Instructables

How to make Borax crystal decorations to impress and amaze the kids

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Face it, crystals are cool. Plus they work nicely into the whole holiday/winter/snowflake-y theme. You could use a few new decorations and out smarting your kids for once might lift your spirits a bit seeing that you've been pretty down about spending all that cash on the holidays.

Why not amaze the kids, flaunt your knowledge of six-sided hexagonal shapes and sparkle up the joint a bit for the holidays..whichever they may be...with a few Borax crystal decorations?This old time-y project is fun for the whole family.

Please note that this project uses Borax, a common household cleaner/chemical and can be harmful if ingested particularly by the little ones. Use constant supervision and do not allow children to touch, eat or inhale Borax. This is based on a pretty common grade school science experiment about the properties of crystals. Here is more information about the chemical properties of Borax:

http://ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk/~hmc/hsci/chemicals/borax.html
 
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Step 1: Gather necessary materials

Picture of Gather necessary materials
To make these awesome crystal decorations you need a few items most, if not all, of which you have around your house.

You'll need:

1 large-ish empty recycled glass jar with a preferably wide mouth (I like to use glass peanut butter jars because they tend to have large openings and we just seem to have an over abundant supply of them given our PB & J addiction)

Large pipe cleaners or as they are sometimes fancifully called "chenille stems" (I prefer single colored stems because they add a nice pop of pigment to the crystals)

Borax (20 Mule Team Borax Laundry Booster). If you're having a hard time finding Borax I recommend checking your grandparent's laundry room or go to the detergent aisle of your local AARP grocery shopping hot-spot and you're sure to locate a box.

1 Tablespoon measuring spoon

1 spoon for stirring

Boiling hot water

Pencil

String (we like embroidery floss or twine but even unused dental floss works)

Newspaper

Step 2: The perfect color

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Chose a chenille stem from your color options. Try to have in mind what shape you'd like to make for before choosing your color. Very important. Or you can do what my two year old daughter does and just play it safe and choose your favorite color...pink of course.

Step 3: The shape of things

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Twist and bend your stem into whatever shape you'd like to make. Go crazy. The sky's the limit.

Step 4: Cookie cutter option

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Or if you're like me and shape challenged you can always try wrapping your pipe cleaner around the outer perimeter of your favorite cookie cutter to get your desired shape. Just be sure to evenly twist the ends of the shape closed. Then slide the pipe cleaner off the cookie cutter. Whoa-la! A perfect Star of David.

Step 5: String it up

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Tie a piece of string to the top of your decoration. This will double as a way to suspend the pipe cleaner in the jar and act as the perfect hanging tool to display your crystallized art.

Step 6: Heat things up a bit

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Heat water in a kettle until it's boiling hot.

Step 7: Tip me over and pour me out

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Once you're water is bubbling away carefully pour it into your clean, recycled jar almost to the top.

Step 8: Perfect measure

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Using a tablespoon measuring spoon start measuring in tablespoons of Borax. Pour in four tablespoons at first. Then, mix the Borax and the water together. If the Borax completely dissolves you'll need to continue adding tablespoons until the water is cloudy and there might even be a few pieces of Borax that won't completely mix in. Our large jar took 10 tablespoons and our medium one took eight. You'll just have to eyeball it figure out exactly how much you'll need.

Since I've posted this I've gone back and have retried the experiment with less Borax and found you can use a bit less with similar results. This time around I used only 5 tablespoons for the medium jar and 7 tablespoons for the large.

You might want to place something under the jar when pouring and stirring the Borax to cut down on the mess.

Step 9: Mix master

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Mix and check the Borax/water solution after every two tablespoons.

I allowed my 2 1/2 year old 2 stirs with a long spoon so she could feel involved. Then we washed our hands.

Step 10: Reached saturation

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When your solution remains cloudy and no more Borax will dissolve you've finally reached saturation. Yeah!

Step 11: Hanging by a thread

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With pencil held horizontally in your hand wrap your decoration around the middle of the pencil.

Step 12: Fully submerged

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Dip your decoration into the jar of hot liquid Borax until it is fully submerged in the mixture. Balance the pencil across the mouth of the jar so that the decoration is centered in the middle of the jar. Make sure that no part of the decoration is touching the sides of the glass jar. This is especially important because crystals will grow on the walls as well as the pipe cleaner and if the pipe cleaner is too close to the jar walls it will get stuck thus potentially ruining your hard work when you pull it out of the jar. We can't have that!

Now's the time you wait. Sit back, relax, go to bed and in the morning check on your creation. You might even want to wait up a bit. Perhaps, read a book to the kids. We like Kenneth Libbrecht's cool micro-photography book "Snowflakes". Then check on the jars to see if anything has happened yet. So exciting.

Step 13: Magic crystals

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Through the magic of science you'll wake the next day to a dazzling display of sparkly crystal goodness. Simply lift the decoration out of the jar and give a huge thumbs up at a job well-done.

Step 14: Dry time

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Place decorations on newspaper to dry.

At this point your child might say "Wow! How did that ugly pipe cleaner grow all those sparkly-shimmery crystals?"

Here's your opportunity to prove that you are in fact the smartest parent on the planet, perhaps even the world's smartest person by saying:

"You know junior, the Borax we used is a type of crystal meaning it's a symmetrical solid shape with flat sides that form a repeating pattern. A snowflake forms when water molecules cool and move close together creating a six-sided crystal. Similar to snowflakes, Borax also forms large and small crystals in cooling water. Hot water can hold more Borax crystals than cold water because when water molecules are heated they move farther apart. This creates space for more Borax crystals to dissolve until saturation is reached. Then, the magic happens. The water molecules begin to cool and move closer together making less room for the dissolved Borax thus causing crystals to stack when water evaporates releasing the extra Borax. How fast your water cools determines the size of your crystals. If your water cools quickly you'll grow small crystals and if the water cools slowly larger crystals will form. Now, dear, judging from your crystals how do you think your water cooled?"

Step 15: Shiny happy

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Once your Borax crystal decorations have dried it's time to put them on display for all the world, or at least your visitors to see. It's nice to have a light close by shining on your crystals so their true beauty can shimmer through.

A creative imagination yields a pretty cool crystal decoration. In case you couldn't tell from the photo, which I'm sure you have no idea what my children decided to make with their pipe cleaners, my 9 year old son made a "Joker face from the Batman series" while my 2 year old daughter was aiming for something more abstract in the fashion of Kandinsky...I think they succeeded.
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After the crystals are formed, how do you get the crystals out of the bottom of the jar you used for the ornament?

I'll admit it's really difficult. I usually use jar I've recycled so that if I can't get the crystals out I can let go of the jar w/out not being too disappointed. Try pouring hot water in the jar & stir to dissolve the Borax. If you're trying to save the crystals I'm not sure, maybe carefully use a knife?

thanks
Ugifer3 years ago
This is great but I would be a little worried about putting borax shapes out on the Christmas tree in case visiting kids tried to eat them.

Could you do this with, for example, table salt, or even sugar? That way you know kids won't eat enough to kill themselves with!
marzz153 years ago
is there a diference if you use 20 mule team borax to other borax?
Mirime4 years ago
Could yopu re dip them each year?
otterhopdotcom (author) 6 years ago
Thank you everyone for your comments and concerns over the potential hazards of mishandling Borax. I've been doing this project for years and have always used constant supervision when doing it with children. Borax is indeed harmful if swallowed. I'm revising my Instructable with a disclaimer and safety instructions. This is a pretty common grade school science experiment and is safe with the proper supervision--here's some more information on Borax that you might find helpful:

http://ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk/~hmc/hsci/chemicals/borax.html
Kids make slime with borax in schools sometimes.
i did that
how do u make slime from borax?
im not sure you can prolly find it on google or wiki knowhow but i think we used borax(duh) some glue im not sure though
. While borax is not completely safe, it's is not very toxic. No worse than any other laundry product. As you said - "safe with the proper supervision."
.
. Nice iBle.
Could the same effect be created using Boric Acid (I know, it sounds worse, but boric acid is used as an eye wash, it is so mild)?
Sweet, all I use borax for is keeping 6 legged critters out of the apartment and making bottles of incredibly flammable green flames. I'll definitely be trying this.
Bottles of increadibly flammable green flames you say... Veryyyyy interesting!
And other colors.
Colored Fire
how do u use borax to make colored flames?
Whoa!! Thanks!
very pretty, and clever, however something worried me a lot. Borax at that saturation is also toxic! and dermal absorbtion is possible. my concern would be very young toddlers either keeping one in their hand to play with, or worse to suck on! and also any household pets that may want to have a toy too. i really do not mean to dampen the parade, just please be careful about access to them.
I keep hearing conflicting reports about borax's toxicity. I have read it is poisonous and should be handles with care, can be used as a roach repellent, and in 2 different herbal books that it can be added to baths and face concoctions. Can someone please shed some light on this?
http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/BO/boron.html
this will give you some idea. as a bath or face product the amount used would be at much less strength than the concentrated crystal forming brew. it is good for garden issues -in deficient soils cabbages split open, too much and plants die! the disposal of the crystal brew should be considered too. that volume would do to apply to a football ground, as a watered down application.I would add hot water to that remnant, dilute that volume by say 1gallon and then add a fair bit of honey! it would supply you and 2 neighbours with a years ant killer:-)
hope this sheds some light, the dose makes the poison!
Close, but no cigar. Borax is not boron. Here's the proper link:
http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/SO/sodium_tetraborate_decahydrate.html
"Harmful if swallowed. Possible risk of damage to unborn child. Risk of impaired fertility. Irritant."

Why are these natural body care books recommending this? Then again a lot of things are fine except when you are pregnant, and those lists are very thourough. Idk...

I don't see a problem with this project though, as long as no one eats them.

Instead of ant killer you could use the leftovers in your laundry. Just add a few teaspoons per load. Apparently it keeps the soap from sticking to anything and so leaves your clothes(or skin in some recipes) cleaner. I use it in my laundry sometimes and it seems to work well.
taraist taraist6 years ago
Oh and also I've heard of mopping your kitchen floor with borax solution to keep roaches away. Don't know about bare feet on this though.
hi taraist, in the laundry borax is for removing stains, and handy for woolens. never noticed soap sticking unless i have used pure yellow soap grated, and then that was a gross floaty mess:-( a few drops of eucalyptus oil is better for debugging clothes before storage. as to why? books use it, the line "the dose- is the poison" holds true ,in small amounts it is fine and not an issue, my whole point about the safety was that this instructable uses a Super Saturated solution! and i was glad to see a safety rider was added promptly. salt would do the same and be safer! and the sugar idea..well ..not for storage and also likely to go sticky if any humidity in the room ie from the damp sand round a tree for eg. and the ant factor too, especially here in australia, our xmas being in ant season ie summer. have a merry xmas!
how does salt make these decorations?
static taraist6 years ago
For insect control I believe borax powder is put down where the insects travel. The idea being the insects die after the borax damages their exoskeleton
annchanted6 years ago
I tried this instructable last night and it worked marvelously! Thank you for this awesome idea. As for the toxicity problem...I worried a little about that, too, however, good common sense should remedy that. For example, keeping out of reach of children and pets! In all honesty, a glass ornament could fall on the ground and shatter and be stepped on and present a danger. There are dangers everywhere and common sense is the only way to combat those potential dangers. I am thinking myself about giving it a coat of clear gloss to see if I can make it hold up better and it may also provide a barrier to where there would be no transdermal absorption.
the poison level of borax is low.it will make you sick but you have eat a lot of it to die from it say about 4 cups
canadian nh5 years ago
sorry for bothering you, but if I'd like to use something else nt chenille stem like copper wire, or artificial flower silk flower or porcelain flower does crystal stick to it? or only specific object we use anythign else can't be used. Thanks
crystals will stick to anything but they will not look the same
I am not sure, but I have made crystals in the past and there are many other ways to make crystals. Pipe cleaners work well, but anything that will hold the crystals (so something kinda furry like pipe cleaners) should work.
twighahn4 years ago
since borax kills insects they are safe to store for years if kept dry and they will help keep the pests away
AmyLuthien4 years ago

I made some for Halloween!  Thanks for the 'ibile!

halloween crystal ornaments 02.png
Jmae4 years ago
I was wondering after seeing this and watching the other video on this site http://www.instructables.com/community/Beautiful_Crystal_Covered_Apartment/ if I could take a piece of wood, cover it in felt (so the crystals can grip it like the pipe cleaner) and suspended it on top of a tub of the borax formula and make an art piece for my bedroom with it.
Any thoughts?
BlueHazel4 years ago
My comp. went for a crap at x-mas so I didn't get to tell you....
I did this with my After School Group (aged 4-12) , it was their gift for their parents.   At first I had them made inside jars but the kids pipecleaner shapes (i let them create their own) were to wide so I ended up cutting a 2L milk catrton in half, which worked much better.  
Some observations the kids & I made:
> the fuzzier the pipecleaner the more crystals stuck.
> we used about 7-8 Tbsp. of Borax in the milk container
> wearing vinyl gloves feels weird, wearing safety glasses is "right awsome"
> a tree shape, candycane shape, snowflake shape grew the most crystals
> do not let the water cool before stirring in the borax, reboil the water

We will probablly do this again to see what the crystals will & will not grow on!
Thanx for this amazing project!!!
hobsonsp5 years ago
Do you think if I added some kind of scented oil to the borax water mix the borax would absorb the oil as it crystalizes and therefore turn into homemade crystal potpourri?
nice
canadian nh5 years ago
anther question please, can we use any object instead of chenille stem? like copper wire?
canadian nh5 years ago
Hi, Are all crystals white colour? can we colour the burax before adding to get colorful crystals? thanks
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