How to Use Water Beads & Essential Oils for Calming Sensory Play

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If you’ve ever walked past a display of water beads at the market chances are you’ve stopped to marvel at the pretty colours and ask curiously what they are and how they work.

Essentially, water beads are a super absorbent polymer which can expand up to 100x their original size in water.  Have you ever heard of Orbeez, Dragon Eggs, Fairy Eggs, Water Balls or Crystal Soil?  Well these are all just different names for the same thing – water beads.


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1: A Basic Introduction to Essential Oils
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3: The Essential Oils to Use and Why
4: How to Purchase Essential Oils + What to Buy


How do you use them?

Water beads have a number of uses ranging from wedding centrepieces to home décor, sensory play, gardening and aromatherapy.  You buy water beads in a dehydrated state, then soak them in water and watch them expand.  Size does vary by manufacturer, but on average they are the size of a marble when fully expanded.

Water beads and essential oils work really well together because you are combining the visual and tactile experience of the water beads with the aromatic experience of essential oils to create a highly sensory-stimulating combination.

colourful silicone moulds of various designs and colours with the text 'Unique Silicone Moulds. Mouldtastic.com.au'

Safety First

I want to stress that water beads do not absorb essential oils, only water.  When you use them together the essential oils coat the outside of the water beads and sit on top of the surface.  For this reason you must adhere to the topical guidelines of the essential oils you are using if you are going to be touching them with your hands.

Water beads are made with a safe, non-toxic polymer, but un-expanded they should be kept away from children under 6 years of age and kept out of reach of children 3 years and under at all times.

Water beads are absolutely awesome for sensory play.  My young ASD son has never given his attention to anything as long as he does to a container of water beads.  However, if you have a special needs child that is prone to mouthing and other forms of oral sensory stimulation then using water beads outside of a child-proof container is not recommended.  As you can imagine they are dangerous if swallowed and it is simply not worth the risk.

Where can I get some?

You can find water beads at your local craft markets and they are also sold by online retailers under the various names listed above. 


5 Awesome Ways to Use Water Beads & Essential Oils

Put down a bath mat or towel to protect your surface, then find the biggest glass or ceramic baking dish you have (I find Pyrex dishes work great).  Add water beads, a carrier oil (eg Fractionated Coconut Oil) and essential oils then get out the toys and play, play, play!  I recommend using calming essential oils, such as a blend of Lavender and Vetiver. 

What’s required:  Large glass or ceramic bowl/dish (or a large aluminium foil tray will do in a pinch), water beads, 1tsp carrier oil, 8 drops essential oils (try Lavender and Vetiver), plastic toys, towel or bath mat.

Suggested amount of water beads: 3 x 5g Pack – Expand your water beads before commencing this activity.  Follow the instructions on the pack.

Cleaning up:  Wash water beads, container and toys in warm soapy water.  Store your water beads in a plastic zip-lock bags with a little extra water to keep them moist.  Discard broken or unwanted beads into the garden or compost.


A good ol’ foot soak is always a great idea and even more relaxing with water beads in the mix.  Rub your feet along the water beads for a massage effect or try to catch them between your toes.  A comforting and soothing essential oil blend like doTERRA’s AromaTouch is the perfect finishing touch.

What’s required:  Large laundry bucket or tub, water beads, 1 tsp carrier oil (eg Fractionated Coconut Oil), 8 drops essential oils, bath mat or towel.

Suggested amount of water beads:  5 x 5g Packs – Expand your water beads before commencing this activity.  Follow the instructions on the pack.

Cleaning up:  Wash water beads in warm soapy water.  Store your water beads in a plastic zip-lock bag with a little extra water to keep them moist.  Discard broken or unwanted beads into the garden or compost.


Oh my goodness!  The fun you can have in the bath with water beads!  It’s recommended that you give your water beads a regular cleaning.  So after using them for sensory play or a foot soak, chuck them in the bath with the kids and give them a good wash.  Any remaining essential and carrier oils will be washed off and at the same time provide the kids with a relaxing aromatic bath.  Alternatively, add the carrier oil and essential oils to your beads and mix through before putting them in the bath.

Do not put water beads in the bath without having a plan for getting them out again.  You cannot wash them down the drain as they do not belong in our water ways and may be harmful to animals that live there.  All you need is a couple of plastic sieves from your local discount store.  Alternatively a strainer or colander from the kitchen will work too.  I get the kids to strain out as many water beads as possible before they get out of the bath and then also hold the sieve over the drain when I let the water out to collect any that were left behind.  It’s very easy to do.  Then just store them in plastic zip lock bags with a little extra water to keep them moist until their next use.

What’s required:  Bath filled with water, water beads, 1 tsp carrier oil (eg Fractionated Coconut Oil), 8 drops essential oils, sieve/strainer/colander for removing water beads from the bath.

Suggested amount of water beads: Anywhere between 1 – 5 x 5g Packs – Expand your water beads before commencing this activity.  Follow the instructions on the pack.

Cleaning up:  Do not let water beads go down the drain!  Use a sieve to collect the water beads from the bath and store your water beads in a plastic zip-lock bag with a little extra water to keep them moist.  Discard broken or unwanted beads into the garden or compost.


I’m sure you’re wondering (I know I am!) what other liquids (if any) water beads can absorb.  So why not satisfy your curiosity by conducting a water bead science experiment.  Put out four small bowls and fill them with four different liquids.  I’ve used milk, coloured water, olive oil and lemon essential oil, but the possibilities are endless.  Consider also washing-up liquid, juice, soft drink, liquid soap etc. 

Add 3-4 un-expanded water beads to each bowl and leave them over night.  In the morning, have a look at which liquids the water beads have absorbed.  For the bowl with water and food colouring in it, has the water beads absorbed the colour as well as the water?  Get the kids to guess before hand what they think will happen – it’s lots of fun.

Another variation is to fill four bowls with water and different coloured food colouring and see if you can create different coloured water beads. 

What’s required:  Small bowls (essential oils must be in glass or ceramic bowls, plastic is fine for everything else), water beads, essential oils and other different types of liquid (I’ve used milk, coloured water, olive oil and lemon essential oil).

Suggested amount of water beads: 1 x 5g Pack – No expansion of water beads is required before commencing this activity.

Cleaning up:  Wash water beads in warm soapy water.  Store your water beads in a plastic zip-lock bag with a little extra water to keep them moist.  Discard broken or unwanted beads into the garden or compost.


Ok, I’ll grant you that this next idea does not exactly involve ‘play’, but it is ideal for those of you who need to keep your water beads out of reach of certain little people. 

Probably the simplest way to combine water beads and essential oils is to make your own water bead diffuser.  Find yourself a pretty little glass bowl, add water beads and your favourite essential oil blend and put it on display in a prominent area of your home. 

You will still have the aroma and, you have to admit, the water beads are visually stunning displayed in a bowl like this.  It certainly tickles my senses.

Your diffuser will require regular top ups of essential oils (just like any diffuser) and will also benefit from the occasional stir (I found an upside down teaspoon works well) to keep the scent fresh.  Ideal for small spaces like a bathroom, powder room, or study nook.

What’s required: Glass or ceramic bowl, water beads, essential oils.

Suggested amount of water beads: 1 x 5g Pack – Expand your water beads before commencing this activity.  Follow the instructions on the pack.

Maintenance:  Stir water beads regularly to freshen scent.  Top up essential oils every second day or so.  Wash weekly in warm soapy water (you can change essential oil blends after doing so).  Avoid direct sunlight.  Discard broken or unwanted beads into the garden or compost.



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