This article was first published on 5th August 2015, and has been since updated.
Jewel and I had so much fun making Borax crystal flowers earlier, that we thought we would try growing some more crystals and try out other designs. New crystal candy cane decorations for the Christmas tree sounded fun!
(I know, I know, but Christmas will be here before you know it!)
To make Borax Crystal Candy Canes, you will need:
- pipe cleaners (aka chenille stems)
- dental floss (or nylon thread)
- silver curling ribbon (optional)
- safety glasses (we have these ones)
You should be able to find Borax (also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate or disodium tetraborate) in the laundry aisle of your local grocery store. You can also buy it online. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral and salt, that is mined from seasonal lakes. It is commonly used as a detergent alternative or laundry booster.
What to do
1. Create candy cane shapes by twisting red and white pipe cleaners.
We cut our pipe cleaners in half first, to make two smaller candy canes.
2. Tie floss to the top of the pipe cleaner candy cane, and then tie the ends of the floss together so that you have a large loop.
This will be used to hang your crystal candy cane ornament later, so make the loop big enough to easily fit on the end of a Christmas tree sprig.
3. Twist the end of the ‘loop’ around a pencil a few times, so that the candy cane hangs down below.
The idea is that the pencil will balance on the lip of a glass jar, with the candy cane dangling down inside. It’s a good idea to test this out – does your candy cane easily fit inside the neck of the jar? When the pencil is balancing on top, can your candy cane hang freely inside the jar, without touching the bottom or sides? You might need to reshape your candy cane, or loop the floss around the pencil a few more times until it’s just right. Once you’re happy, set your candy cane and pencil aside.
4. This next step requires adult assistance. Fill the glass jar with boiling water. With safety glasses on, add several tablespoons of Borax powder to the boiling water in the jar, and stir with a spoon until all the Borax is suspended (and looks dissolved).
Careful, the glass jars will become too hot to touch!
The actual quantity of Borax will depend on the volume of your jar – allow for about 3 tablespoons per 250ml of water. Please see safety notes below. Borax is not taste-safe.
5. Lower the pipe cleaner candy cane into the Borax suspension, balancing the pencil on top.
Double check that the candy cane is hanging in the solution, without touching the sides or bottom of the jar. Then put it in a safe place where it won’t be disturbed.
5. Over the next few days, crystals will start to form!
You should be able to see some of the progress through the sides of the glass jar, but it’s also OK to lift your pencil up every now and again so you can see how the crystals are growing.
6. Once the crystals have stopped growing, remove your candy cane from the jar and let dry. Slide out the pencil, and your crystal candy cane is ready to hang (high up) on your Christmas tree!
7. (Optional) You might like to cut off the dental floss and swap for some silver curling ribbon – only if you wish of course!
Fun Science Fact
Water is made up of tiny molecules. If you mix Borax with water, some Borax can become ‘suspended’, which means that the water molecules can ‘hold’ onto it for a while. When water is very hot, the water molecules move further apart, and make room for the water molecules to ‘hold’ onto more of the Borax. As the water cools, the water molecules come closer together, and the water molecules can’t ‘hold’ the same quantity of Borax as they could before. This is called supersaturation. The extra Borax separates from the water molecules, and form crystals which stick to the pipe cleaners (and to the bottom of the jar).
We actually did a little experimenting and tried adding Vaseline to just red portion of one of the candy canes (in the hope that the crystals wouldn’t form on the Vaseline section), leaving a second candy cane without any Vaseline as a control. To be honest, it made no noticeable difference in the outcome. If anything, the Vaseline candy cane grew more uniform crystals than our control candy cane… (The Vaseline candy cane is the lower one in the above picture).
Be very careful with boiling water around young kids. Glass jars with boiling water inside will become too hot to touch.
Borax is a commonly used natural ingredient in grade school science experiments, and is safe for older kids to handle when used responsibly. However it is not edible, will irritate if put into eyes and is a mild skin irritant for people with sensitive skin. With Borax being inedible, please make sure that your beautiful crystal candy canes are stored out of reach of babies or toddlers (or are displayed high up, well out of reach on your Christmas tree.)
All kids’ activities on this blog require attentive adult supervision. Parents and carers will need to judge whether a particular activity is appropriate their child’s age and skill level. Click here for more information.
For more DIY crystal projects, you might like:
- how to make Borax crystal flowers
- how to make interlocking crystal heart necklaces
- how to make salt crystal tree ornaments
For more Christmas science projects, I’m collecting ideas on our Christmas Science Experiments for Kids Pinterest board:
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