Measuring pH with Litmus Paper Background Information

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Measuring pH with Litmus Paper
Background Information:
Look around you, almost everything you see is either an acid or a base. Water is the only exception, it is neither an acid nor a base and it called neutral. A major property of acids is that they taste sour (DO NOT TASTE ANYTHING IN THE LAB TO TEST FOR THIS). When we think of foods that are sour they are also acidic. For example, citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and limes all have citric acid in them. Bases on the other hand taste bitter and feel slippery (DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING IN THE LAB TO TEST FOR THIS). Bases are often used as cleaning products such as soaps and detergents.

What is a major property of an acid?

What is a major property of a base?

The pH scale was developed to measure how acidic or basic a substance is. This scale goes from 0-14. Acids have pH values between 0 and 7 and bases have pH values between 7 and 14. Pure water is neutral and will have a pH of exactly 7.

What does a pH between 0 and 7 indicate?

What does a pH between 7 and 14 indicate?

Indicators are used to measure the pH of a substance. Often plant extracts will change colour if exposed to acidic or basic conditions and can therefore be used to indicate if a substance is an acid or base. Litmus is a pigment from a plant that is red under acidic conditions and blue under basic conditions. Litmus paper is made by soaking paper in a solution of the litmus pigment. Litmus paper will turn red if it comes in contact with an acid (a substance with pH between 0 and 7) and blue if it comes in contact with a base (a substance with pH between 7 and 14). We will work with two types of litmus paper, blue and red. Blue litmus paper will turn from blue to red in an acid or it will stay blue in a base. Red litmus paper will turn from red to blue in a base or stay red in an acid.

What colour will blue litmus paper turn to if it

comes in contact with a substance with a pH = 3?

What colour will blue litmus paper turn to if it

comes in contact with a substance with a pH = 9?

What colour will red litmus paper turn to if it

comes in contact with a substance with a pH = 3?

What colour will red litmus paper turn to if it

comes in contact with a substance with a pH = 9?

How to Test pH Using Litmus Paper (modeled by teacher):

  1. If the sample is a solid, then mix it with water to make a liquid solution.

  2. Remove a piece of litmus paper from the plastic vial.

  3. Using a different stir rod for each solution, stir the sample and obtain some of the solution on the end of the stir rod.

  4. Holding one end of the litmus paper, place a drop of the sample on the other end of the litmus paper using the stir rod.

  5. Note the colour change of the litmus paper, if any.


Red litmus paper

Blue litmus paper

Stir rods

Small beakers

Substances to be tested:

Lemon juice Bar of soap

Orange juice Vinegar

Aspirin Dish soap

Shampoo Liquid hand cleaner

Tap water Window cleaner

Safety Considerations:

  • Always wear safety glasses when working with chemicals in the lab.

  • Do not taste any of the substances to test for sourness or bitterness.

  • Window cleaner contains ammonia, vapours of which can damage the eyes. If contact occur rinse with water for 20 minutes and seek medical attention.

Curriculum Objectives:

  • S2-2-08 – Experiment to classify acids and bases using their characteristic properties.

Include pH, indicators.

  • S2-0-3a – State a testable hypothesis or prediction based on background data or on observed events.

  • S2-0-3c – Plan an experiment to answer a specific scientific question.

  • S2-0-7a – Draw a conclusion that explains the results of an investigation.

Lab Procedure:
Part A:

  1. At each station record the substance to be tested, as well as your prediction of whether the substance is acid, base, or neutral.

  2. Test each substance using both red and blue litmus paper and record your results in the chart.

  3. Determine whether the substance is an acid, base or neutral based on the litmus test.

  4. Complete the Data Analysis section on page 4.

Part B:

  1. Complete the Further Inquiry Using Litmus Paper section that starts on page 5.

Part A - Data and Observations:


Substance being Tested


(Acid, Base, Neutral)

Litmus Test Result

Is it

Acid or Base

Red Litmus

Blue Litmus











Part A - Data Analysis:

What factors did you base your predictions on?

Did any of the samples not change the colour of both the blue and red litmus papers?

If so, what does this say about that sample’s pH?

Would you always be able to use just one colour of litmus paper to determine whether an unknown substance was an acid, base or neutral?

Why or why not?

Part B - Further Inquiry Using Litmus Paper:
If you mix an acid and a base the result is a solution that is more neutral. This means that if you mix a substance with pH = 3 and a substance with pH = 9 then the resulting solution will have a pH closer to 7. Heartburn is caused when acid from the stomach rises up into the esophagus, which is the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach. To relieve the discomfort of heartburn people will consume an antacid like Tums. Design and carry out an experiment to test the pH of Tums and its effect on the pH of a known acidic solution when they are mixed.

Possible Materials:
Red litmus paper Tums

Blue litmus paper All samples from Part A

Stir rods

Small beakers

Questions for Designing a Procedure:

What is the purpose of this investigation? (What question are you attempting to answer?)

What are the main variables in this investigation?

What variable will be changed?

How will you change this variable?

What variable will be measured?

How will you measure a change in this variable?

What variables need to remain the same to make this a fair test?

What will you do to make sure the results are reliable?
What materials are necessary for this investigation?


  • Using your answers from the questions above, design a procedure for carrying out this investigation.

Data and Observations:

  • Carry out the investigation procedure and record your observations below. Be sure to note which variables remained constant and which were varied.

Discussion and Conclusion:
Explain your observations in terms of the background theory we know regarding pH and the litmus test.

Are your observations what you would expect based on the background theory?

Why or why not?

What is your answer in reply to the question stated in the purpose of this investigation?

What improvements or changes would you make to this investigation if you were to investigate the same question again?

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