Anatomy of Instant Snow

Mother and son enjoying the SNOW exhibition at the Fleet Science Center

We don’t get a lot of snow here in Southern California, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on seeing the beauty of that fluffy, white stuff that’s more common in the north! “Instant snow” is a commonly sold, commercial product that you might have seen in warmer climates. 


It starts out as a powder, but when you add water, *poof!* fluffy, white snow appears! This is due to a chemical called sodium polyacrylate. It is a polymer, meaning that it is made up of many repeating molecules that can absorb about 300 times its own weight in water. In its natural state, sodium polyacrylate molecules are coiled up. However, once water is added, the molecules will dissociate from each other and form negatively charged ions. These ions will repel each other, causing the polymer to expand, and creating the fun snow that we love to play with!


Certain forms of sodium polyacrylate will solidify further and form a gel as it expands, molding to whatever container you place it in. Can you think of another place where it might be helpful to soak up large amounts of liquid quickly? You guessed it! These polymers are also commonly found in diapers to soak up baby ”messes.” So whether you use it to get into the winter spirit or to keep your arms and hands dry as you carry your baby around, sodium polyacrylate (and science) can help!