Mix It Up!

When you’ve got a compound composed of different elements it’s hard to imagine what they could be. This activity enables you to separate and explore the different materials in a mixture, based on their physical properties.

But first, a quick safety warning! The Iron Filings 3-Pack is safety tested for ages 6+, but adult supervision is required. Do not inhale or consume iron filings. Keep iron filings away from eyes. Magnets are not included in this set, but make sure the magnets you use to interact with the iron filings are age-appropriate. Keep all small, powerful magnets away from children under age 8.

Okay, now…

  1. Gather the following materials:
  • Coarse, medium, and fine iron filings
  • Salt
  • Magnets (horseshoe magnet or large bar magnet)
  • 3 Small bowls
  • Sand
  • Tablespoon (measuring spoon)
  • Water
  • Paper towels

mix it up supplies









  1. In 3 different bowls create mixtures for each mesh/particle size of iron filings. Each mixture should include 1 tablespoon each of sand, salt, and iron filings. Stir the contents of each bowl.

mix it up materials unmixed

mix it up contents mixed










  1. Let’s say you want to remove all the iron filings from the mixture. The best way to do that is to pick them out one by one, right? No way! You can use a magnet to separate the filings from the mixture! Focusing on one bowl at a time, move the magnet around in each bowl. Watch as the magnet picks up the iron filings.

magnet pulling filings from sand and salt

block magnet with iron filings in sand and salt










  1. Which size of iron filings was easier or more difficult to remove from its mixture? Why?
  1. What are some other ways could you remove iron filings from a mixture?
  1. How could you isolate the sand in the bowls containing sand and salt?
  1. Pour water into one bowl. Where did the salt go? Is it gone for good, or could you get it to come back?
  1. Take this activity further by comparing the properties (such as magnetic/non-magnetic, particle size, solubility in water) of the iron filings, sand, and salt.

Now what?

Once you’ve extracted your iron filings, shake them onto individual sheets of paper by size. Fold your sheets of paper and use them as funnels to pour the filings back into their jars and reuse them for another activity like Magnets, Math, & Measurement, Oh My!, The Art of Science, Let It Snow, and All Shook Up!



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