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As autumn sets in you probably have notice the beautiful changing colors of leaves. Here is a simple experiment you can do at home that shows you why leaves change their colors in autumn.


  1. 3 leaves (from the same tree)

  2. Rubbing Alcohol

  3. Jar

  4. Plastic baggie (or plastic wrap)

  5. Paper Coffee Filter

  6. Small bowl or pan


  1. Break the leaves into tiny pieces and put in the jar

  2. Pour rubbing alcohol over the leaves until they are just covered

  3. Mash and stir the leaves into the rubbing alcohol until the alcohol turns slightly green.  Really give it a good mashing.

  4. Cover the jar with the baggie or plastic wrap and place the jar in a small bowl and pour hot water into the bowl.

  5. Leave the jar in the water for 30 minutes, swishing the jar occasionally to stir the leaves. The alcohol should be a very dark green (leave longer if needed).  Wait even 45 minutes to an hour.

  6. Cut a strip in the coffee filter so the strip can reach the rubbing alcohol.  Place it in the jar.

  7. The liquid will travel up the coffee filter and the colors will separate as the alcohol evaporates off the coffee filter.  Let this happen for about an hour for the full effect.  The leaves we used turn to a beautiful yellow in autumn.


Why do leaves change color?

In this science experiment you use the rubbing alcohol and energy (hot water) to separate the colors.  You likely saw green, and depending on your leaf type, maybe red, yellow, or orange.  Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and is so dominant it hides the other colors in the leaves.  But in autumn as it starts to get cold some plants stop making chlorophyll. Instead those plants break down chlorophyll into smaller molecules. As chlorophyll disappears other pigments begin to show their colors. This is why leaves turn yellow or red in fall.

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Science Experiment: Why Do Leaves Change Colour?

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