As originally published on BU News Service Science on Oct 31, 2013.

By XiaoZhi Lim
BU News Service

If you stayed up last night celebrating the Red Sox win and have to throw a badass Halloween party tonight, here’s three cool chemistry tricks using common items to help you out.

1. Borax/Boric Acid

Borax and boric acid contain the element boron, which burns in a green flame. Add some borax or boric acid, found commonly in insecticides or pesticides, into your jack-o’-lantern and some rubbing alcohol before igniting it very carefully for an eerie green fire in the pumpkin. Watch a video demonstration on Youtube embedded below by Anne Helmenstine who also wrote instructions for making a green burning jack-o’-lantern on

2. Laundry detergent

Laundry detergents commonly contain phosphors, or compounds that are able to absorb and re-emit light. Phosphors are placed in laundry detergents because they make your whites look whiter and brights look brighter in the sun due to the re-emission of light. But that also means that the detergent itself are able to do the same thing – many laundry detergents actually glow bright blue under UV or black light. For an easy house party decoration that will also clean your apartment afterwards, simply use laundry detergent to paint your walls or hang up sheets smeared with laundry detergent.

Laundry detergent glows under UV or black light. Photo obtained on


3. Tonic Water

Everyone knows that tonic water contains bitter-tasting quinine, but quinine also glows under black light. Light up your party drinks using tonic water ice cubes for punch or cocktails. You could also make jello with quinine as shown in Helmenstine’s Youtube video below or check out this article by Helmenstine on to make Glowing Hand of Doom Punch.


Happy Halloween!

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