Water beads are pretty darn amazing for something that starts out as small as a mustard seed and grows to the size of a marble. We use water beads for an array of different things, from watering our plants to using them as a learning tool to help toddler development and play. You could say for the most part, water beads are very easy to use. Just place them in water and watch them grow, but do you really know how to properly take care of them to extend the life of water beads? I've compiled a list of useful tips to keep those water beads colorful, durable and clean.
Understanding the chemistry makeup of a water bead will give a better understanding behind the tips listed below and why they make such a big difference in caring for them. Water beads are composed of a water-absorbing polymer (sodium polyacrylate) which is a super-absorbing polymer (SAP) and absorbs water by a process called osmosis. When water bead is placed in contact with water, there is a tendency for the sodium to distribute itself equally between the water bead and the water. This means, some of the sodium atoms want to leave the bead and move to the water. When parts of sodium leave, they are replaced with water molecules. Water swells the bead to try to keep the sodium concentration balanced between the bead and the water.
Now that you have a better understanding as to why water beads act as they do, let's move on to learn some crucial tips to get the most out of your water beads (no pun intended lol!)
1. Bead Size Does Matter!
Water beads are sold in a few different sizes and multiple colors, however, this does not mean that each size is as durable as the other. The smaller half-inch (meaning the size the beads will reach in their hydrated state) beads are the best because they tend to be more sturdy and durable. The larger the size (one inch or larger), the more water is absorbed which means a heavier bead. Larger beads tend to fall apart very easily, are extremely messy (they get everywhere), and they don't last very long. Soaking the half-inch beads too long, will cause them to become less firm and fall apart much easier. An adequate amount of time for soaking is six to eight hours to obtain maximum size. Once the maximum size has been reached, gently place them in a strainer to drain out the remaining water.
2. Water Type Makes a Sizable Difference!
The type of water used makes a BIG difference when it comes to water beads. The purer the water, the larger and more durable they will grow. Soaking the beads in distilled water (which is pure) allows the beads to absorb 800 times their weight. Soaking the beads in tap water and only 300 times their weight is absorbed. Now that's a pretty big difference in size! Tap water contains some sodium, calcium and other mineral salts which reverse the absorption of water, therefore allowing less water to enter the water bead.
3. Water Beads LOVE Warm Baths!
It is possible to speed up the absorption process by using warm water to soak the beads in. Note: Hotter is not necessarily better, do not use boiling water because this will cause the beads to split and break down.
4. To Hydration Or Dehydration?
Water beads can be dehydrated and stored away for later use. Shrinking will occur, but resulting in a slightly larger size than the dehydrated form they initially came in. Dehydrating and re-hydrating the beads, results in a shorter lifespan, so keeping the beads continuously hydrated is highly recommended. To do this, soak the beads again (three to five hours this time instead of six to eight hours since they already contain some water) every two or three weeks to maintain their size. By keeping the beads continuously hydrated, they can last two to three years! Sometimes it's just not feasible to keep the beads in their hydrated form. Water beads become somewhat sticky during the dehydration process. So if you need to dehydrate them to store away, follow my tried and true storing method to ensure that your beads won't get destroyed in the process.
Dehydration Method& Proper Storage
Things to avoid:
1. Dehydrating water beads in a ziplock bag. The beads WILL dehydrate at a much slower rate due to slower evaporation from the bag and the beads being on top of each other.
2. In the past, I have used a glass container an also tried paper towels for this process. I ended up with dehydrated beads stuck to the container. I was able to pull the beads off, but upon re-hydration, the beads were damaged (no longer perfectly round and chunks missing). So, I strongly advised against using any kind of glass container or paper towels for the dehydration process.
Using a non-stick silicone baking mat (for smaller amounts) or a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (for larger amounts), gently spread your water beads out on a flat surface. Make sure that you leave just a tiny bit of space between each bead to prevent them from clumping together. The dehydration process generally takes four to five days depending on the size of the hydrated bead. When your water beads are completely dehydrated, they will not be sticky to the touch. Place the beads in a ziplock bag and store in a cool, dry place.
5. Sun Exposure Is a BIG No No!
Water beads are beautiful to look and play with on a bright sunny day, but leaving water beads out in direct constant sunlight will not only break them down, it will shorten their lifespan as well. Once your little one is finished playing with the beads, move them to a shaded area and or cover them up.
6. Clean Those Water Beads!
I personally have never had an issue with mold growing on water beads, but I have heard from another mommy blogger, that her beads had grown mold. Where there is water, there is always a chance of mold. Mold needs water to grow, as well as a food source, oxygen and a temperature between 40 degrees and 100 degrees F, which makes water beads a perfect breeding ground for mold. Mold can digest and grow on the organic dirt/dust layer present on the surface of water beads. Keeping your beads clean, will help with keeping them pretty and mold free.
Mold Prevention Tips:
There are several methods to help prevent the growth of mold on your water beads.
Add 1-2 drops of bleach to the water upon original hydration of the beads. This should help with the prevention of most types of molds. Note: Adding bleach after the original hydration can damage and break down the beads.
Add 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar to the water upon original hydration of the beads. I am not sure what effect of adding vinegar to the beads after the original hydration process. *I will update this post once I have tried this.
Wash the beads in warm soapy water (dish soap), rinse and drain. I would suggest doing this after each time the beads are played with, as well as weekly, to wash away any dirt, dust, and any oils from the hands.
Mold Treatment Tips:
Mold often appears black, blue or green. If you start to see mold on the beads, you can use the prevention tips above to help eliminate the mold growth. Note: If the mold is black, I would HIGHLY advise you to just throw the beads away. Black mold is a health hazard and can make you very ill, it's just not worth it!
Important Things To Remember:
*Water beads are non-toxic, however, even though water beads are non-toxic, they should never be ingested. Every parent must use their own judgment in choosing which toddler activities are safe for their own children. Water beads can cause choking and suffocation which are the biggest hazards for children under the age of three. Let's keep our little ones safe!
*After water bead play, it's always a good idea to wash your hands.
Do you have any awesome methods that you have used to extend the life of your water beads, or to keep them squeaky clean? If so, leave us a comment!