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Paper Towel Strength

Age range: Ages 5 & Up
Prep Time: 5 min
Learning Time: 30-45 min
Estimated material cost: $10-20 (less if you get paper towel samples from friends or family)

Engineers are people who use math and science to solve problems. Material engineers work with everyday objects, finding ways to improve these materials. In this activity, you will work with different kinds of paper towels and test their strength to answer the question: which brand of paper towel is the strongest?


  • Cup/glass
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper towels of different brands* (as many as you want to test)
  • Teaspoon
  • Water
  • Pennies (or marbles or another small weight)
  • Paper Towel Strength Worksheet opens in a new window
  • Pencil

*Ask family, friends, or neighbors which brand of paper towel they use. You can collect samples from these people instead of purchasing several rolls of paper towels. They may be interested in the results of your test!

Step-by-step Instructions:

  1. Stretch a single layer of paper towel over the top of a plastic cup.
  2. Use a rubber band to secure the paper towel to the plastic cup.
  3. Pour a teaspoon of water onto the center of the paper towel.
  4. Add pennies (or other small weights) to the wet paper towel until it breaks.
  5. Keep track of your findings on the worksheet (test each paper towel brand 3 times).
  6. Repeat steps using different paper towel brands.
  7. Compare results and determine which one is strongest.

What’s happening?

If you look closely at the surface of a paper towel, you’ll see that it is full of tiny pores and holes, like a sponge. Water molecules can stick to the sides of those tiny gaps, which is why paper towels and sponges absorb water. Is there anything else in your kitchen that can absorb water? What can repel water?

Science tip: a variable is any part of an experiment or test that can exist in different amounts or types. The variables in this test are the number of pennies, the amount of water, and the brand of paper towel. By controlling the amount of water, you use, you can be sure it’s the weight of the pennies that causes the paper towel to rip.

Explore further!

Not all paper towel brands claim to be the strongest. Some might claim to be the most absorbent or fastest at cleaning up spills. How would you test these claims?