Where does the water go when we hang wet clothes on the line to dry?

Helping youth explore evaporation and the water cycle.

Columbine leaf
Water vapor condensed on leaves. Photo by Tracy D’Augustino, MSU Extension.

If you ask the youth in your life where the water goes when we hang wet clothes on the line to dry, you may be surprised by the answers. This question can lead to great conversations about the water cycle and the air around us. Some of the most difficult ideas for youth to understand and explain are those that involve things we can’t see. While we can see water as a liquid in a glass, as the solid ice on lake in winter or even as steam rising from a boiling pot of water. The idea that water exists all around us as water vapor is harder to grasp.

Evaporation is one component of the water cycle and it is generally shown in models as an arrow from a lake to the clouds. This model of the water cycle unintentionally creates the misconception that water instantly moves from the lake to the clouds. Adults can help youth understand there is always water in the air surrounding us in the form of water vapor. We call this water vapor humidity. We can see and feel water that was vapor after it condenses. When warm air containing water vapor encounters cooler items, the water vapor condenses and changes from gas to liquid.

Here are three ways you can help youth discover the water in the air around us.

  • Take a cold can or bottle from the fridge and leave it on the counter for about 20-30 minutes, enough time for water to condense on the outside of the item. Ask youth to explain why they think there is water on the outside of the can or bottle.
  • Go outdoors first thing in the morning after a night of no rain and feel the grass. Ask the youth how they think the grass got wet.
  • Explore the windows in your home as it gets colder outdoors. You may notice water on the inside of the glass. Ask youth where they think the water came from.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). To explore more STEM activities from MSU Extension, visit our Science Activities and Lessons site. 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

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