Making Bubbles

This page documents my adventures in making giant bubbles.

In the photo above, I am using my small bubble wand to create a giant bubble at Savage Fest on June 2, 2018. Savage Fest is a wonderful and fun-filled annual community festival with pony rides, petting zoo, face painting, bouncy castles, food, local artisans and live music all day. It takes place on the first Saturday in June in Savage, Howard County, Maryland.

AboutOpen accordion icon
During the Gulf War (early 1991), my platoon received generous supplies sent from civilians showing their support for the troops. Tyically, it was snacks. We also received sunscreen and shaving cream, both of which we received in excess. But one day, we opened a box containing bubble solution...the kind kids play with. Having too much time on our hands with little to do, we found great entertainment in blowing bubbles. One night, after the war had ended, we snuck out at night and blew bubbles near the campfires of the other squads without giving away our position. Childish, yes, but we thought it was funny.

Fast forward to early 2017. My nieces were visiting. My wife, Norma, and I were at Michaels, looking for craft projects. I saw small bubble wands in a four ounce solution. They sold for $1 each. I bought them for the kids but they had more fun chasing the bubbles that I blew for them. It was quite entertaining.

I was thinking of activities for our town's annual festival, called Savage Fest. After reading and viewing videos on-line, I decided to be the "bubble man." I spend a lot of time running various experiments to find the perfect bubble mixture and bubble wand.

I started by purchasing Etsy - BiggerBetterBubbles1 - Giant Bubble Wand. It was a very inexpensive option. It arrived with one of the wooden dowels broken during shipping. I didn't mind. That was an easy fix. What I learned by studying it was worth the price. I tested it out with regular bubble mix. I found that the mixture sold for the little bubble wands like the one I bought at Michaels is not sufficient for a large bubble wand. That prompted me to do some experiments.
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RecipeOpen accordion icon
While I wasn't terribly successful with my initial attempts, I did demonstrate proof of concept and that was enough to keep me going.

I watched YouTube - How to Make Giant Bubbles. I ordered ingredients for other solutions to test out along with the ingredients BiggerBetterBubbles1 recommended.

I mixed up various bubble solutions. I won't go into everything I've tried but I tested out various dish soaps with ingredients such as
  • Karo or generic light corn syrup
  • Guar gum: Recipes Bubble88s Guar Mix
  • Baking powder
  • J-Lube: This is a veterinary lubricant.

  • The best solution I've found so far is the J-Lube recipe:
  • 24 ounces dishwashing liquid (Dawn Pro, Dawn Power Clean Platinum, or Seventh Generation Free and Clear)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon J-Lube
  • 3 gallons water
  • 3 heaping tablespoons baking powder

  • Measure out the J-Lube and put it in a container. Then pour in the dishwashing liquid...I've always used Seventh Generation Free and Clear. Mix together. Pour in the water and stir. I found the J-Lube to be very sticky so it needs a lot of blending. An egg beater mixer works well. Plan to be mixing a long time. Add baking powder and keep blending for at least five minutes.

    If you want to cut the recipe, remember
  • 3 teaspons = 1 tablespoon
  • 16 cups = 1 gallon
  • 8 ounces = 1 cup

  • If making this stuff for a big event, I suggest doing it the night before or the morning of and making sure to give it a good mixing prior to use. Here I am making a batch of the solution for Savage Fest on June 1, 2018.
    Me making solution with Daphne (my dog) watching

    With J-Lube, I had some bubbles that were about 25 feet long. Some smaller ones stayed in the air about 17 seconds before popping. I think they would have lasted longer if they hadn't hit the ground or a tree.

    I would love to try out every possible combination of ingredients to determine the optimal solution but that is more work than I'm willing to put into it. What I've found works well.
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    WandOpen accordion icon
    I experimented with various materials when I made my wands. Each is comprised of the following materials:
  • Loop: This is the material that will hold the bubble solution. It needs to be extremely absorbent. The best thing I've found is Simplicity 100% cotton trim, 1/2" wide which I purchased from JoAnn. Not sure if they still sell it.
  • Poles: This is what holds the loop in the air. If you have a really big loop, then you need long poles to lift it high into the air. Long poles with a big loop means things will feel heavier. Short poles will likely mean the bubbles won't last as long because the heavier ones will fall into the ground. I like the Wooster Sherlock R057 8-16' telescopic pole. It is lightweight and can be shortened to eight feet, which means it will fit inside my car.
  • Weight: This keeps the bottom of the loop hanging down so I can easily dip it into the bubble solution. Metal washers work fine.

  • I like to have two wands. I use a big wand for making the biggest bubbles. I've tried wooden dowels, bamboo, extension poles, and fishing rods. I've found the latter too flexible with a heavy loop. I prefer using ten-foot long poles with a twelve-foot circumference loop (10x12) or eight-foot long poles with a ten-foot circumference loop (8x10). With a long pole and a heavy loop, the hard part is lifting the loop out of the bubble solution and into the air. To make this easier, I've experimented with counterbalances. Not sure how much I like this. Because I raise and lower the poles over a 90 degree range of motion, it makes things less awkward over some positions but more awkward over others. Pictured below is a five-pound ankleweight which I attached to the end of the pole with chain after drilling holes in the pole for securing. An additional weight hangs on the end.
    Bubble wand counterbalance

    Regarding ergonomics, I like to grip the poles at least one forearm length from the end. I keep my elbows tucked in and let the poles touch my forearms so I'm not just using grip strength to lift. Bending my wrists to use a false grip sometimes helps. I also lean back to engage my core muscles with the lift.
    Demonstrating Saki-style ergonomics to lift the big bubble wand

    Making giant bubbles with the big wand is very physically demanding because Savage Fest lasts several hours. By the end of the day, my forearms are cramping. So anything I can do to distribute the workload to my other muscles is good.

    I let an assistant use a small wand with the kids. For this, the poles are three-feet long with a five-foot circumference loop (3x5). Because of its small size and light weight, it is easy to control.
    Making bubbles with the small wand

    After learning about garland wands, I turned my bubble making loop into a grid. This would enable it to create several medium sized bubbles which together form a huge bubble. One advantage of this is that if one bubble pops, the others should do fine. Hence, the entire structure will last longer...at least that is the theory. I created a garland wand a little over five feet in diameter. Then I gave it a test. With about twice as much fabric as the original design, it was extremely heavy so I increased counterbalances. The garland wand did not work nearly as well as I expected. It was much too difficult to get the fabric to spread in a nice round shape to create multiple bubbles. I gave up on this idea for lack of control.
    My garland wand
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    TipsOpen accordion icon
    YouTube - How to Make Giant Bubbles offers good suggestions for making bubbles.

    Here is what I find works for me.
  • Lift the ends of the poles straight up out of the bubble solution with the far ends touching or very near each other.
  • Lift the ends of the poles very high so that your bubbles are created as far from the ground as possible.
  • Slowly spread the ends of the poles. Too fast and the solution won't be distributed well enough on the bubble. Too slow and a lot of solution will end up on the ground instead of the bubble.
  • If you don't have wind, slowly walk upwind. Your back should be facing the wind.
  • I find walking upwind for about three seconds is sufficient before bringing the ends of the poles together (or crossing them) to close off the bubble.
  • If you close off the bubble too soon, you may not have as big of a bubble as you could get. If you wait too long before closing off the bubble, it will pop before it can float away.
  • Movements should be deliberate.
  • Keep the bubble solution clean. It will inevitably get a little contaminated so if you're making bubbles over a long period of time, the ones made later in the day probably won't be as impressive as ones made earlier.
  • Keep the loop clean. If you must put it down, let it hang in the solution or on a clean tarp.

  • What is the best environment for making bubbles?
  • I think humid air is good because the bubbles won't dry out as quickly once they are formed.
  • Lots of sunlight is good because the sun will warm the air inside of the bubbles, causing them to rise.
  • No wind is not good for bubbles because that means you have to move about to create the wind. The more you move, the more likely the bubble will pop. Too much wind isn't good either. I think 8-10 mph is ideal. If you don't have that, you can spread the poles further apart to catch more wind or close them up if you don't want as much wind.
  • The biggest enemy for bubbles is small children. They love to pop them. But part of the joy in making them is to please the children. That is why I use a long pole and tape off my work area. No children allowed in my work area. Once the bubble floats out of my work area, they can pop it. But that gives the bubble a few more seconds to live.
  • Trees or other foliage will obviously pop bubbles so make them in a clearing. If you can work in the center of the clearing, that is ideal because then you can deal with shifts in wind more easily.
  • A lot of bubble solution will fall on the ground making it very slippery. I suggest making bubbles on lawn or dirt which will absorb the solution and won't pose as great of a hazard if someone falls. Taping off and keeping folks out of your work area is wise.

  • What is the perfect bubble? In my opinion, the perfect bubble has the following characteristics.
  • Size: Volume is the key. How much air does it hold? More is better. Given enough time, they will become more sphrical so shape isn't so important.
  • Longevity: I've made some big bubbles that only lasted a couple of seconds. I've also made some that lasted 30+ seconds. Greater longevity is obviously better.

  • If you think you're a pro, take your big wand and small wand and then work them as a team to create a bubble inside of a bubble.
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    Savage Fest 2017Open accordion icon
    On June 3, 2017, I brought my bubble wand and 4.5 gallons of bubble solution to the 30th Annual Savage Fest. I could have used at least another gallon.

    Kids went nuts over the bubbles. Lots of joyous screams and laughter.
    Me making a bubble with kids waiting to pop it

    This is a pretty perfect bubble if you ask me.
    Perfect bubble

    Making giant bubbles can be physically demanding. I was set up near the Marine recruiters and they gave me a hand. I couldn't think of a better suited group of people to assist me. These guys are young and strong.
    Marines helping make bubbles

    I think you could fit someone inside this bubble.
    Marine standing next to bubble

    Making bubbles high up in the air will help prolong their longevity.
    Making a bubble high up in the air
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    Savage Fest 2018Open accordion icon
    The night before the 31st annual Savage Fest, I made 12 gallons of J-Lube bubble solution. I put it in two clear box containers so each was about half full. I would not recommend filling things up any higher than this for fear of solution splashing out of the container when hitting the speed bumps in Savage. If traveling further, I suggest using five gallon buckets with lids that have a water tight seal. 12 gallons lasted six hours. I would not make less than this for future Savage Fests.

    The 3x5 wand worked amazingly well. Both adults and kids liked using it. The kids sometimes didn't quite get the hang of it and some spun around the weighted end to make their own wind. Of course that put any nearby kids at risk. Next year, I really need an assistant who can be there to teach the kids what to do, supervise them, and make sure that each kid gets their turn with the small wand.

    Making bubbles that day was not too difficult. It was quite humid and that is good for making bubbles. The big challenge was making bubbles that the kids would not pop too soon. They really loved popping the bubbles and I didn't want to take that away from them. But they often popped them as soon as they were formed or even before they had a chance to be free from my wand. The bubbles are heavy with liquid so they generally float downward. In the minority of cases where they floated upward, they lasted quite awhile. So how do I get them to last? The answer is to keep them as high as possible. One might think ten foot poles are sufficient but I think 14 feet with a counterbalance would have been ideal. That would have given each bubble a sufficient amount of time to form and float for a few seconds before falling down to popping range. Norma suggested I stand on a platform when making bubbles but this would have prevented me from maneuvering around to catch any breeze.

    If there's not enough wind, folks can blow to make their own. Anything to keep the kids engaged!
    Making our own wind to create a bubble

    Adults also enjoyed using the small wand.
    Woman making bubble with small wand

    Me with the big wand.
    Me making a bubble with the big wand

    There were a couple cool things I learned from the kids. The first is that if your hands are wet from bubble solution, you can reach inside of a bubble without popping it. The second is that if your hands are wet from bubble solution, you can make a circle by touching your opposing middle fingers and thumbs and then blow into it to make bubbles. But ideally, I don't want them doing this because they contaminate the solution. Maybe if I have a bucket with solution they can contaminate, that is best.

    Maybe for a future Savage Fest, I will make rigid frames out of wire or wood that hold a cotton loop in place. Then put this on a stick so it looks like a big lollypop. If I make this so it fits in a five gallon bucket, then kids can dip it and then create bubbles easily. They won't be giant bubbles but they will be big enough.
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    Savage Fest 2019Open accordion icon
    June 1, 2019, was the 32nd annual Savage Fest. For this event, I had assistants that worked with the kids: Nicole, Don (a JROTC student), Kelley D., Sara, Tom, and Zohan.

    I sectioned off our working area to keep the kids from getting too close. Unless they were making bubbles, they had to stay outside of our space or risk me yelling at them. In previous years, things got hectic and they popped bubbles before they could even form. They would also run around a lot and then slip and fall in our slippery work area. This year, there was only one fall and it was from a kid that did not heed my warnings and crossed my "caution" tape. He wasn't hurt.

    While taping off the work area made things easier, it also reduced some of the mad hysteria that made things fun in previous years. Not as many screaming kids but in a way, I kinda liked that.

    I'm guessing the bubble in front is ten feet tall.
    Me with a ten-foot tall bubble

    In the below pic, Nicole soaks the cotton loop of the small wand in bubble solution while I make a giant bubble. On the right is an electric fan that my neighbor Dennis T. provided. The wind was ~five mph from the north. I think 8-10 mph would have been ideal. The fan didn't quite give me the results I wanted but it was certainly worth a try.

    Here, Tom helps a kid make bubbles while another kid waits her turn. I purchased 96 mini bubble wand party favors and gave them out throughout the day.
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    Savage Fest 2023Open accordion icon
    There was no Savage Fest in 2020 and 2021 because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Then in 2022, Norma didn't volunteer so I didn't bother either. She is my motivation for doing a lot of things.

    June 3, 2023 was the 34th annual Savage Fest. Folks told me how much they enjoyed my giant bubbles so I figured I'd do it again.

    I ordered 134 mini bubble wands to give out to kids. By the end of the day, we ran out of them but it was a pretty good number.

    The night before, I made ~16-18 gallons of bubble solution. I used a big rectangular plastic container to make two batches of nine gallons and then put them into four five-gallon buckets. It is very messy work that takes ~three hours. We ended up having about a half gallon left over so I think the amount I made was sufficient to last eight hours...the event lasted seven but we stuck around making bubbles during cleanup. There were lots of kids that were happy to have us work overtime.

    My neighbor, Josh, helped out all day. I can't believe how good he is with kids. They really like the fact that he is so goofy. He's a great worker, energetic, strong, very dedicated, and highly motivated. I also had help from Kellie D., Katie T., Josh T. (her son), and Heather S.

    We mostly had a 6 mph wind from the east with some gusts of 12 mph. The gusts were great. Sometimes the wind shifted north. East meant it kept hitting the tent next to us. Some of them weren't too happy about that but overall, they were pretty good sports. Here's Josh making a very long bubble with Josh T. looking on.
    Josh making a very long bubble

    One of the arts to making giant bubbles is knowing when to close them off so they can float away. If you do it too soon, then your bubble won't be as big as it can be. If you do it too late, then it will pop. In this pic, Josh just closed off a bubble by bringing his poles together.
    Josh closes off a bubble

    I have four wands and brought three. We mostly used two up until the end, when we realized that we had more than enough solution. The biggest wand is made from two extension poles. Their length ensures the bubbles can get high up into the air, catch any moving air, and not fall to the ground so soon. But it is very cumbersome. I have counterweights at the end. I only let strong people use it. At the last Savage Fest, I used it all day but I wasn't as strong this year and don't know if I could have done that. Fortunately, Josh was more than willing to take on this task. In this shot, Katie gives him a break and uses the big wand to make a bubble.
    Katie makes a bubble

    The big wand makes the bubbles that makes people turn their heads and say "ohh, ah!" But the small one is the kid-pleaser. My volunteers helped ensure the kids had a chance to make plenty of bubbles themselves. It is a very hands-on activity with some coming back for multiple turns. Each kids gets a free mini-bubble wand.
    Josh helping little girl make bubbles

    Here's a shot just to prove I was actually there.
    Me making not so impressive bubbles

    The day was a big success, probably the best yet. It didn't rain. I'm always amazed that we never have terrible weather for Savage Fest.

    My co-workers Jeanette and Meghan showed up for the event along with Rey.

    Each bubble making event is a learning process. What did I learn this year?
  • When making the solution, the hardest part is dealing with the soap because it makes so many bubbles that it is hard to put more water into the container. I had been putting the soap and water into gallon juice jugs and then shaking things. Maybe stirring into hot (just below boiling) water is better. Let the Browning Motion do the work for me. Or maybe I could dilute the soap a day or two before so the bubbles will pop when I make the rest of the solution.
  • It is best if nobody is set up right next to us because they will inevitably get "slimed" by bubbles when they pop. Not sure how possible this is because real estate is very valuable at Savage Fest.
  • Despite how much you tell kids not to let the wand touch the ground, they will let it. This causes the cotton loop to pick up debris and contaminate the solution. Not sure how to solve this.
  • We were set up next to a fixed bench. Kids love popping bubbles and will do whatever it takes to do so. So, many stood on the bench, despite Josh telling them not to. All the bubble slime makes things slippery which is a recipe for disaster if a kid falls while standing on a bench. Fortunately, none did. Next time, I'd rather not be right next to a bench.
  • We sectioned off a roughly 13'x13' exclusion zone. I think 16' would have been better. For our size space, having two adult volunteers and one small kid to teach how to make bubbles is plenty. Any more people than that is cramped. We need room to move so we can catch wind or make our own if there is none.
  • Next year, in addition to one person making bubbles with the kids and another person making the giant bubbles, I'd like to have a third person outside of the exclusion zone making bubbles for the kids to pop. That is a great way to entertain a lot of kids all at once. For this, I'd use something like the small wand but with poles a couple of feet longer.
  • I purchased a bubble machine but it died. This one was supposedly good quality. The cheap bubble guns seem like a better investment.
  • Stuff in the solution settles at the bottom of the container. It is good to periodically stir things and scape the bottom.
  • 12 mph wind seems ideal. That is a good speed for the wind to do the work for us so we don't need to move around. For the kids, when there is no wind, having them spin slowly or blowing into the bubble works well. The latter is particularly good for the very little kids that can't control the wand. Next year, I might want to have bellows.

  • The total amount of time I spent on this is ~16 hours. This includes preparation and cleanup.

    I am looking forward to Savage Fest 2024.
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    Inaugural Savage Farmers MarketOpen accordion icon
    On May 28, 2024, we celebrated the inaugural Savage Farmers Market, which Norma masterminded. I made bubbles, mostly with my small wand. The smaller loop of this bubble-making apparatus doesn't hold as much solution as the larger wands so about four gallons of solution lasted me four hours.

    I enjoy making bubbles for the little children. I love seeing the expressions on their faces.
    Me making a bubbles for a toddler

    The bigger kids are too tall and pop bubbles as soon as they form. I really wan't expecting many young people at the farmers market so I didn't set up an exclusion zone but I should have. The little girl below with the carrot did a great job (too good) at popping bubbles by swinging the leafy end of her carrot.
    Me making giant bubbles

    With so many kids competing to pop bubbles, some of the smaller ones tried to use any advantage they could get to pop bubbles. One threw a large mushroom which ended up hitting me in the head. So I had to pass a rule that they couldn't throw anything. Some used pointed sticks which I knew was going to be a problem so I then had to say that they could only use their hands. Having some sort of adult supervision for activities like this is important.

    The small wand doesn't allow me to catch much wind so I have to move around. That means slippery bubble solution ends up covering the lawn. Running children sometimes fall. This generally isn't a problem but one of the heavier girls fell hard enough to cry hard.

    The event went from 1530 to 1930. Norma and her team of volunteers really put a lot of work into this...not just on the day of but several months in advance. The weather was not cooperative but it could have been much worse. We had light rain and dark skies but no lightning. That didn't keep people away. It was a great success.

    Three of my co-workers came out: Unique, Toby, and Doug. The latter brought his family. Doug provided the following pic.
    Me making a long bubble
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    Savage Fest 2024Open accordion icon
    My mom visited during this event so my first priority was to take care of her. The 35th annual Savage Fest was second. I made bubbles until a little after noon and then turned over my equipment to Josh T., who made bubbles at Savage Fest last year. Below is Josh in the foreground.
    Josh in the foreground making smaller bubbles

    It was bright and sunny...perfect for taking pictures.
    Tall bubble being formed

    The weather wasn't bad for bubble making but a little more wind would have been ideal. I think 6-8 mph is ideal. Instead, it was 0-5 mph.

    The small wand has a loop with circumference of five feet. That worked well in the sense that it made bubbles fairly consistently. The next larger wand's loop circumference was about twice that. It made larger bubbles but not so consisently. So I shortened it the night before to 84 inches.

    On the morning of Savage Fest, I made bubbles. The shortened loop on the long poles worked perfectly. I think the resulting wand struck a good balance between consistency and size. It was also lighter which meant I had more control and stamina. Not sure how I can improve on things. I'll have to give it some thought.
    1 / 2
    Bubble in the formation reflecting the sun
    Glistening in the sun.
    2 / 2
    Looking through the bubble, seeing me on the other side
    Me behind bubble.

    I eventually moved to standing on the stone wall. This put me higher so I was able to catch more air in my wand and put the bubbles well above the kids' heads.
    1 / 2
    A big bubble set free to float away from the wand
    Big one set free.
    2 / 2
    Two small bubbles set free and one still attached to the wand
    2 set free, 1 in the making.

    Here's an artsy shot taken by Sara.
    Me standing behind bubble

    I think this setup was a good one in that I had one person on the grass making smaller bubbles with greater frequency for the kids and me on the stone wall forming large bubbles. Having the police tape up to create the exclusion zone was also good. I did fall off the wall once but I landed on my feet and was not hurt. I would definitely do this setup again.
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    Frozen BubblesOpen accordion icon
    In my town, I am known as the bubble man because I make giant bubbles at Savage Fest, our big summer festival. But on January 31, 2019, I experimented with a different kind of bubble.

    It was six degrees when I made these bubbles on a plate. They froze. Some grew fern-like patterns as the water in them crystallized. Rather than pop, they broke. If you want to try this on your own, wait for the next polar vortex day and be sure to watch YouTube - 10 Steps For Images Of Freezing Bubbles.

    Here are fern-like patterns growing on a bubble as the water crystallizes. This was my first time trying to photograph this. To see how a pro does it, check out YouTube - frozen bubbles in calgary.
    Fern-like patterns on a frozen bubble

    Here's the other side of the bubble with more fern/feather-like patterns.
    Other side of previous bubble

    This is the whole bubble. The previous pictures were made by zooming in on this one. Pick a sunny spot to photograph them.
    The whole bubble
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    Making bubbles with kids and parent
    Savage Fest bubble making, June 2, 2018