The Science Secret Behind Squishy Baff – How to Make Your Own Squishy Bath
By Blog Editor Susan Wells
If you have kids, you’ve seen the commercials – buy a magic powder, add it to the bath and have a squishy bath. Squishy Baff works when you fill the bath with water, add a special colored powder, and the bath water turns to a soupy, mushy, squishy bath. Then have the kids climb in and have fun.
One of our favorite bloggers Sarah, from Moose and Tater, asked us to do a little work and figure out the science behind this product. We took the challenge and started in with our research.
Squishy Baff – the powder that turns your bath into squishy fun is most likely a polymer. Polymers are long chains of molecules. Water absorbing polymers soak up water through osmosis and swell to a larger size. The polymer chains have an elastic quality, but they can stretch only so far and hold just so much water.
Most common synthetic polymers are said to be hydrophobic (water-fearing), which means that they do not absorb water. Examples of these polymers might include products such as plastic cups, bags, and plastic toys. There are also hydrophilic, or water-loving polymers. Many natural polymers such as cotton fibers are hydrophilic.
Steve Spangler Science sells several different polymers. These hydrogels come in solid form or in powder form. The Squishy Bath product is a powder. We believe it is very similar to our Water Gel powder.
Water Gel is also known as slush powder. It instantly turns a liquid into a solid or at least into a slushy solid. With Squishy Baff, the powder is super saturated with water, so it goes beyond a solid and becomes more of a goo.
The main ingredient in Water Gel is sodium polyacrylate. It absorbs from 800 to 1000 times its weight in water and is actually the secret ingredient that’s used to absorb “liquid” in baby diapers.
To replicate the gooey bath that Squishy Baff creates, we made a small scale version in a plastic tub. We added about 3 scoops of Water Gel and mixed it with about 2 pitchers full of colored water. Food coloring can stain, so we used our Color Fizzers – True Color Tablets to color the water.
We came up with a very similar bath situation. It was squishy, it was gooey and it was a lot of fun. Hands and feet were quickly added to the solution. The kids couldn’t get enough of squishing the goo in their fingers and toes. I’m just glad we did this on a smaller scale…I couldn’t imagine trying to clean up an entire body covered with goo.
But what happens when the fun is over? The Squishy Baff people include a special powder to add to your bath at the end. The powder dissolves the polymer, allowing it to wash down the drain. Our guess was the “special” powder is really sodium chloride, or some type of salt. Salt breaks the bonds in a polymer, breaking it down.
The problem is it takes a LOT of salt to break down the polymer. We added about 1/3 cup of salt to our mixture and while the polymer did break down, there was still some of it left.
Water Gel is non-toxic, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with care and adult supervision.
Our Spangler Lab Rats, the people behind the scenes at Steve Spangler Science who test all of our products, all winced when I mentioned putting Water Gel or Squishy Baff in the tub with children. For starters, a water-absorbing polymer will absorb water from anything it comes into contact with. If a child accidentally gets some of the powder in their mouth, the polymer will attach itself to all water, including that in the lips, mouth and cheeks. You can’t spit it out, because it absorbs the liquid in saliva. Drinking water will only make it worse and hydrate the powder even more. If you get water absorbing polymer powder in your mouth, your best option is to continually rinse and spit until your mouth is clear.
You also do not want the polymer to wash down the drain. In our experiment, even after adding a lot of salt, there was still a trace of Water Gel left in the water. I was not comfortable washing it down my drain, even if it had completely broken down. A little water absorbing polymer in your pipes can cause problems with clogs. The polymer will take a long time to wash away and will re-hydrate every time water runs down the pipe.
We poured our Water Gel squishy bath out in the garden. The water absorbing polymer helps with water conservation in the garden and will hold moisture in the dirt when it hydrates and slowly dehydrates, like in the experiment we did a few years ago with gardening with hydrogel crystals. You can also put it in a plastic bag and throw it away in the trash.
Whether you try Squishy Baff or our Water Gel experiment, we suggest you do not do it in the tub or sink and instead have the kids play with it in a blow up pool (like in the ad) or plastic tub. We also aren’t sure it’s a good idea to submerge children (or adults) in the hydrogel. The stuff isn’t meant to get into every crevice and just like taking a bath with bubble bath, it could potentially cause some irritation, especially in girls.
We love messy activities at Spangler Science, but cringe as parents when we think of trying to clean up children and tubs full of hydrogel. The stuff sticks everywhere.