Can Glow Sticks Go In Water?

Retro Underwater

Nothing says “party” quite like glow sticks.  Even in broad daylight, glow sticks can be a hit with sprucing up decorations or adding wearables to costumes.

There is no doubt glow sticks are necessary for almost any 1980s themed or retro party held at night, but can they go in water?  Yes, glow sticks can and will work in water. The temperature of the water, depth, or pressure of the water, and the brand will all impact the brightness and life cycle of a glow stick.

How are glow sticks waterproof?

To answer this question, we need to look at the anatomy of a glow stick.

Almost all glow sticks have an outer plastic tube.  The tube itself contains two isolated substances; a base catalyst (phenyl oxalate ester) and suitable dye (fluorophore).  Also, the container houses a suspended, thin glass capsule, known as an ampoule, which contains another substance (hydrogen peroxide). 

The plastic shell of the glow stick is rigid but flexible enough that when bent, the glass capsule breaks and the substances mix, creating a chemical reaction.  This is known as chemiluminescence, or simply, the emission of light as a result of a chemical reaction.

The dye that is used is what gives the glow stick it’s color.

The plastic tube is what protects the mixed substances, glass capsule, and is ultimately what makes glow sticks waterproof.

Does water temperature impact glow stick brightness?

The temperature of the water will have an impact on glow stick brightness.

Similar to room temperature, or the temperature outside, water temperature and its impact on a glow stick are no different. 

The temperature aids in the speed of the chemical reaction.  The warmer the water, the faster and stronger the chemicals will react, which will increase the brightness of the glow stick.

The reverse is true.  The colder the water temperature, the slower and weaker the chemical reaction, will result in a dimmer, overall brightness to the glow stick.

Will water depth impact glow stick brightness?

Yes, the depth of the water will impact glow stick brightness, mainly because of how sunlight energy is absorbed and transformed into heat.

If you plan to use your glow sticks in a pool as an example, the majority of the time, the surface temperature is going to be warmer compared to the bottom.  The water near the surface is less dense than water near the bottom and, therefore, easier to heat.

The warmer the water temperature (surface), the quicker the chemical reaction, and therefore, the brighter your glow sticks will appear.

The colder the water temperature (bottom), the slower the chemical reaction, the dimmer the brightness in your glow sticks.

Larger bodies of water, like lakes or oceans, have different layers (surface, thermocline, and deep) where the temperature can drop dramatically the deeper you go.  However, seasonal changes in temperature, like winter, may make the surface the coldest part of a body of water. The surface becomes denser due to wind and waves, and in some cases, freezes.  Warmer water reverses and reaches the bottom. We only mention this if you want to use your glow sticks while throwing a retro scuba diving theme party (Source).

All and all, if you are hosting your party in the summer, in a pool that is 3-10 feet deep, you shouldn’t see a dramatic impact on the brightness of your glow sticks.

Glow Stick Street

How long will glow sticks last submerged in water?

The downside of using glow sticks in hot water is that they won’t last as long. 

And vice versa. 

The upside to using glow sticks in colder water is that they will last longer.  

Because of this variance in temperature, as well as the size, quality, and brand, it isn’t very easy to determine how long a glow stick will last.

However, the range is anywhere from 1 hour to as much as 12 hours for traditional glow sticks.

Are glow stick chemicals toxic, and do they leak in water?

Glow sticks are safe so long as you follow the packaging and general use instructions.  The chemicals are not, by any means, considered deadly or dangerous. 

Most manufacturers use non-toxic chemicals, and they will not leak into the water as long as you do not tamper with the structure of the glow stick.

For example, if you cut or puncture a glow stick, the chemicals are no longer contained, and you would be at risk. 

Some of the potential risks are:

  • Stinging and/or burning to eyes
  • Burning of the mouth or throat if ingested
  • General irritation to the skin like stinging, burning, and/or redness

For the eyes, it is best to wash out your eyes with water for 15-20 minutes and seek medical attention if you continue to experience discomfort in any way.

For the mouth or throat, water should be used to rinse thoroughly and to drink a cold beverage to soothe the burning sensation.

For the skin, wash the area with soap and water.  You can apply itch or burn creams if the irritation continues. 

Follow any incident above with a call to the local Poison Control Center.

Will glow sticks sink or float in water?

Some float.  Some sink. 

So, depending on how you plan to use them, you’re going to want to do some research before you buy. 

Most online retailers will have a FAQ or review section where you may be able to do a simple search to find out the answer.  We have checked over a dozen different brands, and the split was 50-50. 

Once the glass vial is broken, this may release an air bubble into the plastic tube, which allows the glow stick to float. 

Another interesting thing to note here is that the thinner, necklace, or bracelet style glow sticks tend to sink.  In contrast, the thicker, shorter but heavier style glow stick tends more often than not to float. We thought it would be the opposite.

The point is, don’t trust your gut if it’s not clear on the packaging. 

Glow stick uses in or around water (practical list)

There are scores of uses for glow sticks aside from attending a rave party. 

The number of party decorations you can create with glow sticks is fascinating.  

  • Lanterns from old jars or bottles placed along walkways
  • Inserting into a balloon and then inflating and tossing into the pool
  • Entering into beach balls, foam sticks, drinks (like a straw)
  • A disco ball by interlacing thin, long glow sticks together with connectors
  • Outlining table settings like plates, cups, silverware
  • In coolers where drinks are stored
  • Spell words to create signs to point out certain things to your guests like “Welcome,” “Restroom,” “Drinks This Way,” with an arrow, etc.
  • Suspended lights like on top of a pergola, or hanging from a tree

We recommend the 8-inch, Lumistick party pack glow stick for the overall best value – price, quantity, colors, glow range, shelf life, and they come with connectors, which makes for easy creation of awesome decorations or costume accessories.  They can be found here on Amazon.  Note – these do sink if put in water.

Glow Stick Ball

Other great ways to utilize glow sticks:

  • Party favors
  • Entertainment – attending or hosting concerts, club events, festivals, and other celebrations
  • On costumes – especially when trying to keep tabs on your children during Halloween
  • Camping
  • Night golf – necklace or bracelets for team colors, to put on the golf cart, identify the flagstick, set yardage markers, put around the hole/cup, and to light up your golf ball
  • Fishing – almost an unfair advantage if you place in the water near your bait
  • Cycling (at night)
  • Kayaking (at night)
  • Caving
  • Scuba Diving
  • Hiking – marking your trail
  • Emergency situations like labeling hazards, road flares, use during power outages, investigating electrical/gas leaks/fire because no spark or charge is needed to use
  • Survival Kit accessory
  • General light source – Flashlight, lantern, headlamp
  • Walking or running at night and insert in/around reflective vest
  • Lightart – artists are using them to create a new genre of artwork to consume

Mark Plevyak

Thanks for reading! Throwing events can be overwhelming but to me one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences. Since we all grew up in different decades, we can't always relate to iconic time periods of the past. There is so much to celebrate so if you are thinking of planning an event, plan a Retro one. And, if you're attending a party, ensure you relive it to the fullest. Party Unique!

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