OK I decided it would be a good opportunity over the weekend to play with orbeez. Orbeez, for those people who may not be familiar, are also called ‘water beads,’ and refer to these tiny little beads that absorb several hundred times their weight in water and swell to the size of marbles. What is the orbeez, you might ask? Well it is a superabsorbent polymer, of course! It is related to the polymer that is found in disposable diapers, and allows the diapers to absorb lots and lots of liquid without having an inadvertent “accident.” It also is the same kind of polymer that is used to make artificial snow, and is the same polymer that is found in hair gel. What an amazing polymer!
Where can you buy these magnificent creations? Amazon, or Walmart, or pretty much any craft store will have a selection of ‘water beads’ for you to choose from.
But before you run out and buy these, a few notes of caution:
1. They have the potential to make an enormous mess. Orbeez, once they spill, are very challenging to clean up and tend to roll all over the place and squish into pieces and resist being swept and generally turn into a pain in the neck.
2. They may cause environmental problems. Disposing of orbeez in the environment can cause significant challenges and ecosystem disruption. I am not sure there are any useful tips for how to dispose of them without causing such harm, but beware.
3. They don’t actually “do” all that much. They are fun to squish, fun to swell up, and fun to play with. And if your kids are like my very science-minded children, there are a number of experiments that you can do to see how fast the beads swell, and how such variables such as water temperature, salt concentrations, and the presence of soap affect the rate at which they grow and how large the beads grow.
Despite these concerns, orbeez have apparently become hours of entertainment for my children, so for that reason alone, I continue to buy them and they continue to make messes with them. Have fun!