Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Determining Soil Constituent Percentages
Name: Hannah
Status: Student
Grade: 6-8
Location: CA
Country: United States
Date: December 2007

How do you determine the percentage of clay, sand, and sit is in soil?

This is difficult to answer because "clay", "sand", and "silt" (sic) are not chemically defined, nor is there a "test" to specifically define these various types of soil. There could be some tests that could be done, but ultimately these would be arbitrarily setting sedimentation rates, color or some other classification.

Vince Calder

The easiest and least expensive for you is probably this: you can get a set of screens to separate the components, weigh each fraction, and determine percentage of each fraction. Check a science supply catalog in the geology/earth science section.

Patricia Rowe


The analysis of percentage of sand, silt, and clay is usually done mechanically but could be done digitally with an microscopically derived image. The size order of soil particles is sand (largest), silt (next largest), and clay (smallest). Sand particles can be ten times larger than silt particles and hundreds of times larger than clay particles, so they can be separated by size fairly easily with a series of sieves. The percentage of each can then be determined by weight (gravimetric).

David R. Cook
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory

Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory