CHICAGO — At an age known for peer pressure and friend wars, Chicago 13-year-olds Caitlyn Garofoli and Zoe Martin have discovered the recipe for junior high success:
• 3 tablespoons glue
• 1 teaspoon Borax
• 1 cup water
When mixed together with a few other enhancements, the teens make pots of slime — a stretchy, gooey substance that is the tween and teen fad du jour.
“At school, everybody will talk about it. Some people will have it in their backpack and at recess they’ll play with it. Other kids talk about it at lunch, or whenever we can during class,” said Caitlyn, who, along with Zoe, decided to cash in on the trend by opening an online business called Chicago — Slime.
In just three months, the girls have sold more than 100 tubs of their product. That’s $500 worth of slime to customers across the U.S. without any advertising, said Zoe, who added that they are now working on marketing strategies to continue their success.
The local teens’ bustling business is proof that the Chicago area has not escaped the nationwide resurgence of slime that has led to reports of Elmer’s Glue shortages at stores and made messes in suburban Chicago school bathrooms. It has inspired exasperated Facebook posts from parents tired of cleaning up after the junior chemists and reignited parenting blog posts wondering if the slime’s ingredients can be harmful to children’s health.
“It creates a lot of dishes — a lot of measuring cups, spoons and bowls,” said Kelly DiFilippo, a Lockport mother of four girls, three of whom are in “full slime mode.”
“My measuring spoons are always gone, up in the bathroom. God forbid they bring them down and wash them themselves.”
Like most fads, slime-making is not a new invention. The Museum of Science and Industry has made slime with visitors as part of its live science experiences since at least 2004, said Brett Nicholas, manager of community initiatives. But Nicholas suspects social media buzz and the ability to share recipes and make money online has put slime back into the spotlight.
“It’s that kids are making more connections to where they’ve seen this,” Nicholas said.
Such was the case for Zoe and Caitlyn. After months of watching countless slime-making videos on Instagram — there are hundreds of thousands of them — the girls came up with the idea for the business on the way home from gymnastics practice.
Because so many students at their Northwest Side schools were already making and selling slime to each other, the girls decided to create an Instagram account and Etsy store to peddle their product. A couple of weeks later, Chicago — Slime was born, offering dozens of varieties of colorful blobs, from sequin to chocolate mint to bubble gum.
“Regardless of where this goes, they’re learning so much that will carry over to other parts of their lives,” said Erin Garofoli, Caitlyn’s mom. “It’s allowing them to use so many of their different interests: their math, their science, their creative side.”
At first, Marta Block, of Oak Park, Ill., was puzzled when her daughter, Madeline, started asking for corn starch, glue and other random ingredients. But after seven months of Madeline’s slime experiments, Block has become used to seeing little disposable plastic containers around the house with multi-colored blobs. She, like other parents, has lamented on Facebook about the shortage of glue at Walgreens and Jewel.
For Madeline’s 13th birthday last month, Block gave her daughter three types of glue, sequins and other colorful mix-ins. For Valentine’s Day, the gift was contact lens solution — a liquid Madeline thought might make for an interesting slime texture.
“She’s always been very science oriented and also has always enjoyed crafts,” Block said. “I thought it was great if that’s what she wants to do. This combines the two.”
The science behind slime-making is simple. White glue is loaded with long chain molecules called polymers. Borax links those polymers together into a big network. The result is even larger polymers that create a thickened slime, according to Nicholas, of the Museum of Science and Industry.
And while Borax, or sodium borate, can be toxic if ingested, can irritate the respiratory system if inhaled, and will sting if it comes in contact with an open sore, pediatricians say children using small amounts of the substance for slime shouldn’t incur any harmful effects if used with those caution. Long-term risks of exposure to slime would only occur after years of extended exposure to Borax, far longer than the current fad will likely persist, said Jennifer Lowry, a pediatrician, toxicologist and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics council on environmental health.
“This is cool to do every once in a while, but let’s not do it forever,” Lowry said.
Martha Henrickson, principal of Oak Elementary School in Hinsdale, Ill., also hopes the trend doesn’t stick around for long.
At a recent science fair, several third- and fourth-grade students brought in homemade slime to show off to their friends. Unfortunately, one of the batches had more water than students were anticipating. Pink and blue slime stuck onto attendees’ shoes and clothes, sending many running to the bathrooms to get cleaned up.
Thankfully, the slime washed away without much extra work from the custodians.
“There was lots of slime going on, but it turned out to be all right,” said Henrickson, who said she will continue to allow slime at school as long as it doesn’t become a huge distraction or inconvenience for staff.
“It wasn’t so bad that it was going to clog the pipes,” she said.