Lung Capacity

What's this Science Bite about?

Measure your lung capacity in this science experiment using a spirometer made from household items!

Lungs are essential for the transport of oxygen into the body. The oxygen enters the body in the air you breathe. It travels down the trachea into the bronchi, through the bronchioles and reaches the alveoli. The alveoli are covered in a network of blood capillaries which allow the oxygen to move from the lungs into the bloodstream.

A diagram of your lungs

The amount of air that can be held in the lungs varies from person to person and an average person breathes in around 11,000 litres of air each day!

Always remember to ask your parent or guardian to help you.

What you'll need

What you'll need for the lung capacity experiment - large bottle, measuring jug, plastic tubing, large tab, measuring cylinder, masking tape, pen and scissors

  • A Large bottle (minimum of 3 litres - ideally 5 litres)
  • A bottle or measuring jug for water
  • Plastic tubing
  • Large tub
  • Measuring cylinder
  • Masking tape
  • Pen
  • Scissors (optional)

How to do the experiment

Follow the instructions in the video below.

Can't see the video above? Watch it on Youtube.

icon Lung Capacity (721.36 kB)

  1. Attach a strip of tape to the large bottle from top to bottom.

  2. Attach a strip of masking tape to the bottle
  3. Use the measuring cylinder to add 250 ml of water to the bottle. Use the pen to mark the water level on the strip of masking tape.

  4. Use the pen to mark the water level every 250 ml
  5. Repeat the previous step until the bottle is marked to the top.

  6. Fill the large tub with water to a depth of around 10 cm and place the large bottle upright in the tub.
  7. Place the large bottle upright in the tub
  8. Fill the bottle to the very top. Place your hand over the top of the bottle. Invert the bottle into the tub of water. Don't remove your hand until the bottle neck is under the water. Insert one end of the tubing into the neck of the bottle.

  9. The bottle is turned over in the water with the plastic tubing inserted
  10. Hold the tube, take a deep breath and blow until it feels like there is no air left in your lungs.

  11. Take a deep breath and blow until you feel like there is no air left in your lungs
  12. Measure how much air is in the bottle (count the marks).

    To calaculate your lung capacity multiply the number of marks by 250 and then divide by 1000.

    e.g. 13 x 250 = 3250 ml / 1000 = 3.25 litres

Find out more...

You used displacement to calculate your lung capacity. Blowing into the bottle displaced a volume of water and replaced it with air.

You measured your vital capacity, the maximum amount of air that can be expired from the lungs after a maximum inhalation.

A normal healthy adult has a vital capacity between 3 and 5 litres.

In general, vital capacity increases with height and decreases with age.

Did you know…

  • Healthy adults breathe over 20,000 times a day.
  • Babies can breathe over 80,000 times a day.
  • You have 300,000,000 alveoli in each lung. If you were able to spread them out they would cover a badminton court!

Other measurements…

Tidal volume: The volume of air inhaled or expired during normal breathing.

Expiratory reserve volume: The additional volume of air that can be expired from the lungs after normal inhalation and expiration.


Visit BodyWorks at Glasgow Science Centre - an interactive exhibition all about human health and wellbeing in the 21st Century.

Curriculum Links

Body Systems and Cells

SCN 1-12a/ 2-12a/ 3-12a

Physical Wellbeing

HWB 1-15a/ 2-15a/ 3-15a


Glasgow Science Centre