Earlier this week, Health Canada advised parents to avoid using boric acid—a common, natural ingredient in many DIY arts and crafts projects. Boric acid and borax (a related compound) often appear in recipes for modelling clay and homemade slime. We’re all exposed to some boric acid in the environment at low levels. But Health Canada is worried about cumulative effects from additional sources, including pesticides, cleaning products (it’s also commonly used as a laundry booster) and DIY projects. The warning is an important reminder that homemade doesn’t necessarily equal safer, especially with young kids who put everything in their mouths. Here are three crafts that are potentially dangerous, and three safe alternatives.
1. Homemade slime
The danger: Higher levels of boric acid are thought to affect fertility and development, so everyone should avoid exposure as much as possible. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.
Try this instead: Our solid-state slime is made of just cornstarch and water, so it’s safe even if it finds its way into your little’s mouth. Add some green food colouring for some Ghostbusters-worthy ooze.
2. Homemade playdough
The danger: Homemade playdough contains more salt than commercial versions, and that can lead to serious issues if kids eat too much (or if pets gobble some down). That risk led the UK’s National Poisons Information Service to issue a warning around homemade playdough in 2014. Symptoms of salt poisoning in kids include thirst, tiredness, vomiting, irritability, headaches and nausea.
Try this instead: Here’s a super-simple no-salt play dough recipe: Add ½ cup oil to 2 cups flour. Mix water with a couple drops of food colouring, then add the water to your flour and oil mixture until it reaches your desired consistency.
3. Adding essential oils
The danger: It’s common for recipes for moon sand, playdough and slime to suggest adding a bit of essential oil to make your projects smell beautiful. But essential oils can be harmful to children: For example, swallowing half a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil can cause seizures in kids; oil of wintergreen can be deadly.
Try this instead: Add a bit of cocoa, a squeeze of orange or grapefruit juice or a drop of vanilla flavouring for a worry-free scent.