Chromatography: T-shirts

This experiment allows the application of the chromatographic method to the separation of marker dyes. These chromatograms are produced on t-shirt material.



100% cotton T-shirt

Prang markers


Plastic wrap

Plastic tub


What To Do

If the t-shirt is new, make certain that the shirt has been washed before attempting the chromatographic experiment. This is necessary to remove the sizing that may be present in the shirt. Place plastic wrap between the front and back of the t-shirt. Cover the bottom of the plastic tub with water. Place a dot of marker on the bottom of the shirt. Make certain that the dot is high enough on the shirt so that it doesn’t dip into the water layer on the bottom of the tub. Water will climb up the t-shirt based on capillary action. The dot will also begin to move up the shirt and as it does, the dyes that make up the color will move at different rates and then will appear as separate bands connected to each other. Once the chromatograms are developed on the t-shirt, treat with fabric medium to keep the colors from washing out of the t-shirt when washed. Make certain the t-shirt is washed with cool water when washed. Fabric treatment medium may be Jo Sonja Textile Medium. (Chroma Acrylics, Inc, Hainesport, NJ)



The net result of this experiment is the physical separation of the dyes. The colors of the dyes are separated down the length of the t-shirt. This is one of the few experiments in which the results may be worn after the experiments are finished. Brown is one of the best dyes. A separation of blue, red, orange and yellow is observed. Orange is separated into yellow and red bands. Blue is separated into green, yellow and red bands.



"T-shirt Chromatography." J. M. Buccigross, J. Chem. Education, 978-979 (1992). WOW staff, 2002.

© S. Olesik, WOW Project, Ohio State University, 2002.