Water Beads Safety

Color photo of a child holding two handfuls of colorful plastic beads. Are water beads toxic? If ingested by small children, they can be dangerous.

What are water beads?

Water beads are super absorbent polymer balls that are often sold as toys, in craft kits, or as decorative elements for plants and flowers. These small, water-absorbing beads usually come in the shape of clear or colorful balls and can grow 100 times their original size when exposed to water. So, are water beads toxic?

Poison centers have been documenting an increasing number of water bead cases. In 2022, poison centers received over 3,000 reports of water bead exposures and that number has nearly tripled by the end of 2023. While water beads may appear harmless, they can cause life-threatening symptoms and death to babies and small children if ingested.

Why are water beads dangerous?

Before water beads are exposed to water, they can be as small as the tip of a pencil, making them extremely hard to find if they are spilled. This can lead to children accidentally eating the water beads or inserting the water beads into their ears or nose.

Water beads grow 100 times their original size when exposed to water – including body fluids! Kids can choke on water beads, and if swallowed, are at risk of suffering from internal blockages, infections, and other long-term health problems. Blockages can also occur when put in the ear canal or nose. Surgery may be needed to remove the water beads if a blockage occurs in the stomach, ear canal, or nose. There have also been cases of death reported following water bead ingestion.

In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a warning against water beads. “CPSC urges parents and caregivers to remove these products from any environment with small children (3 years old and younger). CPSC also urges childcare centers, camps, and schools to avoid these products entirely.”

Are water beads toxic?

Water beads are touted as non-toxic toys for children but, unfortunately, the exact ingredients of water beads are not always known and may cause toxicity when left in the body.

What symptoms can water beads cause?

If a water bead is ingested, symptoms can include:

  • Choking
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation

Aside from choking, these symptoms may indicate that the water bead is causing an intestinal blockage. It is important to note that these symptoms could be delayed for days.

If a water bead is inserted into the ear canal, pain and hearing loss may occur. If a water bead is inserted into the nose, difficulty breathing or sinus pain may occur.

How can you prevent exposure to water beads?

The best suggestion is to not have water beads in your home at all, especially if you have small children present. 

If you are going to have water beads in the home, keep water beads out of reach of children and pets, in a sealed container, in a dry place. Supervise children extremely closely when they are playing with water beads. Instruct children to not put water beads in their mouths, ears, or noses. Always properly dispose of water beads by allowing them to dry completely and then put them in the trash.

Accidents happen. If water beads are swallowed, immediately contact Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222. Our poison control experts are available to help you with any poisoning emergencies 24/7 for free. 

And visit our website 24/7 for helpful information that you can use to minimize poisoning risks. PoisonHelp.org contains many useful articles about safety around the home, including our article “At-Home Poison Safety.”