What Is the Effect of Used Motor Oil on the Germination and Growth of Plants?

Researched by Felisha Y.



The purpose of this experiment was to determine the effect of different amounts of used motor oil on the germination and growth of plants.

I became interested in this idea because I have a strong interest in the environment and I want to help people make good environmental decisions. The dumping of used motor oil is a big problem today; my project will help show the effect of motor oil on the environment. 

The information gained from this experiment will show all car/vehicle owners the danger of used motor oil.


My first hypothesis was that the plant with the most motor oil applied would not germinate. My second hypothesis was that the height of the plants would decrease as the amounts of oil applied increased.

I based my hypothesis on news articles and reports on television that I had seen, which showed the damage of oil to wildlife.


          The constants in this study were:
  •  Type of plant used in this experiment.
  •  The amount of soil used
  •  The type of soil used
  •  The amount of light used
  •  The temperature at which the plants were germinated and grown

The manipulated variable was the amount of used motor oil applied to each plant.

The responding variable was whether the plant germinated, and the growth of the plant if, it germinated.

To measure the responding variable I determined whether the plant had germinated after applying the different amounts of oil and the height of each plant's growth, if it germinated. (All measurements were in centimeters.)


60 Radish Seeds
5 Medicine Droppers
1 Seed Tray
1 Gallon  Used Motor Oil
1 Gallon  Water
1 Bag  Soil (8.8 liters) 
1 Ball  String
1 12 inch Ruler
1 Set  Measuring spoons
1 Permanent Marker (Blue)
1 Roll  Masking Tape
1 Roll  Heavy Duty Tin Foil 
1 Pair  Scissors 
1 Plastic Garbage Bag


1. Gather Materials
2. Cut a 2 by 6 seed tray from the 6 by 12 seed tray. (I'm doing this so I will have a 6 by 10 seed tray and can divide it into 5 different sections for the different amounts of oil used.)
3. Label each section of 2 by 6. ("C" for controlled, and, "1, 2, 3, 4", "1" being least amount of motor oil used and "4" being the most amount of motor oil used.)
4. Fill each seed try with 1/3 cup of soil. 
5. Plant 1 radish seed, in each holder. (1.27 cent. deep.)
6. Cover plant "C" with 2 tablespoons of plain water per square inch of soil.
7. Cover plant "1" with 1/4 a tablespoon of motor oil and 1 3/4 tablespoons of water per square inch of soil. 
8. Cover plant "2" with 1/2 a tablespoon of motor oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons of water per square inch of soil.
9. Cover plant "3" with 3/4 a tablespoon of motor oil and 1 1/4 tablespoons of water per square inch of soil.
10. Cover plant "4" with 1 tablespoon of motor oil and 1 tablespoons of water per square inch of soil.
11. Repeat steps 6-10 once a day, every day, for 2 weeks and record results/occurrences.
12. Measure the first plant to germinate in each section with string and 12 inch ruler. 
13. When experiment is done, dump soil into a plastic garbage bag, for disposal and dispose of it by giving remains to father for disposal. 


The original purpose of this experiment was to determine the effect of different amounts of used motor oil on the germination and growth of plants.

The results of the experiment were that none of the amounts of oil applied to the plants affected the germination. The first plants to germinate were Plants 1 and 2, which had oil applied to them. Although, the amount of oil did affect the growth of each plant. For example, Plant C was the last to germinate, but it was the healthiest of them all, and Plant 4 germinated but was unhealthy and looked "dead." In the end Plant 1 grew the tallest at almost 10 centimeters, and Plant 4 was the smallest at a little over 2 centimeters.

See the table and graphs


My hypothesis was that the plant with the most motor oil applied would not germinate.

The results indicate that this hypothesis should be rejected because, the plants with motor oil applied to them were the first to germinate. Although, the oil did affect the growth of the plants.

Because of the results of this experiment, I wonder if the motor oil effected the plantsí germination. I think that the motor oil had no effect on the plants' germination because a plant can germinate and live in water until the nutrients in the seed run out. Then when the plant needed nutrients from the soil it received oil, which effected the growth of the plants from then on. I wonder if the plants with oil would produce a radish if I had allowed them to live longer. 

If I were to conduct this project again I would give myself more time to grow the plants so I could see the effect more efficiently. I would also like to germinate the plants first, then apply the oil to see if the results would change. I would also measure the average height of all the plants rather than the first to germinate.




People need food, water, and shelter, to survive. Environmental health hazards are caused by modern technology. Pollution is one of the many modern health hazards. Plants, along with people and animals, are greatly affected by pollution. Pollution will change plantsí growth and can potentially kill them. Pollution can kill humans and animals by contaminating the food they eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe. The dumping, spilling, or releasing of petroleum is a major problem in today's society. 


 Food, water, and shelter are essential to a human's survival. Without food or water humans can die of starvation or dehydration. Without shelter, humans would be in danger of exposure to the weather, storms, snow, rain, heat, etc., and animals, wolves, bears, etc. Another requirement for human survival is oxygen, or air. If the air is polluted with exhaust or smoke, humans could be greatly effected. Air pollution can make respiratory diseases, such as, asthma and pneumonia worse. Some coal miners have developed a disease called pneumoconiosis, or black lung, from inhaling coal dust. Dust has also caused lung diseases, sometimes in the asbestos and cotton industries. 


  The main types of pollution are air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, solid waste, hazardous waste, and noise pollution. 
Air pollution is the contamination of the air by things like fuel, exhaust, and smoke in the air. There are two main types of air pollution, indoor and outdoor. Indoor air pollution is when a building is poorly ventilated and traps pollutants inside. The main types of indoor pollutants are tobacco smoke, gases from stoves and furnaces, household chemicals, and hazardous fumes from insulation, glue, and paint. Another indoor pollutant is radon, a radioactive gas.  Outdoor pollution is caused by cars and factories, which are burning fuels and releasing them into the air. Lots of dry cleaning businesses use a chemical called perchlorcethylene, a very bad air pollutant, to clean clothing. Burning garbage is a common outdoor air pollutant. It can discharge smoke, metals, lead, and particles into the air. Another common outdoor pollutant is smog, a hazy mixture of gases and particles.
 Solid waste is caused by all the garbage and waste, containing solid debris, deposited on the ground. 
Water is polluted with sewage, toxic chemicals, metals, oils, etc. Contaminated water can harm plants, animals, and humans. According to the World Health Organization, 5 million people die from water pollution each year.
About 32 million gallons of oil is spilled into marine and inland environments around the world. There were 215 incidents in 1998 alone. There have been spills with anywhere from 10 thousand to over 10 million gallons of oil being spilled from 1968 to 1998. In one incident, Iraqi deliberately dumped 799,120 metric tons of oil in the Sea Island Terminal of Persian Gulf at the end of the Persian War.


 Plants need sunlight, water, and nutrients within the soil, carbon dioxide and oxygen, to live and grow. Plants use photosynthesis to get their energy from the sun and use carbon dioxide to make oxygen. Plants use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to make their food.
 There are over 260,000 types of plants all over the world. Some of the main types of plants are seed plants, ferns, lycophytes, and bryophytes. Seed plants use seeds to reproduce. The two main groups of seed plants are angiosperms and gymnosperms. Ferns have many different types. One type of fern is the giant club moss. Lycophytes were some of the first plants to grow on earth. Lycophytes include quillworts, some club mosses, and selaginelles. Bryophytes are an important type of plant and include liverworts, some mosses and hornworts. These are the only types of plants without vascular tissue, a tissue that carries food and water throughout the plant.
 The root of a plant is made up of the secondary root, root hairs, primary roots, and a root cap. The Wood stem is made up of the terminal bud, bud scales, lateral bud, rough outer surface, leaf scar, and the node. The Herbaceous stem also has the terminal bud, but has a smooth outer surface. The leaves of a plant are made up of the blade, stipule, petiole, epidermis, waxy outer covering, and the veins. Flowers have corolla petals, sepals, receptacle, pistil, ovary, style, stigma, stamen, anther, and filament. Pine seeds have a seed coat, megagametophyte, cotyledon, and the embryo. The Adicot (bean) seed has a seed coat, two cotyledons, and an embryo. The Amoncot (corn) seed has a seed coat, endosperm, single cotyledon, and an embryo. 


  Petroleum is an oily, liquid mixture of hydrocarbons found in scattered subterranean deposits. Petroleum is used for many things including gasoline, kerosene, heating oils, and other fuels. Petroleum supplies 43% of the energy consumed in the U.S. Some fuels used for transportation are aviation gasoline, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and kerosene. Some fuels used for heating energy are distillate oils, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and residual oils. 


  Mixing pollution and the environment, with all it's creatures, can cause some serious health problems, If the pollution gets bad enough it will increase these problems and people may not be able to change the outcome. Air pollution is worsening respiratory diseases, while water pollution is killing plants, animals, and people. When tankers wreck in the ocean, or oil mines explode, millions of plants and animals die. The world is greatly affected by all kinds of pollution and it seems to keep getting worse, not better. 




Brody, Jane E. "Health Hazards" The Worldbook Encyclopedia. 1998. vol. 9 pp. 127

Chertow, Marian R. "Environmental Pollution" The Worldbook Encyclopedia. 1998. vol. 6 pp. 331-334

Dimichele, William A. "Plant," The Worldbook Encyclopedia. 1998 vol. 15 pp. 516, 519-522, 529-531

Laudon, Robert C. "Petroleum" The Worlbook Encyclopedia. 1998 vol. 15 pp. 331 and 332

"Major Oil Spills throughout the World". Bookshelf 2000. 2000

Oil Spill Intelligence Report. "International Oil Spill Statistics,"  http://www.cutter.com/oilspill/reports/ststsrep.htm, 1998.



         I would like to thank the following people for their help and support in the creation of my project:

  • My mom for helping me when I was doing the experiment and report.
  • My dad for all of the time and for supplying me with the oil and all of the support in all of my ideas.
  • Mr. Newkirk for all of the supplies, not going beserk when I goofed and all of the extra hours.
  • Mrs. Pasckvale for helping me when Mr. Newkirk was busy, or on the simple things and on all of the extra hours.
  • My friends for supporting me through it all. Kaylynn, Jordan , Heidi, and Jenny.


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