20110322 01 HEC lehigh 1

A 45-foot bubble made with a solution that uses HEC and no PEO on a windy day.

I have recently started using a fairly dilute bubble mix that uses HEC without the help of PEO (or J-Lube, whose active ingredient is PEO), and I have been very pleased. A friend is also trying it out and has mentioned that it worked for him on a very dry day when his normally reliable Jumbo Juice just wouldn't work. To many people this won't be news, quite a few people are apparently happily using similar solutions, but to me, it was a surprise as I associate HEC with prolific but stiff solutions like Gazillion and Mr. Bubble. A few weeks ago, I started using it in place of HPMC as a secondary polymer in my J-Lube-based mixes and have been pleased with the qualities that it brings.

In order to better understand the ingredients that I am working with, I have started to explore mixes that have only one of the three common polymers (PEO, HPMC and HEC) rather than a blend of PEO and something else. Conventional wisdom has been that PEO is required for really big bubbles. I decided to start with HEC since it is the ingredient that I have used the least and because (serendipitously) a couple of bubble acquaintances have mentioned recently that they use HEC without PEO.

A few days ago, I tried an HEC-only mix (the recipe is found below) on a morning that had perfect conditions (no wind, overcast, 55F and 80% humidity) -- and the bubbles shocked me. They were the best bubbles that I had ever created with my triple-strand bamboo yarn 32-inch top-string wand: 40 to 50 foot tubes that pulled together into nice spheres and lasted for up to a minute. Some smaller bubbles lasting as long as a couple of minutes. Bubble-in-bubble was easy. I was able to blow 10 bubbles into a 4 foot sphere that drifted up into the air. My BLM-based mix on the same day worked about the same -- perhaps the bubbles were bigger with the BLM but not remarkably so. I felt that the HEC mix gave somewhat better colors, but sadly I turned on the video recorder without pressing the record button. So, I don't have any footage from that session. I haven't had such good conditions again since then, but I have some pictures and video that give you an idea of how well this solution can work in less than ideal conditions.

Conditions: humidity started at 75% but dropped to 50% over the next 45 minutes. The wind was frequently changing directions and from 5 to 15 miles per hour. The clouds were breaking so, it was increasingly sunny. The temperature was in the upper-50s (Fahrenheit).


Here are some pictures taken on a day when the conditions were quite challenging (winds from 5 to 15 mph with only occasional breaks of calmer air)


These aren't 'art videos'. This is intended to simply document the solutions' behavior. You will see a lot of tubes that break without being successfully closed. I was testing to see how big the tubes could get. So, frequently, I made no attempt to close them off. This solution is very forgiving. Closing bubbles even in these challenging conditions was easy.

thumb|640px|left|HEC-only mix. Watch in HD if you can.thumb|640px|left|Fresh HEC solution. Watch in HD if you can.thumb|left|640px|HEC with rope loop. Watch in HD if you canthumb|640px|left|PEO-based solution for comparison. Watch in HD


Here are a couple of videos from the previous day, when the wind was relentless. You will notice raindrops. It was sprinkling lightly through much of the session thumb|640px|left|HEC-only mix on a VERY windy day. Watch in HDthumb|640px|left|BLM-based solution for comparison. Watch in HD.



16 parts very warm tap water
1 part Dawn Pro dishwashing liquid
8 grams of Dow Cellosize QP100MH (HEC) per gallon of water (not per gallon of juice)
3.2 grams of baking soda per gallon of water
1.6 grams of citric acid per gallon of water

I started stirring the warm water with a spoon and slowly added the dry ingredients as I stirred and then the detergent was added and the mix was stirred gently so as not to froth it up. I waited 20 minutes before bubbling. The solution seemed to work just as well after 20 minutes as it did the next day. The HEC dissolved easily without clumping.

If you have a different type of HEC, you will probably need to use more of it than I did. Cellosize QP100MH is higher molecular weight than most other available HEC. This solution is not terribly viscous -- a bit more viscous than Jumbo Juice. Thommy has reported that he can use the same amount of Natrosol 250HR as I am using and getting good results.


I don't think that this mix will displace PEO-based recipes in my bubbling, but it will be in rotation. I haven't used it enough to know what different qualities it has compared to PEO-based recipes -- or to what extent the difference is because I am using 16 parts water per 1 part detergent rather than 11 or 12 to 1 with my PEO-based mixes (something that I will explore soon). Thommy has reported to me that on a really dry day(30% humidity?) when his Jumbo Juice wouldn't work at all that a mix like the one given here worked pretty well.

I have no idea if the baking soda/citric acid are important. I mixed it up this way the first time that I made it (a few days ago) and so I have been mixing it up this way to see if the results are consistent. I will be seeing how this works without them in the near future.

I have been trying them in most of my mixes lately as citric acid has long been on my list of ingredients to explore and last week I read several posts (a few from Alan McKay who set the world's record for longest bubble tube) in which citric acid was mentioned as being a key ingredient. I have had some nice mixes with it but can't be certain yet that the citric acid was really the reason why. For more thoughts about citric acid, see this post.

One of the nice things about this mix is that it can be mixed up just a few minutes before you go out bubbling. It doesn't require that you pre-prepare a concentrate. So, you can mix the dry ingredients together and take them with you. It is a nice way that you can introduce distant friends to giant bubbles.

A few nice things about HEC: it mixes easily with warm water, isn't stringy, seems usable quite soon after being mixed, and is harder to overdose bubble juice with than PEO. It is not as cost-effective as PEO/J-Lube. $16 of J-Lube is enough to create up to a few hundred gallons of bubble juice whereas that amount of HEC will make about 50 gallons.

It will be interesting to see if this solution is generally reliable in the low humidity conditions in which PEO-based mixes seem to have trouble.

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