A fellow beader and coworker of mine stopped by to show me her newest creations today. She had made a great necklace using a gold beading wire with a large square dichroic bead as the focal piece. She just happened to have a top the same deep green, it was great!
The other piece she made to go along with the dichroic necklace was a bracelet using beads she recently found on sale at a home liquidation store. They are the kind of glass beads you get in a plastic box with lots of different pieces and parts.
She asked about some white dust coming out of the bracelet beads from the glass bead kit. I have bought kits like that over the years at the craft store and when I first began beading, back at our old Hancock Fabrics store.
Some are solid colors, others were bumpy and some had swirls on them like the ones shown here.
I have theories on the white dust and think you could rinse them, especially if you are making jewelry to sell to customers.
I have windexed or cleaned jewelry I have made and still wear just because swarovski crystals can sometimes show a build up of perfumes or hair spray, but I never soaked glass beads to get rid of the white powder.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this and, if you have one handy, a reason why some of these beads leave a little trail especially if you wear black!
The white powder residue inside those beads is what we call "bead release" - it's what we coat our metal rods with (you dip your rods in this liquid) so that when you melt glass on the rod to create a bead, the bead will "release" from the rod once it has cooled down.
Without that coating on the rod, the glass would be permanently fixed to the rod. We would not be able to remove it.
This said, however, this white powder is dangerous to inhale. You should not purchase beads that have not been cleaned thoroughly, and you should not be making jewelry with these beads without them being totally cleaned out of any residue.
Most beads that are sold with white residue inside are inexpensive mass produced beads. They don't take the time to clean them out and they ship them out like that.
I would suggest that you equip yourself with an electric bead reamer (if you have a lot of those beads, it will be faster), or a regular manual bead reamer, run the beads under hot water (you do not want to be breathing in those particles!) and use the reamer to clean them out properly.
Also, often, these mass-produced beads are not "annealed" properly (i.e. once you take the glass bead out of the flame, it has to go in a kiln for the glass to be properly annealed - a proper heating and cool down to avoid cracks, etc), but most of those commercial beads are not annealed.
What does it mean? It means that these beads will often break more easily.
If you purchase handmade artisan lampwork glass beads from serious glass artists, their beads should be totally free of this white residue/totally cleaned out.
Here is more detailed information and explanation on this whole process:
Metalsmith/Jewelry Artist and Lampwork Glass Artist
Wow - that was a very thorough and interesting reply! Thanks to you both. I have never seen it...but know I know what to watch out for.
What Nathalie said!
Nathalie, that was the best description of that problem yet! I knew what it was, but not that it would be harmful. That is why I shy away from the mass produced beads. I like to know the artist that made the beads, and that makes my jewelry more special. I also think that one special lampworked bead by an artist is worth more than hundreds of beads that are produced en masse. Thank you so much for that response! Enjoy the day!
I agree with the others Nathalie, your comment was excellent! I had suspected that powder was from the rods but hadn't thought of the safety concerns with it. Though it is never good to breathe in powders of any kind, I can see how glass dust would be especially bad! Thanks for the info girls!
I'm glad I could be of help :o)
I also appreciate that you asked the question, because it brings to light information that will be very useful to a lot of new jewelry artists.
When I started making jewelry (before I took a class to learn how to make lampwork beads), I also had no idea about this white stuff.
The more information we share, the better we will all be.
Many Thanks to Nathalie Girard of "Canadian Rockies Art" for all of the information she provided about the dangers of the white powder found in some glass beads.
Thanks for taking the time to share!
I sell vintage beaded necklaces, and they sometimes will have a build up of perfume and oils on the beads. One way to clean them (if they're glass or crystal) is to put them in the dishwasher. The only caveat is that the string can sometimes break, so a mesh bag is needed, just in case. If all the beads are fairly large, they can go in the silverware basket.
They come out sparkling!
Yay Nathalie! I could not have said it better myself. :)
Interesting posts! Once I bought some beads from Ebay, and they stunk to high heavens like tobacco. I soaked them in a baking soda and water solution, and the smell went away. Not using that seller again! Also, I bought some black onyx from FireMountain Gems, and they told me to rinse them before using. I don't know the reason, but I do as I am told!
Nathalie's explanation about glass bead residues is excellent but the last commentator said she had been told to rinse gemstone (onyx) beads. Surely that is ground gemstone residue?
this is a fascinating thread of comments! great choice of subjects, Lisa!
What I am most concerned about is the fact that because of the cheapness of these mass produced beads, these are the beads that our young girls are buying. And now they are breathing in this junk?
I have often wondered about this substance in the beads, but I never knew what to do about it. Now I know. Good post idea!
I'm wondering now- HOW dangerous is it? Is it like asbestos or like diesel exhaust? Or cyanide? Or pollen? What does it do and how much of it do you need to be exposed to for the potential dangers? Because this stuff is everywhere and I've never heard of anyone getting hurt from it. Getting tacky jewelry, sure. Aesthetically hurt, sure.
(I mean, there's SO MUCH stuff out there that's bad for you. My reaction is not to take it too seriously.)
I confess, I've bought the mass-produced glass beads at garage sales. Can't pass up a bead bargain! I use an old mascara brush to clean out the larger-hole beads; after washing the mascara out of the brush, of course! A little hot water on the brush, and a squirt of liquid soap, and the mascara brush works like a tiny bottle brush to remove the white powder residue. Rinse out the bead hole afterward, and the powder is gone! Probably not as thorough as a bead reamer, but the brush seems to work well.
Nathalie is right on target regarding bead release information.
The only point I, as another lampworker (second generation) would add is that wet/suspended bead release once dry again will solidify. It and plumbing do NOT play well together. Over time a sink trap clogs, but clogging with something that becomes cement solid is uber-not-fun.
While I don't know for certain exactly what material(s) are used in creating that type of bead realease, I suspect putting it into the water supply (eventually) isn't ideal either. Nor would tossing to nature be a perfect choice.
Perhaps, like old paint, a better (tho admittedly effort laden) option would be to let this imported bead release-water slurry separate/dry out in a dedicated container? Or on paper, much like furniture stripper. **Whatever method used, keeping the wet or dry residue out of reach of children and pets!
Addendum: (aka hit publish rather than edit, lol..) I intended to add "prior to disposal" to the end of the paragraph below :-) Sorry for the dual/follow-up comment...
Perhaps, like old paint, a better (tho admittedly effort laden) option would be to let this imported bead release-water slurry separate/dry out in a dedicated container? Or on paper, much like furniture stripper. **Whatever method used, keeping the wet or dry residue out of reach of children and pets! *prior to disposal*
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