"Growing" crystals with borax powder (a mineral) and pipe cleaners is a popular kid's craft and fun science experiment, but Amanda Kingloff made it possible for adults to try growing borax crystals without feeling the least bit sheepish. I spotted her chic borax crystal tutorial on Etsy and late one night, I found myself in line at a big box supermarket with only pipe cleaners, food colouring, borax, and a carton of almond milk (I had a craving for hot chocolate) in my basket. Her tutorial for borax crystals is fabulous but, after a little trial and error, I made a few adjustments that helped produce some seriously huge, glittering borax crystals. Here's how I made giant borax crystals! If you've made borax crystals before and they turned out small, sparse or wimpy, read on for some borax crystal trouble shooting tips!
- Powdered Borax
- Pipe cleaners (white, or the colour of the crystal you want to make - the fuzzier the better)
- Heat proof glass container (this Corning Pyrex 5 Piece Beaker Assortment Pack would be great because you could make a few at a time, in different sizes)
- Measuring spoon
- Thread (Amanda recommends something thicker, but sewing thread is easy to cut off)
- Neon food colour pack (Amanda recommends gel, but that link is to what I used)
- Pencil or food skewer
How to Make Borax Crystals (First Attempt):
First I created a form using pipe cleaners. Basically I made a loose coil shape, weaving the pipe cleaner in and out to hold the shape steady. The crystals will grow around it, so I learned not to make it too dense. I found 2-3 pipe cleaners made a nice, big crystal. Then I tied a piece of string around the pipe cleaner, long enough for it to be suspended into the borax solution, with enough wiggle room so that the pipe cleaner coil doesn't touch the sides or bottom of the glass.
Amanda suggests using 9 tablespoons of borax dissolved in 3 cups of water. As per the instructions, I put the borax into a heat safe container (a large measuring cup). I boiled water in a pot, to which I added the food colouring. Then I poured the boiling water over the powder until it dissolved. I let the pipe cleaner form soak in this solution for five hours - during which time the measuring cup was wrapped in a dish towel. I followed Amanda's steps to the letter, but ended up with somewhat spotty crystal development:
They looked like pipe cleaners covered in salt, so I called in the reinforcements. My Dad, who has a degree in chemistry, helped me grow really huge, densely covered borax crystals. I felt pretty silly bombing a kid's craft, so I made sure to remind him plenty of times that I have a PhD. He hauled out a huge Pyrex beaker that we found antiquing in Ottawa, and it was a game-changer. We were able to boil the water right in the beaker, and re-use our borax from previous crystal growths, so that changed our process a bit.
How to Grow Huge Borax Crystals (Second Attempt):
We filled the beaker with approximately 2-2.5 liters of water. We brought it to a boil on the stove top and while the beaker remained on the hot element, made a saturated borax solution. We didn't measure; we just kept adding borax until no more would dissolve. Then, while the water was still super hot, I dunked in my pipe cleaner form - plunking it in and out of the water to shake off any air bubbles. Once it was suspended, I covered the top of the beaker with a calendar we had lying around (super technical) and let the pipe cleaner soak in the solution overnight. The beaker stayed on the element as it cooled and this slow cooling seemed to encourage the development.
I ended up with some colossal borax crystals! The best part was, I could easily re-heat the borax solution right in the beaker, re-dissolve any crystallization that had formed on the bottom and sides of the glass, add more borax powder and re-use the solution to make more crystals. This is why they're almost all blues and greens: I kept re-using the same dye bath, which I tweaked a bit each time.
Even once I started using the beaker, I tried a few more using my Pyrex measuring cup and a kettle and found that I could still achieve larger borax crystals, as long as I mixed in so much borax powder that no more would dissolve. You can even re-heat the borax in the microwave, but borax dissolves better the hotter the water is.
Bottom line: you don't need a fancy beaker to make borax crystals, but if you can pick one up thrifting, it's worth it.
Once I got the hang of it, I tried experimenting with the pipe cleaner shapes. My favorite is this sort of shell-shaped form:
How to Grow Giant Borax Crystals, in a Nut Shell:
I don't mean to suggest that Amanda's method for borax crystals doesn't work - it certainly produced some beautiful crystals for her. But these are the steps that worked for me:
- Bring 2 liters water to boil in a glass, heat proof container/beaker
- Add the food colouring
- Add enough borax to create a saturated solution
- Suspend the pipe cleaner form on a string immediately
- Leave the beaker on the element as it cools, the top covered with a magazine or cardboard piece to trap in heat
- Let soak overnight (or at least 8 hours), undisturbed
I moderate blog comments so if you have any borax crystal making questions, I'm still here to help. I'll see your comment and try my best to reply! Please take a look at the comments below, first, because you might find your answer already there. I'd love it if you would tag me on Instagram to show me your gorgeous borax crystals!