When Tea Bags Fly.

Those of you who read my blog often may remember my story about taking a lit candle into my bedroom when I was five, catching my clothes on fire in the closet and nearly burning my house down.

A tea bag being removed from a cup of tea

A tea bag being removed from a cup of tea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, you can appreciate it when I say, don’t let your grandchildren do this unless you are there.

Make sure there is nothing flammable within several feet of where you perform the experiment.

If in the kitchen, where I did it, make sure there are no loose papers or grease near by

Even if outside on the sidewalk, make sure there are no piles of dry leaves nearby.

That being said, you can make the ashes of a tea bag fly into the air in a surprising, delightful experiment that mimics the sparks from a campfire.


You will need:

  • Flow-through or other double-sized teabag
  • 4-inch square of aluminum foil or piece of old wood
  • Scissors
  • Matches

This will not work with a single tea bag. The cylinder is not high enough to heat the air necessary for the effect.

The flow-through tea bag unfolds to make a four-inch cylinder.


  • Cut the end off the tea bag on the side where the tag is stapled
  • Open up the tea bag gently and pour out the tea. You can make yourself a nice cup of tea with the loose tea later
  • Gently open up the column of paper tea bag.
  • Stand it on one end on the foil or wood. It should be about 4 ½ inches high
  • Light the top edge of the tea bag two or three times
  • Stand back and watch the tea bag burn down to the foil or wood.

What Should Happen?

As the tea bag slowly burns down, it heats up the air inside the cylinder.

Just about the time it gets to the bottom of the tea bag, the sparks, ashes and remainder of the tea bag will start to float up into the air.

They will float up almost to the ceiling, as though you had just made a tiny hot air balloon.

Why Does This Happen?

The power you have unleashed is called convection.

Heated air or liquid molecules rise, then fall as they cool.

You have just heated the air inside the tea bag cylinder and it carried the tea bag ashes with it when it rose, a visible demonstration of hot air rising.

You see it as an explanation more commonly with weather.

We have thunderstorms, for instance, when air warmed by the heat of the sun on the ground rises, carrying moisture with it and cools, releasing the moisture, giving us rain.

But, convection is also used to cool the inside of computers.

A heat sink is a piece of metal that has several slabs side-by-side so as to give the maximum amount of surface area.

The metal absorbs heat from the hot air inside the computer and dissipates it with a fan blowing air over it. That’s also convection.

Enjoy your cup of tea.

Click here to watch this experiment performed on YouTube.

Have you ever ridden in a hot air balloon?

Have you watched the sparks fly while you roast marshmallows over a campfire?

Have you roasted marshmallows with your grandchildren?

To you and discovering the power of the natural world around us with your grandchildren.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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