Do's, don'ts of rainbow fire experiment - WNEM TV 5

Do's, don'ts of rainbow fire experiment

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A do-it-yourself science experiment promises an array of colorful flames using household chemicals.

However, danger lurks in the beauty and can easily lead to serious injury. It's called the rainbow experiment.

A simple error sent two Virginia students to the hospital in 2015 and just last week a dozen preschoolers were burned when their teacher's experiment went awry.

"They call it the rainbow flame demo or sometimes we see it as the fire tornado," said Monique Wilhelm, lab manager at the University of Michigan-Flint.

Even though the experiment has been around for a while it continues to spread like wildfire.

A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of homemade how-to videos, as well as national videos about children who have been injured when the experiment didn't go as planned.

"Most recently the injuries in Texas with the small children in the classroom where the teacher was doing rainbow flames," Wilhelm said.

The experiment has prompted multiple warnings from national organizations like the American Chemical Society and the National Science Teacher's Association.

Wilhelm reached out to TV5 to get the word out about the growing danger.

"Don't do it. Just don't do it," she said.

The proper way to do the experiment is to only use water, sticks and a spray bottle. When you add methanol to the equation is when things get dangerous.

"Usually people get burned from the methanol catching fire or the flame just spreading out of control," Wilhelm said.

She said to look up the safety information on any chemical you use.

"Because even though you might use something from home, there's a lot of home chemicals that are bad for you. So you want to know what the risks are involved with using those, whether or not it's OK to breathe it or get it on your hands," Wilhelm said.

In the last decade 224 chemical incidents were reported in labs and classrooms nationwide.

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