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How Long Do Glow Sticks Last?

Glow sticks are fun for kids and useful for power outages, but their glow is limited. Knowing exactly how long to expect a glow stick to glow helps determine how many glow sticks you might need for your specific situation.

If you need a way to have light in an emergency or out camping, try glow sticks. They are small and light. Glow sticks fit neatly into a pocket or backpack. It is easy to get one for each family member.

How useful are they? Glow sticks were created by the United States Navy. The first chemiluminescent “light sticks” were used in China Lake, California, in a Navy base that was hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Navy still uses them today.

What Is a Glow Stick?

4 glow sticks of various colors
glow sticks

A glow stick is a light source. It is both portable and temporary. A glow stick is usually a simple stick shape, which explains its name. Some glow sticks are necklaces or bracelets.

A glow stick is a plastic tube that contains chemicals inside. The sealed tube also holds a glass piece that has another chemical. When you break the inner glass tube, a chemical reaction inside emits a fluorescent glow.

What’s Inside a Glow Light Stick?

Have you ever wondered how a glow stick works? A glow stick has two chemicals inside. They mix when the user breaks the inner glass tube, causing a chemical glow also called chemiluminescence.

Most glow sticks made commercially contain two separated chemicals that glow when mixed. Phenyl oxalate ester is in the plastic tube, and phthalic ester holds hydrogen peroxide in the glass tube.

Some glow sticks use dibutyl phthalate instead of phenyl oxalate ester. Some glow stick manufacturers use a different chemical instead of hydrogen peroxide. All glow sticks intended for children are non-toxic.

Many glow sticks contain another substance to give the glow color. For example, soda bicarbonate (baking soda) makes it blue.

The combination of the chemicals creates peroxyacid ester and phenol. As the ester decomposes into carbon dioxide, the energy released excites the fluorescent dye atoms. The atoms then emit photons, which we see as visible light.

How Many Years Long Is the Shelf Life of Glow Sticks?

How long your glow sticks can sit on a shelf largely depends on certain factors:

  • The packaging of the glow stick: if it has a foil wrapper, it will have a longer shelf life than if it does not.
  • The temperature of the storage: it will last longer in cold storage.

Generally, glow sticks can sit on the shelf for up to four years if packaged in foil. If not foil packaged, they should not sit for more than one year.

How Can You Increase a Glow Light Sticks Storage Life?

Store glow sticks in a cool, dry place to extend storage life. Store them in their original packaging for the best results. You can store foil-wrapped glow sticks longer than unwrapped light sticks.

If you store a glow stick in the freezer, wait until it reaches room temperature before activation for best results.

How Long Do Glow Sticks Last Once Activated?

The duration of a glow stick depends on its manufacturer, the included chemicals, and its size. Once you activate a glow stick, the chemical reaction will run its course. When the process ends, you cannot restart it.

Mini sticks last for a shorter period than other glow products. They use a similar glass vial in the center, but their smaller size means that they hold smaller amounts of chemicals. Less chemical reaction means a shorter glowstick glow.

How to Make Glow Sticks Last Longer

You can slow the chemical reaction inside an activated glow stick, but you cannot stop it. Most glow sticks last for eight to twelve hours.

You can affect it through temperature. A glow stick with more heat will glow brighter, and the reaction will end sooner. A colder glow stick will be slightly dimmer, but the process will take longer to complete.

You can put a glow stick in the freezer to greatly slow the reaction, allowing you to enjoy the glow for a longer period. A glow stick that you can use for twelve hours all at once may last five to six days if used 3 hours at a time and frozen in between.

Some long-lasting glow sticks contain a special powder-based formula rather than solely liquids. The glow effect of the light emitted by the plastic tubes can be delightful.

Glowstick FAQ

When you try out glowsticks, you may wonder about some of these things, as other people have.

Can a glow stick be used over and over?

Because of how glow sticks work, a glow stick stops working when the reaction is complete. Since the outer plastic casing is a sealed tube filled with specific chemicals, the reaction cannot be reset.

Therefore, once its chemical glow has subsided, a glow stick can not be reused as a standalone glow stick. However, the chemicals used to color the glow stick, called fluorophores, will glow under black light.

Can you turn off an activated glow stick?

You cannot turn off an activated glow stick. Because a chemical reaction has begun, there is no way to turn it off. You can slow it down to make it last longer, but even in the freezer, it will stay lit once it is broken open.

The best way to prolong the life of an activated chemical reaction is to keep it in cooler temperatures. The colder temperatures slow the reaction, providing a longer glow duration.

Does a particular color of glowstick last longer?

While it might seem arbitrary, the color of the glowstick can indicate the duration that the light will last. The brighter colors are more likely to last longer. This means green and yellow will likely last longer than blue and pink.

Another reason orange and red seem dimmer is due to the instability of red coloring. An orange or red color glow stick is actually yellow inside. The color comes from the outer plastic shell which is tinted. Using red inside the chemicals greatly reduces the glow time.

The color of a glow stick may affect how long it lasts because the fluorophores are chemicals. Colors can affect the reaction. Most of the time, the time difference is minimal.

Note that if the brightness is due to added heat, the reaction will complete sooner. Only the inherent brightness of the yellow and green results in a longer glow.

Can I make the glowsticks brighter?

A glow product that has less fluorescent dye to mix with the hydrogen peroxide solution will be brighter than one with more dye in most cases. However, to make a glow stick extremely bright, dip it in boiling water. The heat will increase the brightness. It will glow for a much shorter time, however.

How do I store non-activated glowsticks?

The best way to extend the shelf life of non-activated glow sticks is to store them in their original packaging in a cool, dry place. Storage in a closet or cabinet is enough, but a refrigerator is also a viable option.

If you store an activated glow light product in the freezer, remember to use warm water to bring it to warmer temperatures so it will glow properly and for some time.

If you are storing glowsticks for preparedness, plan to rotate your stock regularly. Even the foil packaging will not keep them fresh for more than four years. Use some of them for a holiday or event and replace them with fresh ones.

Are glow sticks toxic?

Glow sticks are minimally toxic. They are non-flammable. You should dispose of a broken glow item as soon as possible. A little bit leaking from a glow stick is unlikely to do more than cause minor irritation, but it is wise to be careful.

  • If the glow stick liquid gets into an eye, flush thoroughly with clean water for 10 minutes. If irritation continues, see a healthcare professional.
  • The fluorescent dye, while not significantly toxic, will result in a permanent stain. You will want to protect your clothing and skin. The best form of protection is to keep the glow sticks intact.
  • The liquid will slightly irritate the skin. If a child swallows some bits of liquid from a glowstick simply wash the mouth. Have the child drink about half a glass of water. Keep an eye out for vomiting. Throat irritation is possible but should clear up quickly.
  • Wipe up any spilled liquid as quickly as possible. No matter what the exact chemicals inside, they will contaminate surfaces. They will potentially irritate the skin of children who touch the surface. Clean surfaces with soap and water to be sure the chemicals are removed.
  • Some parents have found that certain plastic tables may react poorly with the chemicals. This may cause a melted area if the liquid spills from the glow stick. The chemical called dibutyl phthalate is a plasticizer and one of its primary uses is to melt plastics.

The simple answer to are glow sticks safe is mostly. If the interior liquids spill, be careful of the glass pieces fallen out and clean them up, but if some of the liquid gets on the skin, you can wash it off.

Do glow sticks wear out?

In the sense of the plastic tube filled with glowing liquids inside, no, that part of it does not wear out very quickly. The glow, however, does not last very long. Glow sticks emit light for a limited time. The time ranges from eight to twelve hours, though some can emit light up to 24 hours.

How do you dispose of glow sticks?

When glow sticks are exhausted, properly disposing of them is easy. Place the used glowsticks in a plastic bag or bottle and drop them in your trash. Unfortunately, glow sticks cannot be recycled.


Glow sticks are an excellent option for portable light. Each light stick will last for up to 24 hours, with a 12-hour average. You can get them to glow longer by using cold water or a cooler ambient temperature. Once you activate a glowstick and it starts glowing, you can’t stop it, so enjoy its glowing time for a few hours.

We hope this answered all of your questions and concerns about glow sticks. Whether you use them inside or outdoors, glow sticks are fun. If you have more questions about glowsticks, leave us a comment.