Learn how to make a glow-in-the-dark crystal snowflake or other glowing holiday ornament. This is a safe and easy project that's great for kids of all ages. The crystal ornaments are light-weight and inexpensive to make.
I used borax to make my ornaments, but you can use sugar or alum if you try this project with younger children and are concerned about safety (borax isn't particularly dangerous; just don't drink the solution and do wash your hands if you handle the ornaments.) The snowflake in the photo is a variation on the borax crystal snowflake project, except I used one additional ingredient, Glow-Away™ washable paint (I got paint from Michael's in the tempera paint section). Although this paint washes off with water, it is not water soluble, so you can't just stir it in with your crystal solution. I tried mixing it with solid borax, too. That dispersed the paint, but the zinc compound just settled out of solution. I found a way to get this to work, though.
Materials for a Glowing Ornament
- borax (or could use alum or epsom salts equally well; sugar works but follow instructions for rock candy to grow the crystals)
- very hot water (I used water from my coffee maker)
- glow-in-the-dark paint
- scissors or wire cutters (optional)
- butter knife or pencil
- glass or jar big enough for your ornament
- measuring cup or larger glass for making the solution
- paintbrush or cotton swab (optional)
- Shape your ornament. To make a snowflake, cut a pipecleaner into thirds (doesn't have to be exact). Line up the pieces and twist them in the center. Bend the arms out to make the snowflake shape. Trim the arms to make them even, except the longest arm, which you can bend over a knife or pencil to suspend the ornament in crystal-growing solution. You can make other shapes, of course, like trees, stars, bells, etc.
- Coat the pipecleaner shape with the glowing paint. You can use a paintbrush or a swab or your fingers or do what I did, which is to just dribble the paint on the pipecleaner. It's all good. What is not good is what I did next, which was to dip my ornament in the crystal-growing solution before the paint had dried a little (it can fall off and leave dead spots on the finished decoration.) So... try to let your ornament dry or least set up to ensure good coverage. I'd allow 15-30 minutes, depending on how much paint you used.
- Prepare your solution. Pour hot water into your crystal-growing glass to fill it (this is measuring your volume). Dump this hot water into a larger glass or cup (where you will prepare the actual solution).
- Stir in borax or alum or epsom salts until the solid stops dissolving and starts collecting at the bottom of the container. The reason you are using separate containers for making the solution and growing the crystals is because you want a saturated solution for quick crystal growth, but no solids, which would compete with your ornament for crystal growth.
- Pour the clear solution into your crystal-growing glass. Rinse out your other container so no one accidentally drinks crystal solution.
- If your pipecleaner has a long arm, attach the ornament directly to a knife or pencil (otherwise you will have to tie the ornament or use a second pipecleaner, twisted onto the ornament and the knife/pencil). Rest the knife on top of the glass, being sure the ornament is completely immersed in solution and not touching the sides or bottom of the container.
- Allow crystals to grow overnight or longer (until you like the way they look).
- Remove the ornament from the solution and allow it to dry. You can hang it over an empty glass or set it on a paper towel (unless you used sugar, for obvious reasons).
- You can store the ornaments wrapped in tissue paper.
- I pretty much covered the safety. Don't drink crystal-growing solution, don't eat the ornaments, etc. If you used sugar or alum (both found in food), the ornaments are very safe to handle. Even though the glowing paint is non-toxic, ornaments aren't food.
- If you used borax or epsom salts, rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. It's safe to wash any of these materials down the drain.
- You can vary the size of the crystals by using a less saturated solution (like 3 tablespoons of borax per cup of boiling water) and by controlling the cooling rate of the solution. If you are up for some experimentation, try refrigerating your warm solution and see what happens. What do you get if you keep the solution warm, like on sunny window?