How to stain cheek cells for a microscope

Written by adrian grahams Google
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How to stain cheek cells for a microscope
Stain cheek cells to see their details under a microscope. (microscope closeup image by Yali Shi from

Studying objects under a microscope is a fascinating way to open up a new world. Some of the most interesting items to see close up with a microscope include tiny cells from the human body. However, most cells look transparent under the glare of a microscope light so you will need to stain them to see any detail. Taking a cell sample from the inside of your cheek and then staining it is a straightforward process that you can carry out with items purchased from a grocery store or pharmacy.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Toothpick
  • Eyedropper
  • Microscope
  • Microscope slides
  • Slide cover slips
  • Paper towel
  • Stain (iodine or food colouring)

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  1. 1

    Decide which stain you wish to use. Buy food colouring from a grocery store or iodine from a pharmacy. You can obtain more exotic stains such as methylene blue or malachite green from an aquatic store.

  2. 2

    Gently scrape the inside of your mouth with the flat edge of a toothpick to collect cheek cells.

  3. 3

    Place the sample on the slide by carefully wiping the flat edge of the toothpick across the slide.

  4. 4

    Fill the eyedropper with water and put a drop of water onto the sample. Cover the sample with the slide cover slip. Do this by placing one end of the slip on the slide and slowly lowering the other end over the sample.

  5. 5

    Empty the eyedropper of water and then fill it with stain. Place a drop of the stain next to the cover slip on the slide.

  6. 6

    Draw the stain under the slide by placing a strip of paper towel against the other side of the cover slip. The paper towel draws up the water, pulling the stain onto the sample.

  7. 7

    Study the stained cheek cell slide under the microscope.

Tips and warnings

  • Use the toothpick to position and lower the slide cover slip over the sample.
  • An adult should supervise a child performing this scientific experiment.

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