I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!
This is the original article on the topic of using balloons to make ice gems, but over the years it has made its way around the Internet and gone viral!
This all started out at the local Whole Foods Co-Op and expanded into a sort of obsession. Originally I saw decorative ice blocks on TV years and years ago. Then, more recently at the Co-Op, I was reminded about them again. So this winter, I decided to try my hand at it, but for the life of me could not remember how they'd said they'd done it. Resourceful as I am, and determined (read that as really, really stubborn), I set out to figure things out on my own.
After trying out every container in my boyfriend's house (and realizing every time I wanted to cook or mix something for baking that all the spare bowls and cups were outside in the process of creating ice decorations), I felt there must be another way. My Mom, in her infinite wisdom, hit on filling balloons—pure genius! They're cheap, disposable, and create a beautiful tear-drop shape with a perfectly flat bottom. Thanks Mom!
I live in Northern Minnesota, right on Lake Superior, so I will have no problems leaving ice gems outdoors for months on end throughout the winter. These winter decorations are really meant for climates that can sustain cold enough temperatures to be able to enjoy them. If you're somewhere warm and would like to feel a bit more wintry, you can make one and keep it in your freezer until you come visit us! (It's a beautiful winter wonderland, but I won't hold my breath!)
Supplies You Will Need
- Food coloring
- Two days to freeze
- Outdoor Temps < 25ºF / -4ºC
Step 1: Add Food Coloring
Gently open the balloon with one hand and drop three to four drops of food coloring into the dry balloon. Try not to get this stuff on your hands; it does stain skin.
Note: Food coloring is affected by cold, and will therefore settle to one spot in your ice gem. There will not be a uniform color. That said, color adds interest and depth to your creation.
This step certainly isn't necessary, but does add a bit of color in the center of the ice gem. Crystal clear gems are absolutely beautiful as well, so I've been making multiples of each.
Step 2: Fill the Balloon With Water
Secure the lip of the balloon over the lip of the kitchen or bathroom tap. Hold the lip of the balloon secure with one hand while you hold the weight of the balloon with the other hand.
Fill the balloon with the coldest water you can get from your tap, and fill it slowly. Make sure not the overfill the balloon or you'll get an explosion of colored water all over the place.
Of course, nowadays you can buy all sorts of tools and gadgets to help fill the water balloons. This is especially nice for kids to use, or if you plan on making a lot of ice gems for your winter garden!
Step 3: Freeze the Balloon
If you can freeze these outside, that's great and is very convenient. Make sure to put something down on the ground underneath all your balloons. Though unlikely if handled correctly, your balloons can burst or even stick to the ground or bottom of the freezer. I use plastic grocery bags outdoors and also inside the freezer. Make sure balloons rest on a flat surface, since you want the ice gems to have a flat bottom
Freeze for a day and then gently flip the balloons onto their side to continue freezing. They form ice toward the top of the balloon first, and flipping them onto their sides seems to speed up the freezing process of the bottom half. Continue freezing for at least another day and night to ensure the core is completely frozen.
After two days, check the balloon by gently shaking it back and forth. If you feel liquid sloshing around inside the gem, or see an air bubble moving around inside, put it back into the freezer or outside for another day. There's nothing worse than getting this far, only to have your gem burst open.
Step 4: Unwrap the Balloon
Now for the fun part! It's okay to unwrap your gems indoors, but make sure they're not by a heater or out in the warm air for too long.
They start to melt fast, even with body heat, so I take one at a time and place it on a steady, cool surface. I use the kitchen table and a regular-sized soup bowl. Leave the other ones outside or in the freezer until you're ready to unwrap them.
Balance the gem in a bowl and gently remove the outer balloon coating, doing your best not to touch the surface of the gem (which instantly starts it melting.) The balloon and gem might have sharp, icy edges, so be careful. Soon you'll be able to see your very own decorative ice gem for the first time.
After each one is unwrapped I stick it back in the bowl and either into the freezer or outside. Leaving them in the bowl makes transport easy and won't get your hands as cold.
Step 5: Secure Ice Gem Outdoors
Your decorative ice gems should be secured to an outdoor surface to prevent the wind or wild animals (neighborhood kids) from disturbing them. This is very simple and quick to do.
Get a glass of cold water and take it outside with you wherever you want to place your ice gem. Pour half the glass of water onto the surface where you'd like your gem to stay.
Place the flat side of the ice gem onto the pool of cold water. Pour the remaining half cup of water over the top of the gem. This will freeze the gem into place, and will be very difficult to move.
In a few hours, the ice will get more clear, and will permanently set. If it gets snowed on or dirtied, just pour another glass of cold water over it to rinse it off. These layers add a clarity to your ice gems over time, makes them more crystal clear, and ensures they remain fastened to their spot.
If you do want to remove your ice gem, simply pour a little bit of hot water around the base until it comes right off.
You can also trickle hot water over the top of the ice gems to make crazy patterns and pockets, then fill with colored water and let them freeze again.
Enjoy Your Ice Gems All Winter Long!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Did you use water balloons, or regular balloons for making ice gems for your yard project?
Answer: I just used regular balloons, which are quite a bit larger than water balloons. I guess for smaller ice gems you could use water balloons, though!
© 2011 Kate P
Funsize on May 02, 2018:
The ice balls look AMAZING
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 28, 2016:
Very smart! Thanks for the information; I'm sure people will be interested to try it!
Uli on January 27, 2016:
I used powder. The marbles contain between 1 and 4 grams of powder.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 27, 2016:
Thanks so much, Uli, and great photos! How many drops of food coloring did you use to get such deep colors?! Wow :)
Joan King on December 11, 2015:
Great idea I will certainly try my hands at it
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on August 24, 2015:
Thanks for all of the awesome feedback.. I can't wait for winter so I can perfect my process once again. :)
Pollyanna Jones from United Kingdom on January 31, 2015:
These are so beautiful! What a great article. Thank you for sharing this idea, I will be sure to try this out.
Dragonfly440 on March 27, 2014:
How did you create the blue?
Chad Young from Corona, CA on March 26, 2014:
I'm going to try this and see how long they will last in Southern CA. It's been in the 70's here so they may not last that long but as long as they last for when the guests arrive it will give them something to talk about. Great idea!!!
Brandon Hart from Atlanta, Georgia, USA on January 09, 2014:
Those are so cool. That is a great idea that doesn't cost anything. Thanks for the good idea.
spiritwood from Wales, UK on January 07, 2014:
these are beautiful!
Ame on December 09, 2013:
wondering if smoothing cooking oil on the balloon would help for them to not stick to the snow/ground?? Thank You. OOoo and also if adding glitter would work n that when U flip the balloon over the glitter would around in the balloon??
Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on December 02, 2012:
Finally I know what to do with my child in the winter!!! This is a simple but amazing thing which can be a grea fun! I like it. Shared
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 28, 2012:
They really are fun to make, especially since you never know quite what you're going to get! Don't forget to experiment with other containers as well.
Thanks so much for the awesome comments; I hope you have some fun making and sharing your own ice gems!
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on September 28, 2012:
Awesome hub! Those are so cool looking. Too bad it never gets cold enough here to make them or leave them outdoors. Love how the food coloring makes the unique patterns in the ice.
Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on September 28, 2012:
What a fantastic way of making your own ice sculptures!! They look gorgeous and so easy!! For once I am hoping we do get our traditionally cold winters but i am still trying this cool ides!!! Kids would get great fun being involved with these too.
voted across and shared, excellent inventive stuff again Kate!! :-)
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 29, 2012:
Thanks for all the great comments. I can't wait to make them again next winter!
eyeforstyle from Manlius, New York, USA on April 19, 2012:
Love your idea :)) Voted up, too!
Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on April 17, 2012:
This is soooo COOL!!! I like the "pattern" part it creates.
Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on March 26, 2012:
Wow! This is a unique idea! Unfortunately, I lived in a hot area with "snowless" winters! However, I admired your creative idea and the photos of your ice gems, esp the blue one, are amazing! Well-done.
Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Awesome. Voted up and Socially Shared.
Mary anne on March 02, 2012:
I cannot wait to try this!
eyeforstyle from Manlius, New York, USA on February 22, 2012:
This is very creative! I can't wait to try it soon. Thank you for sharing this idea! :)
stessily on February 21, 2012:
Faceless 39, These creations are real gems! Your photos and instructions are clear and helpful.
I see in your comment that bubbles in the end product are avoided by using bottled water instead of tap water. I love the bubbles!
Thank you for sharing.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on February 20, 2012:
Thanks for all the comments!
PS: If you don't want all the bubbles to show in the end product (which personally I like), use bottled water!
chspublish from Ireland on February 12, 2012:
What a truly wonderful way to use the 'cold'.
Next time we have a really cold spell - longer than a few days - I will definitely follow your idea.
All the best.
mvaivata on February 06, 2012:
So cool! Another thing of your that I will be trying. These are really beautiful. Thank you for putting this tutorial together; I will be sharing it!
Shawnte on February 04, 2012:
Very nice tutorial! The ending result is beautiful.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on February 03, 2012:
Thanks for all the wonderful comments, and Doro, I'm so glad you and the kids had fun making them. Thanks so much for letting me know! :)
doro on February 03, 2012:
made them with the kids yesterday. we had so much fun and the "gems" were just beautiful.
peyton on January 30, 2012:
Candace Bacon from Far, far away on January 29, 2012:
This is such a cute idea for ice! I am going to try this next time the weather drops to freezing.
Collen on January 28, 2012:
Wish I had known about this when we lived in Upper Michigan! Unfortunately Upper Florida won't really support such an artistic endeavor. ;) Pretty!
Isela on January 23, 2012:
I love this idea. You can do the balloons with just plain water and put them in your cooler to keep your ice last longer.
A.CreativeThinker on January 22, 2012:
Wow, what a creative and lovely looking idea. Thanks for sharing. Take Care :)
chainlakesdee on January 21, 2012:
I have used a spray bottle and food coloring to turn icicles pretty colors in below zero weather, I can't wait to try these!
Saskatchewan on January 19, 2012:
A week ago I would have said that it wasn't cold enough here to keep them frozen this winter. Well, that's not a problem now. We have had -46 with windchill this week. I plan on making some of these this weekend with my grandchildren. Thanks for the instructions.
nicci on January 19, 2012:
i like the idea of melting some spots with hot water and then freezing again with colored water added. My kids would love this and it is finally cold enough that these would stick around for awhile
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 18, 2012:
Thanks for the ideas! It must take a long time to freeze 14 pounds of water, but I imagine they'd be gorgeous.
When they melt, the food coloring will color wood underneath; however, it's food coloring and in my experience, it washes off just fine with mild soap and water.
Keep coming with your ideas!
Amy on January 18, 2012:
I think we will try these while it is cold here in Michigan. Great idea!
@wewon31 on January 18, 2012:
Curious if the surface will stain from the food coloring once the ice melts?
Mary Van on January 18, 2012:
These are really beautiful. I am an avid ice-lantern maker, and if the bucket or balloon freezes solid before I can make a lantern, I think it's a failure. You've proven me wrong on that! I have a tip: A 12 inch helium quality balloon holds 12 to 14 pounds of water for a nice gem or lantern. I use an old bathroom scale to check the weight before I tie the balloon and freeze it.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 17, 2012:
OMG! Adding glitter is such a great idea. I've gotta try that in the next batch! Thanks all for the wonderful comments and traffic. :)
Rhonda on January 17, 2012:
What about adding glitter with a drop of vegetable oil? My kids will luv these! Should b perfect for Wisconsin!
Irina on January 17, 2012:
It's -42C outside today.......not to find balloons in this house lol
Movie Master from United Kingdom on January 09, 2012:
What a great fun project, they look awesome!
Thank you for sharing and voted up.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 07, 2012:
Yeah, honestly, even in extreme northern Minnesota, this winter is too warm so far for these to survive very long. It's the warmest winter I can remember here. I keep putting them out, and they keep melting! I love the snow, and wish this warm spell would end in a massive blizzard. Maybe it's just me lol.
Cindy Murdoch from Texas on January 06, 2012:
These look really cool! Pun originally not intended. If it decides to get cold here for a few days I might have to give this a try.
LoveJewel from Texas on December 07, 2011:
This is awesome! love to see creative crafts
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on December 07, 2011:
Thanks everyone for your kind comments and feedback. If you do try this out, let us all know if you discover any new tricks or tips!
Derdriu on December 07, 2011:
Faceless39: What colorful, economical and ingenious ornaments for the holidays! You do a great job of explaining what it takes to produce the ice gems. The pictures inspire readers to do likewise.
Thank you for sharing, etc.,
Marilyn Alexander from Vancouver, Canada on December 07, 2011:
This is just amazing! Where I live doesn't get cold enough for long enough but I will definitely share your article with family and friends!
Voted up and awesome!
twodawgs on December 07, 2011:
This was a fun winter thing we used to do when we were kids.
Emerald Strachan on December 07, 2011:
This is very pretty. Wish I lived somewhere where I could place them outside. Mine would melt faster than an ice-cream cone in summer.
Saadia A on December 07, 2011:
Wow...This is awesome and a very interesting idea.I am sure it will be admired by many people.So cool,i absolutely loved it.Will like to try it out someday as well.Thanks for sharing.
Voted up,awesome and useful!!!
SanneL from Sweden on December 06, 2011:
Wow,this is so cool!
This is a fun project I can easily do here in Sweden, with our freezing temperatures.
Thanks for sharing this very creative and unique idea!
Voted up and useful.
Tracy Lynn Conway from Virginia, USA on December 06, 2011:
I will share the link. Voted up and awesome.
Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on December 06, 2011:
This is so awesome. It is so on this winter! I will be trying this excellent idea to add some color to the yard. Thanks for sharing this craft.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on December 06, 2011:
Those are just terrific. How clever. I could freeze them but I don't know how long they would last it Georgia, however it gets pretty darn cold occasionally with temps in the teens but it never lasts. Fun read anyway. Pretty pics
Frannie Dee from Chicago Northwest Suburb on December 06, 2011:
Thanks, I'll try these gems. Up and awesome.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on December 06, 2011:
They really add something to the long, cold, interminable winters we get around here! I say, embrace the cold and the winter if you have it (and embrace the warm sunshine if you have That!) :) PS: Feel free to link to anything you like! Thank you.
RTalloni on December 06, 2011:
Now this really is cool! This is fun stuff for big and little kids! I'm seeing goldfish floating around in them... :)
Voted up and bookmarked!
Would like to link this hub to my make a snowflake hub if you have no objection!
Beth Pipe from Cumbria, UK on December 06, 2011:
So easy and so wonderful to look at! The temperature is dropping around here now so maybe I'll have a go in a couple of weeks - thank you for sharing!
Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on December 06, 2011:
Interesting. I would not have thought of this. Of course, they would not last too long down here in Dallas. A couple of weeks in January, maybe.
Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on December 06, 2011:
How cool! What a great idea. I love that it's creative, easy to do, and cheap! Thanks for sharing. I may have to add this to the "to do" list for the kids! =]
Voted up & bookmarked!
Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 06, 2011:
I have never heard of such a thing! Sounds like a great project. They wouldn't last long here in S. Fl. Today it was 80 degrees, thank goodness. Your photos were great. I voted it UP, etc.
Tracy Lynn Conway from Virginia, USA on December 06, 2011:
I do love these! I can't wait to make some with my kids! Great hub.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on December 06, 2011:
Thanks for the positive feedback. It is super-duper easy and fun to make these things, and despite how easy they are, you feel like you've really accomplished something when they're done lol. I hear ya about Chicago, I'm NW of there, and right on the Lake, so completely understand the winter blues. And Ann, they keep perfectly well in the freezer (I know, I have stacks of them in there freezing at the moment.) It's a fun activity, let us know how it goes.
anndavis25 from Clearwater, Fl. on December 06, 2011:
Oh what am I gonna do? Florida is no place to do that. It would melt in 10 minutes. It's 80 here today. But I'm going to do that in the house with my grandkids.
SJmorningsun25 on December 06, 2011:
LOVE this!! If it gets as miserable in Chicago this winter as it did last year, I am SO trying this. Voted up, beautiful, and interesting! And bookmarked. Thank you!
Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on December 06, 2011:
This is so incredibly easy and they look really cool! Makes me think of modern art sculptures. Love this! You have given me many ideas. This can be used in sooooo many ways.
Thank you for sharing this great idea.