Oiled Wildlife Care Network

Photo: child with oiled feather
Preparing to wash oiled feather

Oil / Feather Experiment

You need:

  • One large glass bowl or dish
  • One small bowl
  • One medium bowl
  • Water
  • A couple of spoons for mixing
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cocoa powder  
  • Materials for cleaning the oil, such as cotton balls, sponge, paper towel,  plastic spoon, or anything else you’d like to try  
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap
  • Feathers (can be found at a craft store)
  • (Optional) latex gloves to keep hands clean
  • (Optional) blue food coloring
  • (Optional) disposable table cloth for messes


  • Fill your large glass bowl or dish with water.  Leave some room at the top, so it doesn’t overflow.
  • (Optional) Add a few drops of blue food coloring to the water, and mix well.
  • In your small bowl, mix vegetable oil and cocoa powder until you get a “crude oil” consistency.  This will be about three parts vegetable oil and two parts cocoa powder.  The mixture should still be oily.
  • In your medium bowl mix warm water with one teaspoon of liquid dish soap.
  • Coat a couple of feathers in vegetable oil, and a couple of feathers in the vegetable oil/cocoa powder mix.  Set aside and let dry.

Experiment #1:

  • Quickly pour some plain vegetable oil into the water in your large glass bowl or dish – it doesn’t need to be a large amount.  What happens to the oil? 
  • Now slowly pour some plain vegetable oil into the water.  What happens with the oil this time?
  • Now that you have an oil spill in your dish, use some of the materials you have, such as a cotton ball, to clean up the spill.  Which one works best?
  • Pour out your oil spill water and fill the bowl/dish up again with water.  This time use the oil/cocoa mixture.  Poor this mixture very slowly into the dish with water.  How does this oil look compared to the first “oil spill”?
  • Like before, use your different materials to see which one cleans up the oil best.  Which one worked best?  Was it the same as with the first “oil spill”?

Experiment #2:

  • Use your warm soapy water to wash your oiled feathers.  Note: you will need to change out the water between feathers.
  • What happens to the oil that was on the feathers?
  • How did the feathers feel before and after the washing?