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!

 

65 replies
  1. Theresa
    Theresa says:

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

    Reply
  2. Allison @ Jovani Prom
    Allison @ Jovani Prom says:

    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?

    Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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.

      Reply
    • Wingno
      Wingno says:

      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

      Reply
  3. Ann Fazi
    Ann Fazi says:

    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!

    Reply
  4. Nicola
    Nicola says:

    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!

    Reply
  5. Candi
    Candi says:

    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!

    Reply
  6. Julia
    Julia says:

    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 ….

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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 – https://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!

      Reply
  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    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?
    Thanks!!

    Reply
  8. Kat
    Kat says:

    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!

    Reply
  9. Dana
    Dana says:

    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?

    Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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

      Reply
  10. Hanna
    Hanna says:

    I JUST WANNA KNOW THAT IF YOU DO BREAK OPEN A GLOW STICK BUT YOU DONT TOUCH OR EAT IT, WILL IT MAKE YOU DIE? I ASKED MY MOM AND SHE SAID YES. o_o

    Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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.

      Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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.

      Reply
      • Jax
        Jax says:

        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.

        Reply
  11. Laura Jenson
    Laura Jenson says:

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

    Reply
  12. Karl Klouzer
    Karl Klouzer says:

    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.

    Reply
  13. Mike
    Mike says:

    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.

    http://www.ncpoisoncenter.org/body.cfm?id=117

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

    Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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.

      Reply
  14. Brittany
    Brittany says:

    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

    Reply
  15. Angela
    Angela says:

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

    Reply
    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      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.

      Reply
  16. Mike
    Mike says:

    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?

    Reply
  17. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    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.

    Reply
  18. Maria Chantaca
    Maria Chantaca says:

    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?

    Reply
  19. Heriberto
    Heriberto says:

    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?

    Reply
  20. shelly bashed
    shelly bashed says:

    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

    Reply
  21. Katie
    Katie says:

    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 ?

    Reply
  22. charles
    charles says:

    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

    Reply
  23. Hailey
    Hailey says:

    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.

    Thanks

    Reply
  24. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    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?

    Reply
  25. Steven Gill
    Steven Gill says:

    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.

    Reply
  26. Shaun
    Shaun says:

    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

    Reply
  27. Lu Lu
    Lu Lu says:

    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.

    Reply
  28. Cindy Marley
    Cindy Marley says:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this (and concern). You probably helped lots of kids from getting hurt or sick!!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] sticks. Unlike with the sparklers, all the press does to the glow sticks is make a big mess of the liquid inside — a mixture of dibutyl phthalate, hydrogen peroxide and phenyl oxalate […]

  2. […] sticks. Unlike with the sparklers, all the press does to the glow sticks is make a big mess of the liquid inside — a mixture of dibutyl phthalate, hydrogen peroxide and phenyl oxalate […]

  3. […] I love color, creativity and spending time with my grandchildren. I’m always on the lookout for fun activities to try and was fascinated by the many different glow-in-the dark suggestions found on Pinterest. Curious, I read the original sources of some of the pins and became concerned about the wisdom of following the directions to some. The one that stands out the most is the pin for glow-in-the-dark bubbles suggesting that you simply cut open glow sticks and pour them into bubble solution. I did a quick search of toxicity of glow stick ingredients and discovered that while the chemicals are not life-threatening, they can cause skin irritation, burning eyes and other unpleasant problems . Since bubble solution is sure to get all over the little ones, this is not something I want to try with my grandbabies. In addition, glow sticks contain thin glass vials that keep the chemicals separate until the tube is bent, which breaks the glass and allows the chemicals to mix. Do you really want small pieces of glass in your child’s bubbles? Finally, it is noted that while the bubble solution does indeed glow while in the container, the resulting bubbles do not glow.  Check out this article to find out more about the concerns some have with this activity, and to also find several much safer alternatives – Dangers of Glow-in-the-Dark. […]

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

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

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. […] 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 […]

  8. […] 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 […]

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