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While I was looking for more information on bubble science and how to color bubbles, I just found this cool video.

Do you know how the bubble artist, Keith Johnson, got the “colored” bubbles? According to his website, he uses a “fog” machine that fills the bubbles with fog.

Edit: Keith Johnson's website was on MobileMe, which has been discontinued. Hopefully he will put up a new one soon.

Bubbles are great for studying chemistry and physics. In an early post in this blog I wrote about testing bubble solutions and doing experiments with household products that could be used to make bubbles. Recent events made us take a second look at bubble science.

Last weekend we went to a birthday party. The guest of honor had an electric bubble blower toy and a small bottle commercial bubble formula poured into a tray. The toy made a cloud of bubbles as it was passed from child to child, and soon the children had used up the bubble solution.

While one of the parents went inside to make more, one of the children added a bit of her soda to the container. There was enough bubble formula residue to blow bubbles, but something unusual happened. A few of the bubbles lingered long after the rest. They turned white and seemed stiffer than usual bubbles. We immediately wanted to know why. Do you have any ideas? I’ll give you a hint, the soda was regular, not diet.

bubble

Answer:  Most bubbles pop when their walls get too thin because of evaporation the water or because gravity pulls the water down. In our dry Arizona air, bubbles burst particularly quickly. Commercial bubble formulas typically contain a bit of glycerin, which is thought to slow evaporation and make the bubbles last longer. Other substances, such as sugar, fruit pectin or corn syrup can have the same effect. Sweetened soda typically contains corn syrup, so by adding soda to the solution she made longer lasting bubbles.

We were also interested in how else the bubbles had changed. We all decided that the bubbles had a nice soda smell. We tried to see if the color had changed, because the soda was dark brown. We couldn’t see any differences. Have you ever looked at the colors in a bubble closely? Think of ways to study the color of bubbles and leave a comment. We’ll have the results in a later post.

Looking for more? Try:
(Note: title and image affiliate links go to Amazon)

Pop! A Book About Bubbles (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 1) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and illustrated by Margaret Miller

This book is for the younger set. The summary says ages 4-8, possibly younger.

Bubble-ology: Teacher's guide by Jacqueline Barber

This book says it is for grades 5 -9. I am usually thrilled with GEMS books, but this one seems a bit thin to me. It still has nice experiments, obviously well tested. Given all the information out there on bubbles, this one is useful because it pulls the experiments together in a logical way and does discuss the science behind them.

Experiments with Bubbles (Getting Started in Science) by Robert Gardner

Fizz, Bubble & Flash!: Element Explorations & Atom Adventures for Hands-On Science Fun! (Williamson Kids Can!) by Anita Brandolini, Ph.D. and illustrated by Michael P. Kline

How to Make Monstrous, Huge, Unbelievably Big Bubbles (Klutz) by David Stein and The editors of Klutz

Today let's do some bubble science. Most of us have used bubble formulas or solutions sold in stores, and they make great bubbles. But what if you are out of bubble formula and can't get to the store to buy any? Are there any other products you already have around the house that will make bubbles? You probably can think of a couple of things right off hand. Now let's give them a try.

Part 1. Testing the products
You will need:

-A bubble wand or similar tool for blowing bubbles, such as a spool
-A few small containers, such a small paper cups, big enough for the wand to easily fit inside
-Water
-Household products to test, such as dish detergent, shampoos, hair conditioners, toothpaste, laundry soap, hand soap, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and hand cream. You might also want to try blowing bubbles in milk and cream, without adding water. Use your imagination to come up with things to test. Note: Stay away from potentially dangerous products such as toilet bowl cleaners.

First, try to blow a bubble with just water. Can you do it? Put some water into a container, and then swish it with the bubble wand and blow. What happens?

Dump out your test compound after each test into a sink and rinse the container completely, or use a fresh container for each test so the products don't interfere with each other.

Squeeze a nickel-sized blob of household product in a container and add about the same amount of water. Stir the mixture with the bubble wand. What happens? Do any bubbles form? Now, load the wand and try to blow a bubble. Does it work? If not, try to add a bit more water and try again.

What about toothpaste? Doesn't it make small bubbles when you brush your teeth? Could you blow a bubble with your toothpaste?

After you have tested all the different products, which gave the best bubbles? Typically dish detergents and shampoos should work well, but some brands are better than others. If none of the products made good bubbles, then you might want to try again using bottled water with your products. Tap water can have minerals or other chemicals in it that make it difficult for bubbles to form.

Part 2. Improving the formula

You will need:
-Equipment from Part 1
-Household products that worked best for producing bubbles, from Part 1
-Sugar
-Corn syrup
-Water

Commercial bubble formulas often contain glycerin to help the bubbles last longer. But glycerin is expensive and may be an allergen. Will adding sugar or corn syrup make bubbles last longer?

Try this recipe. Mix 1/2 cup of your best product with 1/2 cup water in a container. Try a few bubbles. Then add 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and stir well. Try blowing a bubble. Do the bubbles seem any different after the sugar was added? What about the marks the bubbles leave after they pop? Do the marks seem different?

Now mix 1/2 cup of your best product with 1/2 cup water again. This time add 1/8 cup of corn syrup and mix well. What happens to the bubbles this time? Which mixture do you prefer?

If you are interested in finding out more about bubbles and doing more bubble experiments, be sure to check your local library for books on bubble and soap science.