Homemade slime isn’t hurting your child

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Another day, another internet scare. This time it’s about that homemade slime, and all the toxins and poisons in it – the ones that are pretty much killing our kids. Except there aren’t any toxins, and kids aren’t getting sick.

This rumor started with an article from the Daily Mail, a British “newspaper” that Wikipedia has deemed “generally unreliable.” In the fine tradition of crappy supermarket tabloids, the Daily Mail is on a par with the National Enquirer, the Star, the Sun, and Weekly World News – it’s a site that makes stuff up, or blows things crazy out of proportion to sell newspapers. Admit it – you were tempted to buy that cheap paper that proclaimed that Hillary was from Venus, or that there’s a Miracle Cream that Allows People to Grow a Sixth Toe. The story was amplified by a blog post at “This talk ain’t cheap”, where the author points out in the second sentence that she’s “not a doctor or a scientist or a chemist.”

As is the manner of clickbait about things hurting children, this one has been posted -n- reposted on Facebook and parenting blogs. In an effort to make sure the barn door is firmly bolted shut now that the horses are long gone, let me give you the quick version: there’s nothing in homemade slime that’s likely to hurt anyone, as long as it’s “used as directed.” Don’t eat the stuff, rub it in your eyes, or lie in a bathtub of it for an hour. Other than that, it’s safe.

We’ve still got an unopened box of borax and bottles of glue downstairs from my youngest’s “slime phase” last year. You mix up a bunch of chemicals (See! Chemicals! That’s your first warning, right there!!) to make a sort of gooey, hand-clinging, squishy mess. It even makes comical sounds when you squarsh it around between your hands. Harmless fun?

The Daily Mail article focuses on one ingredient in homemade slime, pointing out that boric acid (Borax) is labeled by the European Chemicals Agency as ‘toxic to reproduction’, and potentially irritating to eyes and lungs. The box in my basement says those things, too. Don’t eat it, and don’t rub it in your eyes, and don’t stick your face in the box and whiff it. If your children are too young to handle this on their own, they probably shouldn’t be making slime without supervision. Apart from the breathless and frightening tone, The Daily Mail’s critique of Borax is at least reasonably close to the truth. It’s conceivable that an unsupervised or particularly reckless child could get hurt by the stuff. It’s also possible that some kids could have more-sensitive skin, and could end up with a rash or the itchies (do I need to say: if your child gets irritated skin after playing with slime, he or she should stop playing with slime. The same is true if your child gets itchy skin after petting a cat or eating finger-fuls of cookie dough.)

But the blog post goes a step further, heading off the rails of the worry train. The blogger points out imaginary dangers of other ingredients, like glue. She says white glue – essentially, Elmer’s – can cause anxiety, convulsions, seizures (both convulsions AND seizures!), respiratory failure, and loss of appetite. Except none of this is true. In the manner of googlers-who-call-themselves-researchers everywhere, the author mistakes one kind of glue for another. Elmer’s white glue causes sticky hands, but is otherwise non toxic. What she’s quoting are side effects of huffing industrial glue or model cement, which is a different product entirely, and is not an ingredient in homemade slime.

There’s also shaving cream – which the blogger implies contains carcinogens and “very controversial” ingredients. I think of it as something people rub on their faces (men, typically), legs (often women), or all over the walls of the shower (children). If you’re afraid of your children touching shaving cream, I cannot help you.

By the way, homemade slime also contains water (AKA deadly dihydrogen monoxide) and often food coloring (I believe green is best, but mixing green and purple makes a hideous and wonderful color called “ocky” that has a certain charm.) A complete recipe is here. You can also make it with other, non-borax compounds like cornstarch or laundry detergent.

Parents, if your kids are taking a break from their iPhones to do something fun and icky with their hands, let them enjoy themselves. It may get messy, and you don’t want them (or the dog, or even the cat) eating their homemade slime. But it’s pretty much harmless fun. Today’s lesson: don’t let the internet scare you.

Explore posts in the same categories: In the news, Pediatric Insider information, The Media Blows It Again

6 Comments on “Homemade slime isn’t hurting your child”

  1. wzrd1 Says:

    Boron is such an evil chemical, why, it’s nearly as evil as the heart of every acid and base known to dissolve living tissues, hydrogen!

    Boron is a poison in only one specific way, when used appropriately or only slightly inappropriately, it’s a poison for neutron driven chain reactions.
    Amusingly enough, the “poison” of choice in a nuclear reactor is boric acid, of eye wash fame and, of course, of insecticide fame.

    But then, aspirin is easily lethal to cats, not so much for humans. Boric acid and most other boron bearing compounds, such as borax, is essentially safe with humans – we use borax in laundry soap and trust me, not all of that detergent gets washed out of most home washing machines.

    Frankly, I’m more concerned with Hydroxic acid or Hydrol.
    But then, we have a man made bayou out back of the house, to assist in drainage of storm water and I’ve twice saw it nearing its rather deep and wide banks in the past two years alone (which is how long we’ve been in NW Louisiana).

    But, on a far more serious note, some Parry Celly guy said once, “The dose makes the poison”.*
    Even water is poisonous in large quantities (surprisingly lower in infants, who pretty much exist within their reserve levels, biologically). See “water intoxication” for more information.

    As for our grandchildren playing with “slime”, if they were inclined to do so, we’d indulge them. But, we also supervise small children, even if it’s nearly unobtrusive. We don’t let a television, computer or chemical supervise the children.
    All that it took to be so alert is one fever in an preschool age child and a singular hallucination, which left me racing ot the door, nearly colliding with returning to home mom.
    From what I gathered, the hallucination was one of my killing and eating her older sister, who was happily asleep in bed.
    All, entirely conceived, as she had came downstairs out of a feeling of restlessness and overall malaise.
    I let mom handle things, rather than feeding a fever driven panic.

    *For those unfamiliar with my joke, “Parry Celly” refers to Paracelsus, lived 1493 – 1541, a man largely credited for the dawn of toxicology.
    Overall, a pretty bright cookie!


  2. Rachel Says:

    Oh, and by the way, we have often made slime and the children had great fun with it.


  3. wzrd1 Says:

    Odd, as redness is about the only expected symptom to borax exposure to skin.
    Borax is both a laundry detergent ingredient and used as a pesticide, but is also used as a food additive.


  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Rachel, I’m always reluctant to talk about media portrayals of specific children and their health stories. The few times I’ve been directly involved (as in, I knew the kids and knew the medical details) I’ve been struck by how inaccurate those stories are. Docs & hospitals cannot talk to the media about our patients, and sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem.

    Certainly some common sense is needed: kids should rinse afterwards, and follow an established “recipe”, and if their hands hurt or anything they ought to stop and rinse and rinse some more, and tell an adult right away.

    There are a lot of comments on that story (and on a similar story from the UK) — including chemists weighing in on what might have happened if the proportion of borax was wrong, or if the borax was added dry to the slime. Perhaps something like that happened, or perhaps the girl had a contact allergic reaction. It looks like she healed up well (which, by the way, does not happen with “3rd degree burns”), so I’m glad of that.


  5. wzrd1 Says:

    For that matter, when was the last time we’ve actually witnessed the news media get any medical/scientific story right?


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