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Paper Chromatography Experiment.

The simplest paper chromatography experiment at home is a paper chromatography of a black marker. On this page you'll find very simple setup with some details that allow you to achieve the best results separating your samples. You can compare this experiment with Thin Layer Chromatography setup for home. Perhaps you'll want to try both setups and compare results.

The goal:

to achieve the best possible separation of the black marker pigments using paper chromatography.

Paper chromatography uses capillary force that move water or another solvent and the sample up the paper strip. The most soluble compounds of the sample will go farther the less soluble will stay at the start line.

Using chromatography we can find out how many components are in paint, inks, markers as well as in natural dyes, leaf extracts. As long as mixture is colored we can see their components. Colorless mixtures can also be separated with paper chromatography, if we can visualize separated compounds with colored chemical reaction(s).

Check our article that explains the principle of chromatography.

You'll need:

All you need for the paper chromatography experiment.
Materials you need to do paper chromatography at home


Selection of the right solvent combination for chromatography is the very important, see images below. It's also the most time consuming part of the process, so be patient. Try each available solvent and note the result or simply wright solvent's name on developed paper strip. Keeping records will help you organize your data. Perfect chromatography looks like colored spots with a space between them. It's difficult to achieve such a result at home so don't be upset if you only can make a black marker to separate into the rainbow bands. It is actually pretty good result. Unfortunately, good solvent combination for the black water marker may not work for other substances. If you want to separate natural dyes or different markers or ink, you'll have to find their best solvent composition.

Black Marker: glass cleaner/white vinegar 10:1
Black marker chromatography using water as a mobile phase. Black marker chromatography using combination of glass cleaner and white vinegar in 10:1 proportion as a mobile phase.

Understanding the results:

The number of the spots or bands tells you how many compounds are in your substance. Their color and the distance they traveled might help you to identify those compounds. You can try to find out which dyes were used in black marker using other markers from the same package as a reference samples. If certain reference color sample will travel the same distance (rf) that one of the black marker colors both of them likely to be the same chemical compound. You can't identify the chemical substance by paper chromatography, but you can roughly analyze the mixture with this simple and neat technique.

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