You’ve probably seen videos of people playing with the squishy, squishy little spheres that magically expand in water. Maybe your kids have even begged you to get some so they can make their own Orbeez sensory bin or stress ball. But unless you’ve actually bought a pack and read the fine print on the back, you probably have no idea what Orbeez are actually made of. The secret behind the magic is a superabsorbent polymer called sodium polyacrylate. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either before researching for this article. But now you and I are going to become experts in polymer science and discover together exactly what makes Orbeez so delightfully squishy.
Orbeez Are Made of Superabsorbent Polymers
Orbeez are made of superabsorbent polymers, more commonly known as SAPs. These little beads are made of cross-linked polyacrylamide, a type of plastic that can absorb up to 300 times its weight in water.
When you first get your Orbeez, they look like tiny hard balls. But once you add water, the magic happens. The polymers in the beads start linking up with the water molecules, absorbing more and more liquid until they reach their maximum capacity and become squishy, gel-like spheres.
The amount of water each bead can hold depends on its size. The bigger the bead, the more H2O it can absorb. The most common sizes for Orbeez are 5mm, 8mm and 12mm in diameter.
The polymer material in Orbeez is non-toxic, but the beads themselves pose a choking hazard, especially when expanded, so close supervision of children is recommended. The beads are also not biodegradable, so they should not be released into the environment.
When you’re ready to dehydrate your Orbeez and start over, simply strain them from the water and spread them out on a towel to air dry completely. The water will slowly release from the beads over 24 to 48 hours as they shrink back down to their original size. And then you can begin the expansion process all over again.
Orbeez offer a fun, interactive way for both kids and adults to learn about the absorbent properties of polymers. With proper care and supervision, these little beads of joy can provide hours of squishy, sensory entertainment.
What Exactly Are Superabsorbent Polymers?
Superabsorbent polymers, or SAPs, are the magic behind Orbeez. They’re polymers that can absorb and retain extremely large amounts of a liquid relative to their own mass. The SAPs used in Orbeez are sodium polyacrylate, a powder that looks like tiny white beads.
When you add water, these little beads soak it up and expand into the squishy, colorful orbs we know and love. The water gets trapped in the molecular structure of the polymer, but it’s still there – Orbeez are up to 99% water!
The amount of water each bead can absorb depends on factors like:
- The density and cross-linking of the polymer chains. More cross-linking means less absorption.
- The ionic concentration of the solution. Orbeez absorb more in plain water than saltwater.
- The pH level. Absorption works best in a neutral or slightly alkaline environment.
- The temperature. Warmer temperatures increase absorption.
Once fully expanded, Orbeez can hold up to 300 times their weight in water! But don’t worry, the water is securely trapped and won’t leak out unless you pierce or break the orb.
The polymer beads themselves are non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and biodegradable. They’re commonly used in diapers, sanitary napkins, and as soil conditioners. When used as a toy, they’re completely safe for kids and the environment.
So the next time you play with Orbeez, you can tell everyone the amazing material behind the magic. These unassuming little beads have some pretty impressive superpowers!
What Chemicals Are in Orbeez?
Orbeez are made of superabsorbent polymers, more commonly known as SAPs. These are long, spaghetti-like molecules that can absorb and retain extremely large amounts of water relative to their size.
The most common SAP used in Orbeez is polyacrylamide copolymers, which are acrylic acid monomers that have been polymerized. In simpler terms, they are chains of acrylic acid molecules bonded together. These copolymers are non-toxic, odorless, and chemically stable.
When Orbeez are added to water, the polyacrylamide copolymers rapidly absorb the water molecules. This causes them to swell up and transform into the squishy, gel-like beads we know and love. The water becomes trapped within the molecular structure of the copolymers. Despite their water-filled and jelly-like appearance, Orbeez maintain their shape due to the cross-linked structure of the polyacrylamide copolymers.
- Polyacrylamide copolymers are also used in diapers, feminine hygiene products, and soil conditioners due to their ability to absorb and retain large amounts of liquid.
- The specific polyacrylamide copolymers used in Orbeez are proprietary to the company that produces them. The exact chemical formula is not disclosed.
- Orbeez are non-toxic according to scientific research and safety data sheets, but the material can be a choking hazard due to the size and squishy texture of the beads. Supervision is recommended, especially for young children.
Orbeez are a polymer-based toy that relies on advanced chemistry to produce their entertaining and mesmerizing effects. While the materials used are considered non-toxic and chemically stable, responsible and supervised use is recommended to ensure safety, especially for small children. The simple science behind these seemingly magical beads demonstrates how potent yet practical some polymers have become.
Are Orbeez Biodegradable or Environmentally Friendly?
Orbeez are made of superabsorbent polymers, specifically sodium polyacrylate. This is a petroleum-based material that can absorb 100 to 1000 times its weight in water. While the little beads themselves are non-toxic, the material they’re made of is not biodegradable or environmentally friendly.
The polymers in Orbeez won’t break down naturally over time. If released into the environment, they persist indefinitely. This means if Orbeez end up in waterways, oceans or soil, they won’t decompose and simply accumulate, potentially causing harm. Many areas have banned superabsorbent polymers for this reason.
Made from petroleum
Sodium polyacrylate is derived from acrylic acid, which comes from petroleum. The production of Orbeez and similar water beads requires oil, a non-renewable resource. They are not a sustainable product and their manufacturing process emits greenhouse gasses.
Choking and toxicity hazard
While Orbeez are marketed as a toy and generally considered non-toxic, the small beads still pose risks, especially to children and pets. The beads can potentially cause choking if ingested or inhaled. They also contain residual acrylic acid, which may irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. Proper supervision and storage is important to avoid potential hazards.
Once Orbeez have been used and dried out, there are limited options for disposal. They can’t be recycled in most community recycling programs. The only recommended methods are throwing them in the trash, donating unused beads to schools or community centers, or repurposing them in craft projects. Due to their material, they won’t break down in a compost.
While Orbeez can be fun to play with, it’s important to be aware of their environmental impact and take proper precautions. Look for more sustainable alternatives when possible and be responsible in how you use and dispose of them. Our planet will thank you!
Orbeez FAQs: All About These Colorful Water Beads
What are Orbeez made of?
Orbeez are made of superabsorbent polymers, specifically sodium polyacrylate. This is a non-toxic polymer that can absorb up to 300 times its weight in water. When Orbeez beads absorb water, they expand into the colorful spheres you know and love.
Are Orbeez biodegradable?
No, Orbeez are not biodegradable. They are made of plastics and synthetic polymers that do not break down naturally. For this reason, Orbeez should not be released into the environment. Always properly dispose of Orbeez by collecting them after use and throwing them in the trash.
Are Orbeez toxic?
Orbeez are non-toxic, but the material they are made of could potentially be a choking hazard, especially for small children and pets. Supervise children and pets closely when playing with Orbeez and do not allow them to put the beads in their mouths.
How do you make Orbeez?
Making Orbeez is a fun, easy process:
- Purchase a packet of dehydrated Orbeez beads. These come in a variety of colors and sizes.
- Soak the beads in water. Use the recommended amount of water for the number of beads in your packet. Tap water works fine, but distilled water may produce clearer Orbeez.
- Let the beads soak in water for 4 to 6 hours. During this time, they will expand up to 100 times their original size!
- Drain the excess water from the beads. Spread them out on a towel to air dry completely.
- Your colorful Orbeez creations are now ready to play with! Store any unused beads in an airtight container.
- Dispose of Orbeez properly when done playing to avoid environmental pollution.
Orbeez are a fun, interactive toy for both kids and adults. By following the proper usage and care instructions, you’ll be enjoying your Orbeez for hours of entertainment and creativity. Let me know if you have any other questions!
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