[This article is a work-in-progress. Espiegel123]
Making free-floating soap bubbles -- especially giant ones -- can be tricky. Everyone, even the most experienced bubbleheads, have days when they can't get a bubble to close or can't get a closed bubble to last more than a few seconds. For a beginner, it is very hard to know if the problem is the "bubble juice", the equipment, or the environment. This article is not comprehensive but should give you a good start on diagnosing your problems.
Before you start a possibly drawn out troubleshooting process, there are a few things to consider. Sometimes the problem is just one of the factors listed and sometimes it can be all of them.
If you are fairly new to making bubbles, we recommend a few things to make troubleshooting less mindbending.
- If you are brewing your own juice, stick to a reliable simple recipe from the wiki and follow the instructions precisely. I cannot tell you how many times I am asked to help someone only to find out that they have started by improvising their own recipe or have not followed the recipe precisely.
- Are you following the recipe carefully? Many help requests have come from people that are either substituting key ingredients (such as detergents) or mixing the recipes differently than instructed. Make sure to perform a recipe's steps in order. Some steps must happen in the correct order. For example, when mixing most recipes that use baking powder, adding the baking powder too early will result in an inferior mix. Make sure that you are using the correct detergent (see next paragraph).
- Are you substituting detergents? Make sure that you are using the correct detergent. The strength and capabilities of dishwashing liquids vary considerably. Most of the recipes here are based on Dawn Pro or an equivalent such as Fairy. See more about detergents on the Ingredients page.
- Compare to a benchmark. Even if you are brewing your own juice, we recommend purchasing a reliable commercial bubble juice to use as a benchmark or point-of-comparison. What you use for a benchmark will depend on whether you are making small bubbles (lets say 12 inches in diameter or smaller) or big bubbles. There are quite a few good commercial mixes for small bubbles. You might buy a few different ones at a local toy store. Not all commercial brands are reliable and which ones are good changes from year to year. For big bubbles OR small bubbles, Uncle Bubble Ultra Concentrate is often mentioned on SBF, the Soap Bubble Fanciers Yahoo Group (RIP)as being the most reliable commercial product. At the wiki (Dec. 2013), we have found it to be excellent for bubbles from tiny to super giant. The expense can be worth it to help you set your expectations.
- PEO Troubleshooting. In J-Lube and PolyOx WSR301, PEO is the active polymer. PEO strength changes over time. Its strength can change dramatically over time. Many recipes were developed with PEO that had lost some of its potency (without the creator being aware of it). If you use PEO and the juice is coming out very stringy, you may need to reduce the amount of PEO. 1 gram of full-strength J-Lube per gallon of water (3.785 liters) or 0.25 grams WSR301 is actually quite a bit -- one can often use quite a bit less. So-called degraded PEO may be 1/4 that potency. Some trial and error is needed to figure out what you have. See PEO Calibration.
Are the conditions the problem? Even if you are using great bubble juice and the right equipment, poor humidity or the wrong particles in the air can make it virtually impossible to make a bubble. Sometimes, you need to adjust your expectations to the conditions. See the Ideal Conditions article and the other articles in the Conditions category to understand how conditions related to bubble-making. TEST: Use a benchmark solution (see above) to see if a reliable commercial product is working. If the benchmark does not work well, you may need to make a juice customized for the conditions; although, it is possible that nothing will work well.
Is the juice the problem? Are you using a reliable bubble juice? If you are making your own bubble juice, are you using a recipe that others have had good experience with? Did you precisely follow the directions and use the recommended ingredients? For your first attempts, stick to a benchmark solution (as discussed above) or one of the recipes that we recommend in the Getting Started or Getting Started with Tri-Strings articles.
Is the detergent the problem? If you are brewing your own bubble juice, make sure that you are using a detergent that is known to work well. Keep in mind that many brands, including the widely-used Dawn detergents, make different versions of their detergents. Not all of them work equally well. For example, there are versions of Dawn (usually labeled non-concentrated) that work poorly while others are among the best detergents you can use. Note that Fairy and Dreft and other international versions of the Procter & Gamble detergents vary in the formulation from country to country. In some countries, there are budget versions of the detergents that use half the amount of surfactant as the "standard" version. You may need to adjust your Dilution to account for differences in surfactant amount.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple: the bubble juice and your equipment. A simple recipe that has just water, detergent, a single polymer (probably PEO or HEC) and (optionally) either baking soda and citric acid or baking powder will perform just as well as more complex recipes. Many people (the author included) spend a lot of time working on complicated recipes when equipment or the environment is a much bigger factor.
For giant bubbles, start with a simple reliable recipe such as our simple guar gum-based recipe (a variation of which was used to set the world record freestanding big bubble) or purchase a reliable commercial product such as Uncle Bubble Ultra Concentrate, Bubble Thing Powder, Cricket Hill Powder, or Bangwool or Beeboo. If you are having trouble making bubbles with these reliable recipes (using the ingredients specified in the recipes), the problem may be some combination of equipment or environment or (but probably not) water.
One helpful thing to do -- even if you are intending to create giant bubbles -- is to use a small plastic wand (such as come in bottles of dime-store bubble solution) to see how many bubbles per dip you can get with gentle blowing and to watch them. Most good giant bubble solutions will produce a stream of 10 or more (at least 5) bubbles per dip. Many will create many more than that. If you are having trouble blowing this many bubbles with one dip of a recipe that is known to be good for making giant bubbles, the bubble juice itself may be the issue--either improper mixing or an ingredients problem. (More on that later). If you have no problem blowing this many bubbles then the problems you are experiencing are probably due to environmental factors (more on that later) or equipment issues (more on that later).
Water is rarely the issue, but in exceptional cases, the problem may be the water. If you are using a reliable recipe with which others have had success (i.e. one of the recipes mentioned above or most others in the Recipes section) AND you are using a reliable detergent, try making up a small batch using distilled water to see if that improves things. If it does improve things then your water source is probably a problem. This does not necessarily mean that you should switch to distilled water. Other bottled water is likely to work well. Even when using distilled water, the addition of some tap water or mineral water is generally advisable. For more about water, see the Water article.
Some pros always use distilled water because the result is very consistent which is a requirement if you are relying on predictable behavior. In most cases tap water is preferable since the trace minerals are usually beneficial to the bubbles, but there are cases where a locale's tap water has too much of the wrong minerals to work. Also, the water supply may vary. For example, the water's mineral content may vary seasonally or might change temporarily if work (such as pipe replacement) is being done on the water system.
People often ask for help with their bubbles by asking questions such as "My bubbles do not last very long. Why?"
Quite a bit of information is needed before I could venture a guess. All of the following are important:
- What is the precise recipe that you are using?
- What other recipes have you tried?
- What equipment are you using to make the bubbles? BE SPECIFIC. Include materials and wand/loop size.
- What was the temperature and humidity? This is VERY IMPORTANT. If you are making bubbles in terrible conditions, the results will be poor.
- How large are the bubbles you are making?
- How long are the bubbles lasting?
- Have you used this recipe before?
- Were you using freshly-made juice?
If you are just getting started, you may find it helpful to purchase some high quality bubble juice such as Uncle Bubble Ultra Concentrate to use as a benchmark/point-of-comparison.