Bouncy Polymer Chemistry

Time Required Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety Adult supervision required. Borax is harmful if swallowed. On rare occasion handling borax can result in rashes.


Have you ever wondered how fun toys like Silly Putty, Gak, and Slime are made? These products are so much fun because of the properties of polymers, which make them delightfully bouncy, stretchy, sticky, moldable, breakable, hard, soft, and just plain fun! In this science project you can be the developer of your own putty product by changing the ratio of ingredients to change the physical properties of your putty polymer. By describing the physical properties of your results, you can choose the best recipe for your new product.


Determine the best recipe for your own homemade silly putty by varying the ratio of ingredients and by observing physical properties.

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Sara Agee, Ph.D., Science Buddies
Elmer's® is a registered trademark of Elmer's Products, Inc.

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Last edit date: 2018-02-02


You might think that chemists are a bunch of boring scientists who wear lab coats and look at beakers all day, but did you know that many toys you play with are made using chemistry? Some of your favorite toys like Gak, Slime and Silly Putty started out as chemistry experiments. In fact, some of your favorite toys may have been invented by chemists who work for toy companies like: Crayola, Play-Doh or Mattel.

Chemistry is the study of matter, and how matter behaves and interacts with other kinds of matter. There are many different kinds of matter, which can be described using the concept of properties. Toys like silly putty are unique because they have distinct properties that are different from the properties of other types of matter. There are two different kinds of properties, chemical properties and physical properties.

Chemical properties are qualities that can be observed during a chemical reaction, like when vinegar reacts with baking soda. Physical properties are qualities that can be observed during a physical change, like the melting of an ice cube. Physical properties can be used to describe the state of some matter, which can be a solid, liquid or a gas.

The physical and chemical properties of Silly Putty are what make it so much fun because it is a polymer that is stretchy and bouncy! But Silly Putty is not the only polymer. Polymers are actually found in a many different materials, which have a broad range of properties. Materials made from polymers can be found naturally, such as amber and natural rubber, or generated synthetically, in a laboratory, such as nylon, silicone, and all plastics.

Scientists use chemical and physical properties to describe all of the unique qualities of a chemical or a mixture of chemicals, which can also be called a solution. To do this they use descriptive language, or words that are used to describe objects. Some descriptive words used to describe a chemical might be: hot, cold, squishy, hard, soft, crystalline, granular, smooth, liquid, clear, opaque, runny. There are many different qualities to be described. You just need to find the right words to use.

The unique physical and chemical properties of a polymer or mixture can be changed by the amount of each different ingredient used to make them. Sometimes the amount of one ingredient compared to the amount of another ingredient can make a big difference. This is called a ratio, and a ratio can be useful to know how much of each ingredient to add to your mixture so you will end up with a mixture that has desirable properties.

In this science project you will change the ratio of two basic ingredients in homemade Silly Putty. These ingredients are Borax and Elmer's glue (both diluted in water). Elmer's glue is made up of a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl acetate which has many small chemical groups called acetates. Borax (a white powder made up of sodium tetraborate) can react with the acetates in Elmer's glue. The end result of this chemical reaction is that many acetates link together, and this creates homemade Silly Putty! You will describe the physical properties of each different mixture using a data table. Then you will choose the ratio of ingredients to create the best putty product.

Terms and Concepts

  • Chemical properties
  • Chemical reaction
  • Physical properties
  • Polymers
  • Synthetic
  • Chemical
  • Mixture
  • Solution
  • Ratio


Learn about the history and chemistry of Silly Putty on this webpage: Here is a great site for learning about polymers: This web site at Chemistry 4 Kids has a great tutorial on chemistry, matter properties and mixtures. Go check it out:

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Materials and Equipment

  • Zip-lock baggie
  • water
  • Elmer's® School Glue
  • Borax (also called 20-Mule Team household cleaner); See "Local Resources for Purchasing Common Chemicals" on our Guide to Purchasing Chemicals. Safety Note: Borax is harmful if swallowed. It is uncommon, but possible, for borax to cause skin rashes. Gloves can be used to avoid skin contact.
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • two recycled glass jars with a lid
  • permanent marker
  • Disposable gloves, can be used if there is concern over handling borax. Disposable gloves can be purchased at a local drug store or pharmacy, or through an online supplier like Carolina Biological Supply Company. If you are allergic to latex, use vinyl or polyethylene gloves.
  • Food coloring (optional)
Ingredients for making silly putty.
Figure 1. These simple materials can be used to make homemade silly putty.

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Bouncy Polymer Chemistry

Experimental Procedure

  1. First you will need to prepare the 50% glue solution, which is made up of half glue and half water.
  2. Add one cup of glue and one cup of water to one of the jars.
  3. For fun: Try adding food coloring to the mixture.
  4. Tightly secure the lid to the jar and shake until glue is fully diluted, and no gooey clumps remain.
  5. Using a permanent marker, label this jar "50% Glue".
50% solution of white school glue for making silly putty.
Figure 2. The 50% glue solution should look similar to this one.
  1. Next, you will make the Borax solution, which is made up of 4% Borax in water. Usually you would weigh the borax, but you can approximate this solution by adding 2 tsp Borax to 1 cup of warm water to a jar.
  2. Tightly secure the lid to the jar and shake until no particles of Borax remain, and the solution is clear.
  3. Using a permanent marker, label this jar "4% Borax".
4% borax solution for making silly putty
Figure 3. The 4% borax solution should look similar to this one.
  1. Now we will add the 50% glue and 4% Borax solutions together in different ratios, to see what properties the final mixture will have. First need to make a data table in your lab notebook like Table 1 below.
50% Glue Solution 4% Borax Solution Observations Physical
1 Tbsp 4 Tbsp    
2 Tbsp 3 Tbsp    
3 Tbsp 2 Tbsp    
4 Tbsp 1 Tbsp    
4 Tbsp and 2 tsp 1 tsp    
Table 1. To write down your observations and results, you can use a table like this one.
  1. For each mixture, first add the correct amount of the 50% glue solution to a Zip-lock baggie.
  2. Then add the corresponding amount of the 4% Borax solution to the baggie.
  3. Seal the baggie, and using your fingers squish the mixture around to mix together the ingredients.
Homemade red silly putty.
Figure 4. An example of one of the recipes for homemade silly putty. This batch has been colored with red food dye.
  1. Write down your observations in your data table.
  2. When the mixture begins to form a sticky glob, you can take it out of the baggie.
  3. Write down your description of the physical properties of the material in your table. Remember to use words like runny, slimy, sticky, hard, soft, bouncy, etc.
  4. Which ratio of ingredients produced the best product? What will you call your new product?
  5. Cleanup Tip: If you have leftover 50% Glue or Glue/Borax mixtures, do not pour them down the drain. They can cause clogs. Instead, throw them in the garbage.

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  • Are there other ways to change the recipe in order to change the physical properties of the putty? Try changing the percentages of glue or Borax in the solutions to see how that changes your product. Can you optimize the recipe in new and different ways to obtain different types of products?
  • Another polymer is the protein gelatin found in Jello. What experiments can you conduct to explore the physical properties of gelatin?
  • A common use for polymers is to make thin sheets of material for holding things, for example plastic shopping bags, garbage bags, Zip-lock baggies or balloons. Can you design a series of experiments to test these different materials? Are some materials stronger, or more puncture resistant? How do the properties of the material make it a good useful product?

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