Are Bubbles Toxic?

Blowing bubbles provides hours of entertainment. Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Ahhh, bubbles! Isn’t it amazing how toddlers and young children can be entertained by bubbles for so long? My favorite summertime activity with my kids is going to the playground, parking my tired behind in a chair, and blowing lots of bubbles for my kids to chase, try to grab, and pop. Hours of endless, inexpensive, outdoor fun — that’s a winner in my book.

Are Bubbles Toxic?

But are bubbles toxic? That’s a great question, and one I thought of myself as I found my 2-year-old at the other end of the playground the other day, sucking the bubble wand like a lollipop. Bubbles conform to the safety requirements of ASTM F963, the general toy safety standard of the American Society for Testing and Materials. It's basically just dish soap and won't kill a kid, but it's not the best thing for kids to ingest, either.

Bubbles are made from dishwashing soap and water. The dishwashing detergent is needed to lower the surface tension of the water, so that the water molecules don’t stick together as well as they usually do and so that bubbles (which are really a thin film of water) can form. Glycerin or corn syrup is often added to make the bubbles last longer. Since glycerin and corn syrup are both common additives to foods, neither is toxic, and neither is the water in your bubble potion (unless your water comes from a pool my 3-year-old just sat in, if ya know what I mean).

The only ingredient left? Dishwashing soap. Traditional dishwashing soap usually contains a number of harmful chemicals, such as parabens, phosphates, sodium lauryl sulfates and chlorine. Though none of these substances will kill you (like swallowing automatic dishwasher detergent could), they can cause diarrhea, nausea, burning in your throat, or even vomiting.

How to Reduce the Risk

First, try to get the bubble bottles that have the no-spill caps. I love these because they prevent curious kids from opening up the container and sampling some of that delicious-looking bubble liquid. (Incidentally, they also prevent your kids from dumping out the whole bottle within five minutes of arriving at the park.) And if they do sample a taste? Not to worry. A little bit won’t have any long-term effects; it just might irritate their insides a bit. If they drink the whole bottle, I would call poison control to be on the safe side.

Make Your Own Bubble Solution

You could also try to make your own bubble solution using a more eco-friendly dishwashing soap. I tried making one with 1/4 cup Seventh Generation dish soap (Here's the ingredient list), 3/4 cup water, and five drops of glycerin — from a recipe from The Art of Simple. I poured it into an old bubble container I kept with the no-spill top and — voila — bubbles safe enough to eat! Of course, I’m not saying you should let your kids chug the bubbles instead of their water, but at least you can rest easier knowing that your child is having fun with a natural bubble solution rather than a chemical-filled one! Happy bubbling!