I’m forever blowing bubbles
Pretty bubbles in the air
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky
Then like my dreams they fade and die
- John Kellette, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”
OK, so the lyrics to the old standard are kind of a downer when you stop and listen, but blowing soap bubbles is a pretty darn pleasant way to while away some time on a lazy summer day. Soap bubble solutions, generally little more than dish soap and water, can be picked up at a dollar store and are a favorite gift bag stuffer at children’s birthday parties, but if we’re going to be forever blowing bubbles, we’re going to do it right. This week we spent some time field testing a few recipes for this classic time waster.
What’s Behind Bubbles?
Evidence shows that blowing air through a soapy solution to set perfect filmy spheres aloft was a pastime as early as the 1500′s. Sir Isaac Newton studied the thickness of the walls of soap bubbles (his conclusion? Really, really thin). Different elements will affect the thickness, loftiness and durability of soap bubbles. Sugar will reduce the evaporation rate, making longer lasting bubbles. Ingredients like glycerin impact viscosity, affecting durability and weight. For such a simple toy, the science is substantial.
Starting with standard dish soap (we used Dawn) and tap water, our recipes varied as we sought that perfect balance of lift and sturdiness. Ingredients included table sugar, corn syrup, gelatin and glycerin (a by-product of soap often used in moisturizers and to improve the consistency of icing on fancy cakes). Ratios were tweaked, ingredients were mixed and matched. Eventually we hit on a couple of recipes that met our high standards for loft and stability.
Why spend our time on this when soap bubble solutions are cheap and readily available? Well, our homemade bubble solutions outclass any of the commercial stuff we tested, but mostly it’s because we are nerds and school lets out for the summer this week.
The Best of the Bubbles
Armed with a selection of bubble wands made from bent wire, plastic rings, and mason jar lid fasteners, we settled on two “best in show” recipes, each with their own appeal. Place ingredients in a jar with an airtight lid and stir gently to combine without agitating suds. Both recipes can be used immediately, but seem to do a little better after resting for a few hours before breaking out the bubble wands.
Mile High Bubbles
2 cups warm water
1/3 cup dish soap
1/4 cup corn syrup
The bubbles we got from adding corn syrup to the recipe weren’t as reflective or colorful as some of the other efforts, but these soar sky high (often rising out of sight without ever bursting). If you are looking for lift, this simple recipe fits the bill perfectly and won’t require a trip to the store.
The “Mile High” recipe was looking like the undisputed champion until our final contestant hit the stage. This recipe uses a combination of gelatin and glycerin to create a super strong bubble that catches amazing colors and hovers so long in the air you can take a moment to admire your reflection on its surface. Because it is a heavier solution, the Dura-Bubbles rarely disappeared into the sky, but rather hung in the air (depending on the wind) until eventually drifting to the ground. These bubbles are so sturdy, they would even occasionally remain intact as they landed in the grass. When they do burst, there is a visible string of gelatin left to plummet to the ground.
2 cups hot water
1/4 cup dish soap
1 (.25 oz) packet gelatin
2 tablespoons glycerin
Bubbles so good, they’d make Lawrence Welk proud. Unlike basic dish soap, these professional grade bubbles may leave a little sugary residue behind when (or if) they land, so you probably don’t want to use these indoors. Besides, it’s a beautiful day. See below for more recipes for simple summer fun. Now go outside and play!