What materials do you need to make water glow?

Written by clare edwards
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What materials do you need to make water glow?
Use ink from a highlighter pen to create glowing water. (PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

You can use simple household materials to create glowing water. Bottles of glowing water can make spooky Halloween props or a sophisticated display for a bar or a party. There are two kinds of "glow" that you can achieve. Fluorescence requires a black light (ultraviolet light) and fluorescent materials. Luminescence is the technical term for "glow in the dark" materials. These store visible light as chemical energy, releasing it when you turn out the lights.

Food-Safe Materials

Options for drinkable glowing water are limited. There are a few additives that fluoresce under black light, but most affect the taste of water. You can mix turmeric with alcohol for a faintly fluorescent yellow dye. "Tweens" (algae-based food additives) are luminous but hard to obtain. Quinine, found in tonic water, glows blue-white but tastes very bitter (and is toxic in large amounts). Mix a little tonic water with tap water for a palatable glowing drink.

Highlighter Pens

Highlighter pens use a fluorescent ink to achieve their bright colours. Inside a highlighter you'll find a wadded felt reservoir that holds fluorescent ink. You can use this ink to make coloured glowing water. Cut up the felt reservoir from a water-based highlighter pen with scissors. Soak it in hot water to get the ink out. Strain the pieces of felt out, and pour the water into a bottle. This will glow under black light.

Tonic Water

You can make several bottles of glowing water by diluting the contents of a single bottle of tonic water. If you want to put your glowing water into sealed containers, let the tonic water go flat before you use it. You can tint the water with highlighter pen ink or fluorescent paints. Make sure you purchase tonic water and not seltzer or another beverage, as only tonic water contains quinine. The others don't glow.

Laundry Whitener

Laundry whitener is designed to make white fabrics look brighter. It glows under black light. You can exploit this effect for your glowing water. Mix laundry whitener with water, and expose it to black light for a brilliant blue-white glow. The more whitener you use, the brighter the glow. Laundry whitener is an irritant, so take care to wash splashes off your skin and ensure that nobody drinks this mixture by mistake.

Paints and Inks

You can find fluorescent and luminescent paints at craft stores and some toy stores. Fluorescent paints and inks need black light to make them glow. If you want luminous water that glows in the dark without black light, choose luminescent paints. Some products are sold in powder form, which you can add to water to make it glow. Make sure that ready-mixed paint or ink is water-soluble, or it might not mix properly with water.

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