(NOTE: This is the version of the PEO article as it was prior to March 2015. It contains some information that might be of historical interest.)
PEO (polyethylene oxide) is a long-chain polymer and in some forms is called Polyethylene Glycol (PEG, for short). Not all PEO is suitable for making bubbles. For bubbling purposes PEO and PEG are not equivalent for reasons described below. As with all polymers, the molecule is a chain of identical or near-identical units called monomers. The length of the PEO polymer chain determines its properties and usefulness. The chain length is usually communicated as molecular weight: the mass of the atoms that make up a single polymer chain.
For making bubbles, relatively high molecular weight versions are preferred. Low molecular weight PEO is either ineffective or not very effective as a primary bubble juice polymer. The most popular versions of PEO for use in bubble juice are PolyOx WSR-301 and J-Lube (which is a mix of high molecular weight PEO and sucrose which acts as a dispersant). These both have a molecular weight of approximately 4,000,000.
PEO has remarkable characteristics. It radically improves the elasticity and self-healingness of a soap bubble skin's which enables the creation of large to giant bubbles. It turns a dilute dish detergent/water combination into a big bubble-making powerhouse. Of the polymers documented here, it has the most profound impact and is only needed in very small quantities. In recipes, it can be used as the sole additive or in combination with other polymers.
PEO/PEG Distinction. PEO and PEG molecules have the same molecular formula. However, PEG, by convention, refers to low molecular versions and PEO is reserved for high molecular weight molecules. As a result PEG is not generally considered useful for bubble juice.
As of this writing (September 2014), enough PEO to make 600 gallons or more of bubble juice can be purchased for about $15. The most commonly used versions of PEO in the bubbling community are J-Lube (which is 25% high molecular weight PEO and 75% sucrose) and Dow's PolyOx WSR-301. A few drops of PEO/water solution added to a cup of a dilute water and detergent mix can change the bubbles per dip from 1 to over 50 as measured by the small wand test described in the? Test Matrix? section of the wiki. PEO makes bubble juice extremely self-healing. Too much PEO results in bubble skins that are so flexible that the bubbles don't pull into a spherical shape unless the air is very still. For giant bubbles, too much PEO results in giant bubbles that break up into many smaller bubbles with little provocation. Too much PEO also may make the bubble solution hard to work with. PEO is used to make slime. You want to use a small enough amount that it improves bubble performance without changing the viscosity noticeably.
SEE NOTES BELOW? for important information about outstanding questions with regards to PEO mixing and PEO/JLube equivalence.
Usage notes: J-Lube is commonly used in the U.S.A. (due to being easily available over the internet) as a source of PEO. But pure PEO can also be found. It is sometimes marketed as PolyOx and is the primary (and sometimes only) component of 'slime kits'. You can substitute PolyOx for J-Lube in recipes by using 1/4 as much PolyOx as J-Lube. PEO is only 25% - by weight - of J-Lube. The other 75% is sucrose which has no impact on the bubble solution and can be ignored. Typical usage of pure PolyOx is typically 0.25 to 0.5 grams per gallon of bubble solution. It has a noticeable impact at even lower doses. Note that it is technically water soluble, but it needs either time or heat to help it dissolve and incorporate into the water. If you don't mind waiting, you can add PolyOx to water and shake it vigorously a few times per day for a few days and it will dissolve and incorporate on its own. Initially, it will form a clump or clumps that with shaking and time will gradually hydrate and disperse evenly. 0.25 grams of PolyOx per ounce of water makes a nice 'slurry' that can be conveniently added to bubble juice. Most DIY bubblers, mix up a slurry with 8 or 16 ounces of water to have PEO in a convenient form for mixing up batches of bubble juice. Water and PEO can be boiled to dissolve and disperse the PEO. However, great care must be taken to avoid boiling over. If boiling, use a container many times larger than the volume of the solution being boiled and watch it carefully. It can take several minutes of vigorous boiling for this to completely dissolve. Most people do this in a microwave.? 1/8 teaspoon? PEO weighs about 0.25 to 0.32 grams. (This is one of the reasons that measuring by weight is preferable).
Concentration: Very small amounts of high molecular weight PEO (WSR301 and the PEO in J-Lube have a molecular weight of about 4,000,000) have a measurable impact on soap bubble solutions. In water/dish detergent solutions in the 8 to 1 to 12 to 1 range, just .002% PEO (by weight) has a measurable impact and at 0.004% can already render the soap solution somewhat stringy where stringy means that when the solution drips off a spoon or fork or small plastic wand that the solution drips in a continuous string which tends to remain attached. This video demonstrates testing of PEO stringiness www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGCAy79mtGE&hd=1 Jumbo Juice? uses a concentration right around .01% by weight of high molecular weight PEO (Polyox WSR 301 -- the PEO in J-Lube gives similar results). Giant bubbles are possible with .005% and even less. 1 ounce of BLM in a gallon of bubble juice is about .007% PEO. The upper-range of usefulness is not yet clear. Solutions with as much as 0.023% have been shown to be capable of creating great bubbles. With large amounts of PEO, very large bubbles will tend to divide into medium-sized bubbles with little provocation. Wind typically case bubbles with a lot of PEO to divide rather than break. With large amounts of PEO, bubbles-in-bubbles are very easy to create.
VIDEO:? See? this video? to see a 3 year-old child making huge bubbles with a solution that contains 0.02% (a lot) of WSR301.
J-LUBE EQUIVALENCE ISSUES: Most J-Lube seems to be about the same molecular weight (and hence viscosity) as PolyOx WSR301 from Dow Chemical. It may, in fact, be a slightly higher molecular weight PEO as it tends to be more viscous than WSR301 at the same concentration (of PEO). J-Lube and WSR301 certainly mix up differently. WSR301 is quite sensitive to how it is mixed [this article needs to be updated with more information about this] while J-Lube is less finicky in this regards. J-Lube has the drawback of containing sugar which means that it can go bad over time if left in solution at room temperature without the use of a preservative (such as the Surgilube that is used in mixing up BLM). It needs to be noted that? some? bottles of J-Lube (so far only very old bottles) seem to contain a much lighter molecular weight PEO that is less potent than WSR301. The see the section? J-Lube? above for more information.
TO COME: mixing notes and a pointer to the J-Lube/WSR301 equivalence article -- that still needs to be written.
It has been determined that PEO solutions (including J-Lube solutions) are heavily influenced by how they are mixed. With the same concentration of PEO, the mixing method can indepdently influence the viscosity and self-siphoningness of a mix. Sterling Johnson has mentioned on? SBF, the Soap Bubble Fanciers Yahoo Group? that if you add a PEO solution to the bubble juice's water before adding the rest of the ingredients that the resulting bubble solution is not stringy (or less stringy) than when the PEO solution is added to the detergent and other ingredients first. [NOTE: experiments should be done to confirm this]
STABILITY/SHELF-LIFE. High molecular weight PEO, such as PolyOx WSR301 and J-Lube, can degrade to lower molecular forms. They can still be very effective in bubble solution, but more of it needs to be used than if original-state stuff is used. According to technical support at Dow Chemical, oxidation is the primary culprit. Storing the PEO in the freezer or an oxygen deprived environment can extend the life significantly. See? this SBF posting? for more information.
Types of PEOEdit
J-Lube may be the most important polymer for creating giant bubbles. It is a powder which is made up of 25% high molecular weight PEO and 75% table sugar. It is a very potent ingredient. Less than a gram of this powder can turn a gallon of water and twelve ounces (or less) of dishwashing liquid into a potent giant bubble juice. A 10 oz. bottle of J-Lube powder costs less than $20 (including shipping) in the U.S. and can make hundreds of gallons of bubble juice. J-Lube's primary commercial use is for aiding veterinarians in the birthing of livestock.
SUBSTITUTING FOR WSR301: J-Lube can be substituted for PolyOx WSR301 as long as the PEO concentration is taken into account. J-Lube is only 25% PEO. So, when substituting for WSR301 multiply the amount of WSR301 needed by 4.
USAGE TIPS: J-Lube is water soluble but can be a little tricky to dissolve since the powder tends to clump when added to water. If you are patient, you can add the J-Lube to water and leave it over night and then shake the mixture until the lube is dissolved. It can take a couple of days doing this once per day to fully incorporate the J-Lube. A quicker method is to add J-Lube powder to hot water and then microwave and letting the mixture boil for several minutes in a large container stopping as needed to prevent boilovers (which are very messy to clean-up). When using the microwave method, you must carefully watch the boiling solution to make sure that it does not spillover as the solution will bubble and expand vigorously during boiling. You must use a container that is at least 4 times larger than the volume being mixed when using the microwave method. One advantage of the microwave method (you could do it on the stovetop, too) is that it will pasteurize the mixture and reduce the likelihood that the sucrose will ferment.
1/4 tsp of J-Lube powder weighs about 0.6 grams. [NOTE: this needs to be double-checked]
One bottle of J-Lube powder costs $10 to $16 including shipping (as of June 2010) and contains 284 grams of J-Lube which is enough to make more than 200 gallons of bubble solution.
You can use PolyOx in J-Lube's place if you find it easier to come by. PolyOx contains just the active ingredient from J-Lube (which is just PEO and sucrose). PolyOx comes in different molecular weights. So, the amount of PolyOx needs to be adjusted. See the PEO section below for more information.
March 2011 update. J-Lube and WSR301 are both high molecular weight PEO. J-Lube appears to have a slightly heavier molecular weight but only very slightly and as long as they are mixed correctly they can be used interchangably. J-Lube solutions that are intended to be stored can benefit from some added KY-Jelly or Surgilube which have preservatives. [See BLM recipe.] . However, both chemicals are sensitive to how they are mixed. J-Lube is a bit less picky about how it is mixed. (I.e. you can microwave it to mix it up but you can't do that with WSR301). In Jan. 2011, several people mentioned that they had "old" J-Lube which behaved differently from "new" J-Lube. After quite a bit of testing and research, it now appears that under some conditions that J-Lube (and WSR301) powder can actually break down into a lighter molecular weight PEO. When this happens, the J-Lube is much weaker. When it is mixed up it isn't string or very viscous and large amounts can be added to bubble mix without hurting the mix. It is important to know whether your J-Lube or WSR301 has started to deteriorate.
OUTDATED NOTE!! (Jan. 2011). [THIS PARAGRAPH IS OUT OF DATE AND INCLUDED FOR HISTORICAL PURPOSES. IT SHOULD PROBABLY BE REMOVED. ]It appears that there are two formulations (one of which is quite old) of J-Lube. Both are 25% PEO and 75% Sucrose (table sugar), but the current J-Lube seems to use a much higher molecular weight PEO molecule than is found in at least some very old J-Lube bottles. It has not yet been ascertained whether "old" J-Lube was intentionally formulated differently or if there was a quality control glitch. Whatever the reason, the two are both potent ingredients but the potency is quite different. The very old J-Lube is much less viscous than the newer J-Lube at the same concentration and the very old J-Lube does not exhibit the stringy, self-siphoning characteristics of the current J-Lube. It appears that most people have been using 'new' J-Lube and some long-time bubblers seem not to have encountered the very old J-Lube (which indicates the possibility that there was simply a single manufacturing run that used a different PEO source than normally). This would explain the conflicting results being reported for the proper equivalence between J-Lube and WSR301. Current J-Lube bottles are 7.25 inches (18.4 cm) tall and yield a goo that is considerably more viscous than the J-Lube found in bottles that are 7-7/8 inches tall. The taller bottles seem to be several years (or more) older. There are a few discussions of this in the SBF forum that are of interest Nov. 2010 discussion about WSR301/J-Lube equivalence , Nov. 2010 discussion about different J-Lubes and May 2007 discussion
Which J-Lube do I have? To determine whether you have fresh J-Lube (or WSR301), do the following test.
- Put 2 grams of the powder in a beaker or glass
- Optional: add 5 grams of dry alcohol (i.e. 91% isopropyl or methanol or
ethanol) or 5 grams of glycerine. Stir it to make a slurry
- Put 52 grams of water in another beaker or glass
- Pour the water rapidly into the beaker containing the JLube slurry
Pour the mix back and forth between the two beakers/glasses for 4 or 5
Fresh JLube will quickly become self-siphoning and very non-newtonian (its texture will change when it is in motion and under stress). It has been described as looking like liquid rubber in motion. Within a minute or two, it will be obviously unusual in its behavior. The 'very old' JLube doesn't develop that way at all -- it is slippery but has a texture somewhat like vegetable oil and is only the slightest bit stringy if at all. This technique is actually a great way to mix up either J-Lube or WSR301 (PolyOx).
If you have "old" JLube, you need 4 to 16 times as much of it as "fresh" JLube.
Odds and Ends Edit
There is some evidence (though not well-tested) that PEO-containing concentrates may retain their potency better than powder stored at room temperature. Such concentrates have good shelf-life but fine-grained tests have not been performed (as of May 2014) to determine whether there is detectable degradation. In April 2014, someone diluted a bottle of concentrate made by Edward in 2011 (with his then-standard 2011 concentrate recipe) and it seemed to perform as if made fresh though it was not compared with a fine-grained test to a fresh bottle.