Dangers of Opening Glow Sticks

Glow sticks are incredibly popular for their simplicity yet versatility – birthday parties, evening outdoor activities, Halloween science and so much more. They are sold at many events and are found in stores everywhere. Even Steve Spangler Science sells glow sticks.

Kids love cracking them and watching the light glow like a firefly.

In watching blogs and sites like Pinterest for science experiments and activities to share, I have come across several how to’s that involve breaking open glow sticks. One involves adding the goo from glow sticks to bubble solution.

This is not a good idea.

Are glow sticks safe?
They are safe, as long as precautions are followed and the chemicals are kept inside. Cutting open a glow stick can also cause the broken shards of glass to fall out.

Packaging on glow sticks says they are non-toxic. However, the safety warnings on glow sticks read not to puncture or cut the plastic cover on the glow stick. Keep the chemicals contained, and glow sticks are a safe activity.

Glow sticks contain chemicals. Not deadly dangerous chemicals, but chemicals that should be handled and treated with respect. Some glow products use a chemical called dibutyl phthalate. Other glow products contain a small glass vial inside the plastic tube that contains a mixture of hydrogen peroxide in phthalic ester. Outside of the glass vial is another chemical called phenyl oxalate ester. When the tube is cracked, the glass inside is broken and the chemicals all mix together in a reaction that causes the glow.

Dibutyl phthalate is used to help make plastics soft and flexible. It is also used in glues, nail polish, leather, inks and dyes.

Hydrogen peroxide is used as a cleaning agent. Over the counter hydrogen peroxide is diluted and not as strong as the hydrogen peroxide found in glow sticks. This hydrogen peroxide  is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. This is the type of hydrogen peroxide used in Steve’s Elephant’s Toothpaste demonstration. It is not meant to be handled or mixed into other solutions.

Glow Powder and Mini Black Light | Steve Spangler SciencePhthalic ester is a substance that is added to plastics to increase flexibility, durability and transparency. Phthalates are being phased out in many products due to health concerns.

Phenyl oxalate ester is responsible for the luminescence in a glow stick. The reaction with hydrogen peroxide causes the liquid inside a glow stick to glow.

What are the Dangers? 

These chemicals can sting and burn eyes, irritate and sting skin and can burn the mouth and throat if ingested. If the chemicals are ingested or spilled in the eyes or on the skin, it is recommended the area is rinsed with water and the local poison control center contacted.

The chemicals can also cause harm to your pet if a pet chews or ingests a light stick. They taste really bitter, so your pet probably won’t continue chewing or eating the chemicals inside. Watch the pet for excessive drooling or eye or nose irritation.

Poison control centers report that they get numerous calls about potential glow stick poisoning around Independence Day and Halloween.

Like I mentioned earlier, we love glow in the dark activities. We even sell an entire line of glow in the dark science toys. But we want to stress that when using any types of chemicals, the proper precautions and warnings are followed to ensure safe science.

So what if you want to re-create these cool ideas found on the web and Pinterest? Find a glowing substance that isn’t as harmful as those found inside glow sticks. Tonic water is completely safe and will glow under a black light.

At Steve Spangler Science, we sell Glow Powder, which is zinc sulfide. This powder can be mixed with liquids like glue to make almost anything glow in the dark. The best thing about Glow Powder, is it will work over and over and over again and not die out like the glow in glow sticks.

Zinc sulfide is non-toxic, but it still isn’t a good idea to add it to bubble solution or get it near faces, especially the eyes and throat.

Treat all chemicals with caution and care, no matter if they are listed as toxic or non-toxic. An adult should always be present when using chemicals and proper safety materials like safety glasses and gloves should be used when recommended to protect eyes and skin.

Keep in mind that this is not an attempt to sell our glowing concoctions. You do not need to purchase it from us. Google zinc sulfide and purchase it elsewhere if you’d prefer, just don’t crack open glow sticks to get glowing solutions.

Glow in the Dark Bubbles

This idea is very cool and we have tried in our Spangler labs to make glowing bubbles ourselves. But this just doesn’t work. You can make the solution glow in the dark, but once the bubble is blown, the walls of the bubble are too thin to reflect the light and glow. We have also tried over the counter glow in the dark bubble solution found in many stores. Again, the solution glows, but once the bubbles are blown, they do not glow. Although this activity sounds like a lot of after dark fun, it can be dangerous, especially if the solution is accidentally swallowed or blown into the eyes. We recommend you keep the glow in the dark chemicals and the bubbles separate for safety.

A safer alternative for glow in the dark bubbles, if you still want to try it, is to use Tonic Water. Tonic Water is safe to ingest and will glow under a black light.

Mountain Dew Glowing Hoax

A few years ago, a video surfaced where a guy mixed hydrogen peroxide and baking soda with Mountain Dew. When he mixed it, the solution glowed, showing Mountain Dew glowed in the dark. This was proven a hoax almost immediately after it surfaced. Wired.com and Snopes.com both posted explanations for how this prank worked.

The prankster slipped the liquid from a glow stick, like Phenyl oxalate ester, into the Mountain Dew. When the hydrogen peroxide and ester mixed, the solution began to glow. The Mountain Dew had nothing to do with the substance glowing.

So if someone offers you a glowing Mountain Dew, refuse it!


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Comments (60)

  • jenny - monkey toes Reply

    This is really good information. I just shared it on our fanpage where a lot of parents will read the warning.

    Thank you!

    July 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm
  • Lori Lavender Luz Reply

    You mean I should have turned down all those radioactive Mountain Dews? 😉

    Thanks for explaining this. I had wondered just what was inside and the properties of the chemicals.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm
  •   The Glorious Fourth — Scheiss Weekly Reply

    […] on the Fourth; go for those.  Oh, and DON’T break open a glow stick and add it to anything; those glowing bubble posts and pins are hoaxes.  The stuff inside a glow stick can be […]

    July 4, 2012 at 11:20 am
  • Theresa Reply

    Thank you for the information. Too often we get caught up in a “cool idea” and do not think of the dangers or consequences.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm
  • Allison @ Jovani Prom Reply

    Thanks for sharing – I never realized that glow sticks could actually be dangerous. Is it still dangerous to be around the glow stick chemicals if it breaks, even if they do not come into contact with the skin or eyes?

    July 6, 2012 at 8:47 am
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hi Allison – not really, although you don’t want to inhale the fumes that could possibly come from the chemical reaction. The harm will come from coming in contact with the chemicals, that is why we recommend they are not used around children.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:53 am
    • Wingno Reply

      My brother recently had a glow stick spill and he was fine luckily it didint go directly it to his eye .he also had glow stick cemicals in his mouth with u just rinse then fine and it reached his hair somehow and we washed her Thierry as if not washed his hair would have gone blonde!!!! Hope this helps people .… WINGNO.11

      December 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm
  • Ann Fazi Reply

    Thank you for this information. My 2yr old grandson loves glow sticks. He still puts things in his mouth sometimes so this is very important to know!

    July 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm
  • Nicola Reply

    About 15 years ago, I accidentally broke a glow stick and set it (upright) on a wooden bookshelf painted white. Not the best idea, but I was around 7 at the time. Of course, it fell over in the night, and in the morning, the concoction inside had seared through the paint and into the wood! I’ve been wary of glow sticks since then!

    July 28, 2012 at 11:26 am
  • Candi Reply

    Please also be careful of the $1 packages of bracelets you can get just about everywhere… obviously they are almost always given to young children who bend then and often snap them, my 8yr old has had many leak w/o even trying to do anything to them other then wear them.. once she took one off (not knowing it was leaking) and left it on top of our tv cabinet, just like the posted above it removed all of the stain and varnish from my cabinet and also ruined the 2 dvd’s it leaked over onto… expensive lesson!

    August 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm
  • Julia Reply

    Hi Steve,

    Is there a safe way to make a glowing “solution” to use as part of a Halloween costume? (Ghostbusters – ectoplasm)
    We won’t have a black light, so we need something that glows on its own. It will need to be in a jar clipped to a belt and/or “backpack” (or a series of baby soda tubes – love ’em!).

    I thought that I’d open some glow sticks and pour them into a tube or jar and then seal it up. But if that is a bad idea ….


    October 15, 2012 at 11:39 am
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hi Julia – you can use Glow Powder mixed in water or even sprinkled on a costume. It does not need a black light to glow, but as with any glow in the dark substance, it will need to be charged with a light to continually glow. Or what about taking a glow stick and wrapping it inside a jar? Don’t break it open, just stuff it inside a clear container and it will glow. Here’s a link to glow powder – http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/product/1586 – it can be used for all kinds of projects. Be incredibly careful not to inhale it, but you can sprinkle the powder on a costume or brush it on skin to make anything and everything glow in the dark!

      October 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm
  • The Science Behind Halloween Glowing Recipes | Steve Spangler's Blog Reply

    […] can cause skin irritations. For more on the dangers of opening Glow Sticks, please read our post The Dangers of Opening Glow Sticks. Some crafty people also open highlighters and squeeze the liquid out of the pen well. This […]

    October 22, 2012 at 10:19 am
  • Anna Reply

    hi, just wondering about the ‘glowbubbles’ if you wear gloves and something to cover your mouth would it be OK? Or is it just a really, really bad and should never be messed with?

    January 24, 2013 at 1:02 am
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Gloves will protect your skin, but it is our opinion that it isn’t worth the risk of ingesting the chemicals. Safety first.

      January 25, 2013 at 10:48 am
  • The Mean Mama Reply

    Dang! We were so excited to make Glowing Mnt. Dew!

    March 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm
  • Kat Reply

    Thanks for writing this – i came across a DIY tip on Pinterest just now that suggested pouring out the goo from glow sticks into jars for instant lanterns. I immediately thought “is that safe?!”. My first thoughts were that the contents may be radio active (low levels but probably still not safe to touch). So I googled ‘is it safe to open a glow stick’ and this page came up. Its a very clear article and i definitely won’t be playing with glow stick goo after reading this. Thanks for letting everyone know of the dangers!

    June 8, 2013 at 12:07 am
  • Dana Reply

    My daughter had a glow stick leak on her bed and into her mattress. I washed the sheets and can flip the mattress. Is that a good enough idea? Should I throw them out? We are usually wary of any type of phthalate. Is it dangerous for her to be sleeping on, cancer risk etc?

    June 9, 2013 at 11:30 pm
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hi Dana – I’m not completely sure if the glow stick ingredients would be dangerous to sleep on. My suggestion is to call poison control in your area and ask their advice. I’d also make sure there are no glass shards left in the sheets or mattress. Good luck

      June 10, 2013 at 9:09 am
  • Hanna Reply


    September 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hanna – You won’t die by just opening a glow stick. But you do open yourself up to dangers like the chemicals that are inside and the potential glass shards (depending on how your glow stick was manufactured.) Never ingest the contents of a glow stick. Overall it’s best not to open a glow stick and use it for its intended uses.

      September 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm
  • photochallenge 15/30 | Reply

    […] with light here. I cut open some glowsticks. If you want to try this yourself, please be wary of the dangers of cutting open glowsticks, and do not ever put the fluid in bubble solution (whoever thought that would be a good idea must […]

    September 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm
  • Quality Powder Manufacturer by Custom Chemicals International Reply

    I admire how this article was written – literally. It is glowing with information the public should know about glow sticks. By the way, say hi for me to Steve Spangler. I love his science fun!

    September 26, 2013 at 5:22 am
  • Joel Reply

    Here is some real science to refute your pseudoscience:
    You should be ashamed of yourself for fraudulently presenting this blog entry as science-based.

    October 30, 2013 at 4:10 pm
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hi Joel – I’m not clear with what you are calling “pseudoscience.” We do not make any claims that glow sticks are fatal or incredibly dangerous. Our message in this post is to treat all chemicals with respect and know what you are using before giving it to a child. Use common science sense.

      October 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm
      • Jax Reply

        I wouldn’t call your article pseudoscience but you still use the word “chemicals” in like manner to a pseudoscientific hippie natural health proponent and that’s a serious travesty.

        “They have CHEMICALS!” Everything is chemicals. Seriously.

        April 21, 2015 at 6:59 am
    • Treh Reply

      First, your article is over 10 years old. Second, lighten up. They were not making any claims and were just saying be careful. In light of what we know today about BPA’s and other chemicals, I would concerned. Besides the fact that I would hate to have one ruin a piece of furniture. http://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/hidden-dangers-of-glowsticks/

      June 4, 2014 at 2:06 pm
  • Laura Jenson Reply

    Thanks for the usefull info. I shared this since hundreds of people think u can give these chemicals to children.

    April 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm
  • Karl Klouzer Reply

    What % is the Hydrogen Peroxide in them? I use 35% and 17% at work and I know that it can feel quite nasty if you get even a little on you (think -sticking your hand in a bucket of needles) Basically it’s oxidizing your skin, thus your nerve endings go crazy! ANYWAY…. i’ve realized that if you go get any on you, and it stings…..liberally coat the area with hand lotion…..a good thick coating! It will help rehydrate the area and ease the discomfort.

    April 10, 2014 at 9:54 am
  • Mike Reply

    This is basically advertisement for their glow powder. Make people afraid of glow sticks while plugging another product.

    Glow sticks are mostly harmless. Yes, they can cause irritation, but it is STILL non-toxic. It wont kill you, wont even make you sick.


    There are also no fumes. Try researching before fear-mongering.

    April 17, 2014 at 6:37 pm
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hi Mike – we appreciate your comments, but if you actually read our post, we don’t say glow sticks will kill you or even discourage people from purchasing them. We don’t want anyone to open up a glow stick without the understanding of what’s inside. On glow stick packing, the safety warning states not to crack them open. The chemicals are listed as non-toxic, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow package directions or handle them safely. They can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

      We are sharing the science and chemicals behind glow sticks and other glowing material, so parents and their children will make informed decisions.

      April 18, 2014 at 2:14 pm
  • What To Do When Your Kid Eats A Glowstick (Yes Really) - What The Flicka? Reply

    […] More information about Glow Sticks and the dangers click here or […]

    May 12, 2014 at 1:01 am


    May 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm
  • Brittany Reply

    I was just looking up a recipe for glow bubbles, found this and actually read it even though i cant pronounce the chimical words lol the fact that they can’t glow when blown makes sense. Damnnn really looking forward to the idea for memorial day weekend. Ohh well. Bubbles still kind of glow at night in a way

    May 22, 2014 at 11:20 pm
  • What to Do When Your Kid Eats a Glow Stick (Yes, Really) | Erin K. Moffat Reply

    […] For More information about Glow Sticks and the dangers click here or here. […]

    May 30, 2014 at 12:35 am
  • Angela Reply

    Hey if I accidentally snap a glow stick and it leaks on my finger but I already washed it off is it still dangerous?

    June 4, 2014 at 8:48 pm
    • Susan Wells Reply

      You should be fine if you wash it off. More irritation comes from getting it in your eyes or nose, not necessarily on your skin, especially if you wash it off right away.

      June 13, 2014 at 11:30 am
  • david mcmullin Reply

    Instead of glow in the dark bubbles, try shining a bright spotlight on the bubbles in the air, instant rainbows!

    June 5, 2014 at 4:24 am
  • Chemical Safety Reply

    Great post! Been reading a lot about chemical safety with toys like this. Thanks for the info here!

    June 5, 2014 at 11:02 am
  • Mike Reply

    So I cracked a glow stick to turn it on or to make it light up and when I did it exploded and went in my eyes. Luckily it happened to me and not my niece or nephew but anyway it BUUUUURNT SO BAD. It’s now the morning after my eyes still feel a little irritated but a lot better than last night. Will I be ok?

    July 6, 2014 at 5:28 am
    • Susan Wells Reply

      I would check with your doctor to make sure everything is ok and you don’t have fragments in your eye. I hope everything is ok.

      July 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm
  • Aaron Reply

    I’ve got a question, how would you treat small ingestion of it? From accidentally licking your finger, after opening one. A friend of mine did this and says he has pain in his waist to midsection.

    July 9, 2014 at 1:58 am
  • Allison Reply

    Where can I purchase the raw liquid? For a wedding

    July 20, 2014 at 1:52 am
  • Knicklichter Reply

    A great explanation. i craft sometimes objects with glowsticks but my skin has no problems with the liquid of the glowsticks

    August 5, 2014 at 7:52 am
  • Maria Chantaca Reply

    I wanted to ask is there any way to clean out the jars after I used them trying to do the glow in the dark jars didn’t come out good at all though but if so HOW DO U CLEAN IT?

    August 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm
  • Hanna Reply

    My brother got some glowstick liquid in his eye what should I do.

    September 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm
  • deshawn39 Reply

    Soooo sadly

    October 26, 2014 at 10:23 pm
  • Heriberto Reply

    I was with a friend of mine, he cut a glow stick open and tha chemicals burst out and I think I got some in my hand because it has a burn but it didn’t irritate, in fact I felt nothing, but the skin still acts regularly, what should I do?

    October 31, 2014 at 2:53 pm
  • kryptos Reply

    These are dangerous. I had one break on my arm and I have a really big rash.

    November 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm
  • Bashed Reply

    I am doing a science fair project on glow stick what should I say about it confused????

    December 8, 2014 at 2:08 pm
  • shelly bashed Reply

    i am so board and I need to talk to somebody, and what are in side of a glow stick. I am doing a science fair project like my brother I need to know PLEASE my science fair is in 6 days or not

    December 9, 2014 at 8:27 am
  • Katie Reply

    Hey thanks for the info ……
    can you tell me what we should do if the liquid inside the glowstick comes in contact to furniture or paint or car polish ?

    December 11, 2014 at 1:37 am
  • charles Reply

    i punctured 1. I no u cant eat the chemicals but is it still dangeeous if i dont touch it? should i wear a gas mask or sumthin

    December 16, 2014 at 2:31 pm
  • taneisha Reply

    Help me I am dieding I have eaten. A glow stick my body hurts like hell

    December 28, 2014 at 1:16 am
  • Hailey Reply

    Hi there, earlier today I was playing with a glow stick and it broke open and got all on my hands and bed. I washed my hands and flipped the bed over. But I could still smell it on my fingers. I looked up how to get glow stick juice off of you. It said if spilled on skin wash immediately and call the poison control. I am only 15 so do I really have to call the poison control, because I’m scared. Please respond ASAP.


    December 28, 2014 at 4:12 pm
  • Victoria Reply

    I got glow stick fluid on my skin yesterday. So far, I haven’t had any problems, my skin has been just fine. Should I expect to get a rash later? If not, why isn’t my skin irritated from this encounter?

    March 22, 2015 at 6:48 pm
  • Steven Gill Reply

    Note that the energy compound in light sticks is a polychlorinated aromatic, namely CPPO http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bis-%282,4,5-trichloro-6-%28pentyloxycarbonyl%29phenyl%29oxalate, and may have long term toxicity similar to other halogenated compounds.
    The downplaying of the potential toxicity of these things is based on not wanting to scare people off the buying of them.
    The manufacture of these disposables involves tremendous wastage of all sorts of toxic chemicals, and they are definitely to be avoided by people concerned with the environment in any way.
    (I worked with carboalkoxyphenyloxalate chemiluminescence for many years before deciding it was a toxic mess not worth the trouble – if you must buy glowsticks, look for the “phthalate free” brand, and keep them off your skin.)
    A much better choice for novelty lighting is electroluminescent materials – these, while more expensive, can be reused indefinitely.

    April 10, 2015 at 8:37 pm
  • Shaun Reply

    Many of the ingredients in glow sticks (diethyl pthalate, 9,10-bis(phenylethynl)anthracene, bis(2,4,6-trichlorophenyl) oxalate, 30% hydrogen peroxide, sodium acetate) are carcinogenic and the hydrogen peroxide is very corrosive at a 30% concentration.
    Treat the chemicals in glowsticks with the same respect you treat toilet bowl cleaner or household bleach. There is no need to be scared as long as you take proper precautions so if you DO want to break one open, do it outside/in a fume hood/in a well ventilated area, and wear proper gloves.
    Google search a chemical name followed by MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for detailed safety information about any chemicals you want to know about (i.e. searching Google for ‘sodium hypochlorite msds’ would bring up the MSDS for bleach)

    Source: Amateur chemist

    June 6, 2015 at 11:47 pm
  • Lu Lu Reply

    I was at a function last weekend just sitting when unknown to me someone waved a broken glow stick near me. I ended up in hospital with severe swelling of mouth, face and throat. After a night in hospital with quick treatment of antihistamine injections I made a full recovery and was able to return home next day. Please do not play with broken glow sticks. I will not have them in my house in future.

    September 29, 2015 at 10:41 am

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