-s-03

Disposal

Dispose of solid waste together with household garbage.

Scientific description

Rails, nails, and other objects made of iron are not exactly easy to burn. It may even seem that iron is not flammable at all. But you just saw some fine iron threads burn quite well. What's the secret?

As it turns out, iron burns just fine when it's hot enough, but heating a big chunk of metal isn't easy—most of the heat is quickly absorbed  by the bulk of the metal. Fine threads of iron wool, however, do not have much bulk to them. Heat quickly accumulates in one place , making the iron react with oxygen, i. e. burn. This process produces even more heat, which further intensifies the process.

You may have noticed that the burning iron wool didn't produce any flames. That's because iron doesn't release as many tiny glowing particles as an object like burning paper. Burning paper is constantly shedding carbon C atoms , which eventually bind with oxygen O2  to form CO2 gas , making what's left of the paper lighter. Iron atoms Fe , on the other hand, stay where they are and oxygen O  binds to them instead, making the wool heavier.

That's interesting!

What’s the difference between iron and steel?

In everyday life, people often use the words "steel" and "iron" as synonyms. However, in practice, they are very different.

Iron is a transition metal residing in the eighth column of the periodic table. It is the second most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust after aluminum. Moreover, it abounds in the universe – it is even thought that the red color of the surface of Mars is due to a high iron oxide content.

Pure iron is a soft, malleable metal that rusts easily when exposed to air and moisture. To increase its strength and durability, it is alloyed with different chemical elements. Steel, for instance, is an alloy of iron and carbon. Furthermore, steel is one of the most common metal alloys. Steel often contains 0.02%–1.70% percent carbon by weight. Increasing the carbon content of steel increases its strength, but also makes it more brittle. Steel can be found in a wide variety of applications – in cars, ships, buildings, tools, pots and pans, and much, much more.