Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) is a useful polymer that can be used as the sole or primary polymer in a mix or in conjuction with other polymers such as PEO or Guar Gum . It comes in a variety of viscosities. Like PEO, it lends self-healing qualities to a bubble mix and enables easy bubble-in-bubble capabilities. HEC lends itself to both giant and small bubbles. Many commercial bubble mixes rely on HEC as their primary polymer.
Color. Once upon a time, bubble lore had it that HEC created particularly colorful bubbles. This was a mistake that probably was the result of the early HEC-only recipes being somewhat more dilute (and hence creating thicker soap films) than the recipes that were popular at the time. We were responsible, perhaps, for keeping that belief by noting that many felt that HEC improves the colors. It doesn't. It is a great polymer, but if you are wanting to tweak the colors in your mix, what you need to do is tweak the amount of detergent you are using. See Color and Film Thickness, Dilution and Dawn Pro Dilution Evaluation for more about colors and dilution. (This section added May 2017)
SEE ALSO: The HEC Category page has links to articles and recipes related to HEC as well as to images of amazing bubbles made with our HEC-based recipes.
As a primary polymer. Used by itself, 1-3 grams of high-viscosity variety HEC powder per liter of water is sufficient to make a bubble juice capable of creating giant bubbles.
As a secondary polymer. When used as a secondary polymer to PEO, 0.5 to 2.0 grams of high viscosity HEC per gallon of bubble juice seems to be a beneficial range. Some people have reported substituting HEC for HPMC in the Jumbo Juice recipe.
Several people have reported (and shown the results on video) that HEC can be used to replace HPMC in most PEO or J-Lube containing mixes. (March 2011 update). Quite a few people on SBF, the Soap Bubble Fanciers Yahoo Group, are finding that HEC-containing mixes are more friendly than HPMC-assisted mixes. Edward Spiegel notes that for small wands somewhere between 0.1% and 0.2% CelloSize QP100MH (supplied as a 1% HEC and water solution) in an 11 parts water and 1 part Dawn Pro solutions creates bubble-friendly solution. One reliable source is happily making bubbles using Natrosol 250HHR CS HEC at a concentration of up to 0.2% in a 12 to 1 (water to detegerent) solution.
Dow's Cellosize QP100MH and Ashland's Natrosol brand of HEC are all easily dispersed and dissolved in water.
Mixing QP100MH, you can simply dissolve in water and keep stirring until the solution thickens. The time that it takes to thicken depends on the water's pH and temperature. The thickening happens more rapidly at higher temperature. You can stir it into room temperature water until it dissolves and then start stirring again once it starts to thicken (which can take 5 to 20 minutes). Once it starts to thicken, stir for a few minutes until the solution is uniform. This can be done by hand and does not require mechanical stirring. If you have a low RPM mechanical stirrer, you can start the stirrer, add the powder and let the stirrer run until viscosity has finished building.
Hot/Cold Mixing Method. Measure the water including an ice cube into a microwavable container. Add the powder and stir until the powder is distributed and appears to be dissolved. Put the container in the microwave and microwave until the the water is hot but not boiling. Remove from the microwave and stir by hand until the solution thickens. For QP100MH, a 1% to 1.5% concentration is recommended. At 1% it is pretty viscous.
Wt. for Volume. 1/4 tsp. is about 1 gram of QP100MH [this needs to be confirmed].
The relationship between concentration and viscosity is not linear. Doubling the concentration will result in much more than doubling the viscosity.
Substitutions. If you are making substitutions of one sort of HEC for another, you generally need to adjust the amount to account for differences in viscosity. With Natrosol, pay close attention to the letters -- they tell you about the viscosity. HHR is close enough to QP100MH that you can use a 1-to-1 substitution although you may want to fine tune the amount. If you are using other types of Natrosol, such as HR or H4R, you will need to use a bit more HEC than the recipe calls for if it was written for QP100MH or 250 HHR. I am not currently sure of the right substitution factor.
If you experiment with substitutions, please let us know what you find.
Color Misconception. Once upon a time, many people commented that mixes containing HEC (as either the primary polymer or as the secondary polymer in a PEO-based mix) seemed to have more vibrant colors than mixes with no HEC. In hindsight, this was because during that time period (2010?) the most common recipes were by today's standards very soap heavy (dilutions of 13:1 and less were common),The HEC-containing recipes that people were exploring were significantly more dilute (which resulted in a thicker film that resulted in more vibrant colors). At the time, the bubbling community (and this includes us at the wiki) was not cognizant of the fact that dilution has a big impact on the soap film thickness which in turn leads to different color profiles.
Miracle Bubbles. The MSDS for Miracle Bubbles (a popular, inexpensive bubble juice for use with small rigid wands) lists Cellosize™ QP 100MH as an ingredient. The need for use of a preservative is mentioned in a discussion of the Soap Bubble Fancier's Yahoo group . The accuracy of this statement has not been confirmed.