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Standard Method of Test for

Determining the plastic limit and plasticity


index of soils

AASHTO Designation: T 90-70 (2014)

1. SCOPE

1.1. The plastic limit of a soil is the lowest water content at which the soil remains plastic.

1.2. The plasticity index of a soil is the numerical difference between the liquid limit and
the plastic limit. It is the moisture content at which the soil is in a plastic state.

2. REFERENCED DOCUMENTS

2.1. AASHTO Standards:


 M 265, Weighing Devices Used in the Testing of Materials
 T 89, Determining the Liquid Limit of Soils
 T 87, MoistureDensity Relations of Soils Using a 2.5-kg (5.5-lb) Rammer and a 305-mm

3. APPARATUS
3.1. The balance shall conform to the requirements of M 231, for the class of general purpose balance
required for the principal sample mass of the sample being tested.

3.2. Drying ApparatusAny suitable device capable of drying samples at a temperature not exceeding
60C (140F).

3.3. SievesA series of sieves of the following sizes: 19.0 mm (3/4 in.), 4.75 mm (No. 4), 2.00 mm
(No. 10), 0.425 mm (No. 40) and others as required for preparing the sample for a specific test.
The sieves shall conform to M 92.
Note 1A 50-mm (2-in.) sieve is required if the sample includes particles retained on the 19.0-
mm (3/4-in.) sieve and it is desired that the sample for moisturedensity relations (T 99 or T 180)
contain material between 19.0-mm (3/4-in.) and 4.75-mm (No. 4) sieve size to represent the
fraction between 50 and 19.0 mm (2 in. and 3/4 in.).

3.4. Pulverizing ApparatusEither a mortar and rubber-covered pestle or a mechanical device


consisting of a power-driven, rubber-covered muller suitable for breaking up the aggregations of
soil particles without reducing the size of the individual grains.
Note 2Other types of apparatus, such as a revolving drum into which the soil sample and
rubber-covered rollers are placed and tumbled until soil aggregations are pulverized, are
satisfactory if the aggregations of soil particles are broken up without reducing the size of the
individual grains.

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TS-1a T 90-1 AASHTO


Copyright American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Provided by IHS under license with AASHTO Licensee=University of Texas Revised Sub Account/5620001114
No reproduction or networking permitted without license from IHS Not for Resale, 12/25/2008 06:21:18 MST
4. SAMPLE SIZE

4.1. The amounts of soil material required to perform the individual tests are as follows:

4.1.1. Particle Size Analysis of Soils (T 88)For the particle size analysis material passing a 2.00-mm
(No. 10) sieve is required in amounts equal to approximately 110 g for sandy soils and
approximately 60 g of silty or clayey soils. A sufficient amount of material retained on either the
4.75-mm (No. 4) sieve or 2.00-mm (No. 10) sieve is required (Note 4) to obtain a representative
gradation, and depending on the maximum particle size, shall not be less than the amount shown
in the following table:
Approximate
Diameter of Largest Minimum
Particle, mm (in.) Mass of Portion, kg
9.5 (3/8) 0.5
25 (1) 2.0
50 (2) 4.0
75 (3) 5.0

Note 4The material for coarse sieve analysis may be separated by either of two alternate
methods, Section 5.2.1 (2.00-mm sieve) or Section 5.2.2 (4.75-mm sieve). When only a small
percentage of the material will be retained on the 4.75-mm or 2.00-mm sieve, a considerable total
mass of sample will be required to provide the minimum quantity shown in the above table;
consequently, adherence to the minimum mass requirements in the above table may not be
necessary, if the material represented by the sample is not to be used in a base or subbase course,
select borrow, or other item having a requirement for coarse aggregate.

4.1.2. Specific Gravity (T 100)For the specific gravity test performed in conjunction with T 88,
material passing the 2.00-mm (No. 10) sieve is required in the amounts (oven-dry) of at least 25 g
when the volumetric flask is used and at least 10 g when the stoppered bottle is used.
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4.1.3. Physical TestsFor the physical tests, material passing the 0.425-mm (No. 40) sieve is required in
the total amount of at least 300 g, allocated approximately as follows:
Test Approximate
(and AASHTO Designation) Mass, g
Liquid limit (T 89) 100
Plastic limit (T 90) 20
Shrinkage factors (T 92) 30
Field moisture equivalent (T 93) 50
Check and referee tests 100

5. INITIAL PREPARATION OF TEST SAMPLES

5.1. Record information on SFN 9987 or SFN 10086. Material passing the No. 40 (0.425 mm)
sieve prepared according to ND T 87 is needed for this test.

5.2. If both the liquid and the plastic limits are required, take a test sample of approximately 8 g from the thoroughly wet and
mixed portion of the soil prepared for ND T 89, the liquid limit. Take the sample at any stage the sample is plastic
enough to be shaped into a ball without sticking to the fingers. Set aside and allow to air dry until completion of the
liquid limit test. If the sample is too dry, add more water and re-mix.

TS-1a T 90-2 AASHTO


Copyright American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Provided by IHS under license with AASHTO Licensee=University of Texas Revised Sub Account/5620001114
No reproduction or networking permitted without license from IHS Not for Resale, 12/25/2008 06:21:18 MST
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5.2.1. If only the plastic limit is required, take a quantity of air-dried soil weighing about 20 g and mix
with distilled or tap water in the mixing dish until the sample becomes plastic enough to be
easily shaped into a ball. Use a portion of this ball that weighs approximately 8 g for the test
sample.

5.2.2. Squeeze and form the 8-g test sample into an ellipsoidal-shaped mass. Sub-sample to 1.5g to 2 g
portions and roll between the palm or fingers and the ground glass plate or piece of paper with
sufficient pressure to roll the sample into a uniform thread about 1/8" in diameter throughout its
length. Roll at a rate of 80 to 90 strokes per minute. A stroke is a complete forward and back
motion, returning to the starting place. A plastic limit rolling device may also be used. The rolling
procedure should be completed in two minutes.
5.2.3. When the diameter of the thread reaches 1/8", break the thread into six or eight pieces and squeeze
the pieces together between the thumbs and fingers of both hands into a roughly uniform
ellipsoidal shape and re-roll. Continue this procedure until the thread crumbles under the pressure
required for rolling and the soil can no longer be rolled into a thread. The crumbling may occur
when the thread has a diameter greater than 1/8". This is considered a satisfactory end point
provided that the soil has been previously rolled into a thread 1/8" in diameter.

5.2.4. Do not attempt to produce failure at exactly 1/8" in diameter by allowing the thread to reach 1/8",
then reducing the rate of rolling or the hand pressure, or both, and continuing the rolling without
further deformation until the thread falls apart. It is permissible to reduce the total amount of
deformation for feeble plastic soils by making the initial diameter of the ellipsoidal shaped mass
near the required 1/8" final diameter.

5.2.5. Do not attempt to produce failure at exactly 1/8" in diameter by allowing the thread to reach 1/8",
then reducing the rate of rolling or the hand pressure, or both, and continuing the rolling without
further deformation until the thread falls apart. It is permissible to reduce the total amount of
deformation for feeble plastic soils by making the initial diameter of the ellipsoidal shaped mass
near the required 1/8" final diameter.

5.2.6. Do not attempt to produce failure at exactly 1/8" in diameter by allowing the thread to reach 1/8",
then reducing the rate of rolling or the hand pressure, or both, and continuing the rolling without
further deformation until the thread falls apart. It is permissible to reduce the total amount of
deformation for feeble plastic soils by making the initial diameter of the ellipsoidal shaped mass
near the required 1/8" final diameter.
5.2.7. Gather the portion of the crumbled soil together and place in a container and thread to cover

5.2.8. Repeat this procedure until the entire 8-g specimen is completely tested. Weigh to the nearest
0.01 g and record. Determine the moisture content according to ND T 265.

5.2.9. CALCULATIONS

Calculate the percent moisture as follows:

A = [(B C)/C] x 100

A = Percent moisture
B = Mass of original sample
C = Mass of dry sample

Calculate moisture to the nearest 0.1%.

The percent moisture is the plastic limit. Report the plastic limit to the nearest whole number.

TS-1a T 90-3 AASHTO


Copyright American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Provided by IHS under license with AASHTO Licensee=University of Texas Revised Sub Account/5620001114
No reproduction or networking permitted without license from IHS Not for Resale, 12/25/2008 06:21:18 MST
5.3 PLASTICITY INDEX CALCULATION

The plasticity index of soil is the difference between its liquid limit and its plastic
limit.

Plastic ity Index = Liquid Limit - Plastic Limit

Report the plasticity index to the nearest whole number.


NOTES

Report the plastic limit as non plastic (NP) when the plastic limit is equal to or greater than the
liquid limit, or when the liquid limit or plastic limit cannot be determined.

5.4. CALIBRATION

A calibration check of the equipment should be performed annually as a minimum, or


whenever damage or repair occurs.

TS-1a T 90-4 AASHTO


Copyright American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Provided by IHS under license with AASHTO Licensee=University of Texas Revised Sub Account/5620001114
No reproduction or networking permitted without license from IHS Not for Resale, 12/25/2008 06:21:18 MST

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