Brother John’s

More fun with crystals!

Growing Crystals II

Believe it or not, my crystal project appears to be attracting more visits to my blog site then I would have imagined. So I thought I’d include an update!
On the left you can see that my crystal project is a success. The crystals are growing just as you’d expect. You can even see the traditional crystal shapes starting to emerge.

Again, the key here is to keep a super saturated sugar to water solution. I’ve read so many instructions on other sites saying how you have to be careful with this project. They indicate failure if crystals grow across the top of the surface (saying that it ruins the process because it blocks evaporation). My solution? Just get a spoon and scrape the crystals off of the top. How hard is that?

There are actually some advantages to letting some crystals form across the top. If they do, evaporation will slow down and you’ll get bigger crystals! Now… is that bad?

If I get too many crystals growing on the bottom and sides of the glass, I pull my crystals out of solution, hang them over an empty glass, and then pour the saturation solution through a strainer. Once drained I thoroughly clean the glass and remove all attached crystals. I then pour the strained solution back into the glass and submerge my crystals for more growing. It’s easy!

A classic sugar crystal structure.

I wasn’t particularly happy with this shot because the lighting made the crystals look opaque and they are fairly translucent. But it did show up some of the nicely forming (and classic) crystal structures growing. Hard to believe this is a natural occurrence in nature. Amazing! I’ll try to get a better shot of this later. Click on it to get the full view.

Better Image (Click to see full sized view)

The wonder of crystals!

I’m just constantly amazed at how these structures grow naturally in nature. My parents were down to visit this weekend and my crystals were a big hit. (I think my father now wants to give it a try based on all the questions he asked). Personally, I just like having these on display, growing a big larger every day.

Again… Please view the full sized image by clicking on the above thumbnail view. It’s worth it.

Brother John
Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

March 25th, 2008

Hanging single seed crystals.

My next little crystal experiment was to break off two pieces of crystal from the above “Mother” cluster. I found two that looked pretty nice and snapped them off. Taking a single piece of dental floss, I looped it around each of the crystals giving them enough space to grow.

I actually had a slight misgiving about using two, because the idea is to prevent competition when growing a large crystal. I had not, as of yet poured in my super saturated solution since it was cooling down in my kitchen.

Supposedly, Dental Floss is smooth enough to prevent natural crystallization and by looping it around a seed crystal it should permit only the seed to attract the crystallization process. It should theoretically be possible to grow a very large single sugar crystal.



  1. One thing I would warn against. If your solution starts to evaporate too much and you’d like to “top it off”, make certain that what you add is super saturated. If it is diluted, your crystals will begin to un-grow (yeah I know it’s not a word). Yes. They will shrink away until nothing is left but the string! Had that happen to me once. So… ensure proper saturation! I’m just saying.

    Comment by Brother John — February 29, 2008 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

  2. I just looked at the crystals again this morning (03/05/2008) and they become even more defined than is depicted in the above image. I’m really starting to see some elongated crystals emerging with that classic prism shape. I’ll post another picture in a week.

    Comment by Brother John — March 5, 2008 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

  3. I didn’t love the quality of my latest picture, but I DO love the classic sugar crystal structure I captured.

    Comment by Brother John — March 9, 2008 @ 8:53 am | Reply

  4. The clarity of crystals I’m starting to see is amazing. I have the glass they are growing in sitting on my fireplace mantel. At night I light a bunch of candles all around it and the light shines through the crystals making a nice display.

    Comment by Brother John — March 10, 2008 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  5. Very cool, who knew? I guess scientists, and students of science and professors, and teachers and so on….
    I want to try it with salt and see what happens. Can you make sulphur crystals? How about dilithium?

    Comment by tBONEbANJO — March 20, 2008 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  6. tBONEbANJO, It works very well with salt and table salt will be different from something like Epsom Salts. Believe it or not there are metals that will form crystals! In fact, I’m leaning that lots of elements will do that after being turned into a solution. If you want to give this a try I have a lot more information I can share with you. My next experiment will be to try growing a single crystal of Alum. The trick to large single crystals is to get a good seed crystal to start with and then keep the competition away from everything else. Certain dyes and colorings can also make neat conversation pieces. I have a bunch of info so let me know if you plan to do it and I can get you a good head start.

    Brother John
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

    Comment by Brother John — March 20, 2008 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  7. I have just read the first apart from with crystals. Its has me fasinated … Think I may give it a try.. Have you tried it with any thing else yet… Keep us informed

    Look forward to your reply

    Colleen (Witchypoo)

    Comment by Colleen — March 30, 2008 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

  8. Colleen, The mother cluster of crystals just keeps getting better and better. You read that I broke two of the nicer crystals off of the cluster and used a piece of dental floss to loop them in place. One fell off and I retrieved it, and… uh… ate it, the other one is now suspended in a saturated sugar solution. Crystals won’t stick to the dental floss so they are only growing on the seed crystal. It’s getting bigger and bigger! I’ll be showing some pictures of that soon.

    Brother John
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

    Comment by Brother John — March 30, 2008 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  9. what happens if you leave the crystals in a bigger cup and let it grow for
    two years!

    Comment by tay — January 18, 2009 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

  10. Hi just need some advice,
    I have just started growing sea salt crystals but I am having a nightmare!
    I made a solution with boiling water and poured my sea salt bath crystals in.
    Nothing is happening maybe I need to try a different approach?
    I need to make sea salt crystals and any help would be appreciated.
    Many thanks and good luck with the alum!

    Comment by raymond — January 18, 2009 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

  11. Tay and Raymond,

    First and foremost let me thank the two of you for placing a response on my blog site! I always appreciate when my visitors check in.

    Are either of you two doing a Crystal Project? Perhaps a school project? I get a lot of requests from students for tips and such so I’m just curious.

    First up, Tay… Crystals will keep right on growing as long as they have a steady supply of the material from which they are growing. So if you place the crystals into bigger and bigger containers, they will only continue to grow for so long as you keep them supplied with the building blocks (sugar or salts or Alum or other materials that form crystalline structures). Deep in mineral rich caverns and caves, crystals will often form over hundreds of years. They can become so large that they actually fill up entire caves. It is possible to visit some of these wonders and they are often, naturally, called Crystal Caves.

    To get an idea of how large they can become, check out this link, or if your browser doesn’t let you click on a link try this address:

    Pretty impressive isn’t it?

    Each time I wanted my crystals to get larger, I’d carefully remove them and suspend them in a larger empty glass so they wouldn’t stick to anything (I was using sugar after all). Then I’d prepare a new mixture slightly over saturated with sugar. And I’d let let that cool back down. I’d then carefully lower my crystals back into the new solution which was once again saturated. Over the next week, my crystal would slowly grow bigger and bigger. When it ran out of resources, I’d repeat the above steps.


    I couldn’t quite tell from your description if you are doing all the things you need to do. But here is what I would do.

    Like you, I would boil some water and would begin adding your sea salt to it. The trick is to “over saturate” the water with sea salt. I use the words: “the trick” because you don’t want so much salt in there that it stops dissolving and starts settling on the bottom. You want to stop adding salt “just before” that happens. Very salty, but not too salty. It should be able to stay mostly suspended in your water in a dissolved state with little to no salt crystals drifting down to the floor of your container in a solid state.

    You don’t want the crystals to form on the sides of your container, nor do you want any to form on the bottom of your container. This is why we normally supply some kind of string, tied to a pencil (I like wooden chopsticks myself), and let the string dangle down into the solution. (Don’t let the string actually touch the bottom of the container!). Most strings are made of fibers and are not exactly smooth. You can see that if you look through a magnifying glass or even a microscope. The “texture” gives the crystals a place to form. Something to grab onto.

    Some people find that the string won’t settle down into the solution. It tends to float back up. You can resolve this by attaching something on the other end with just enough weight to hold it down in the solution. Some like tiny safety pins, some like paper clips. Whatever works. The key here is to not let the weight actually touch the bottom of the container. Crystals will form on the weight, and that’s okay. But you don’t want them forming on the bottom of the container or you’ll never be able to get them back out without breaking them off.

    Here’s how it works.

    Any material that can grow crystals have molecules with a certain pattern when viewed with a microscope. The pattern (shape, size, structure) of the molecule will look exactly like the crystal it will make!!! As your super saturated salt solution cools down, the dissolved and suspended crystal molecules will not be able to remain dissolved. This situation will even get worse as some of the water evaporates into the air. As more and more of the crystal molecules come out of suspension they will begin to stack, layer by layer, on other crystal molecules. Hopefully some of the molecules will get ensnared in your string because the string has fibers but the container does not. (You want your container to be smooth). As more and more crystal molecules stack onto other crystal molecules on your string, visible crystals will begin to form. They will continue to grow in size for so long as there are more molecules suspended in the water. At some point, even with more evaporation, there won’t be enough crystal molecules suspended and your crystals will stop growing. For many, this will be good enough to understand the project.

    For me? I like to remove the crystals on their string, and prepare another overly saturated solution. I put this new solution into a clean smooth container, and suspend my crystals back into it. This is how I make them bigger and bigger.

    So this shouldn’t be a “nightmare” if done as suggested. I do find that sugar crystals are a bit easier to grow because they are somewhat sticky by nature. But it will work the same with salt crystals. If you understand what it is you are trying to make happen, if you really think about the process and know what’s going on behind the scenes, you should be able to get this to work.

    Summary: Super saturate your solution with salt but not so much that it floats undissolved to the bottom of your container. As the solution cools down, and as water evaporates naturally into the air, more and more of the dissolved salt molecules will “come out of suspension”. They will naturally tend to attach themselves to other salt crystals. Like magnets! They stack so perfectly, that when they finally get big enough to see with the human eye, they are in the exact shape as the molecule they are made from. Crystals will continue to “grow” for so long as more molecules can come out of suspension and stack onto each other. When that runs out, your crystals will stop growing.

    When I was in school, I failed my first crystal growing project. It really bothered me. But back then, I didn’t have a clue as to why the crystals form. In my adult life I learned what was actually going on and it made me want to recreate the school crystal project. Knowing what was happening made the difference. I got crystals first try. It was easy to visualize what was happening in the invisible world, and to make an environment best suited for the formation of crystals.

    Believe it or not, my Sister actually gave me a Crystal growing kit over the holidays. I haven’t had time to start them yet, but they use more dangerous minerals and materials and require great caution when handling. But they also create astounding crystals! I’ll post my results and steps and pictures when I get a chance.

    Brother John
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

    Comment by Brother John — January 18, 2009 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  12. Hi Brother John!

    Thanks for your reply and I understand now what to do.
    I have found lots of different ways to grow crystals but you have made it crystal clear!
    I will post my results as and when I get them.
    Once again thank you for your advice.


    Comment by raymond — January 18, 2009 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  13. Raymond,

    Thank you Raymond for your kind words! You’ll never know how much they mean to me.

    Brother John
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

    Comment by Brother John — January 19, 2009 @ 1:03 am | Reply

  14. gykhyvuhhh

    Comment by fvcfvfcd — March 16, 2009 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

  15. Your just amazing at growing crystals!! I mean outstanding perfection in their structure!

    My problem is when I grow alum crystals in a jar, glass etc… they come out as small clumps nothing big or good. I need a seed crystal to use because i am planning to grow a big one.

    Any help or advice would be much appreciated 😀

    Comment by Rela — January 21, 2010 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  16. @Rela,

    Thanks! And you are right. A good seed crystal will help move things along. Just one nice one, you won’t want competition. You want that one seed to get all the good stuff! When it stops growing, make up more saturated solution and get it back in there. I often set my projects on my fireplace mantle where I can look at it each and every day. Watch it slowly grow. Sometimes it can go on for weeks, but I don’t mind. It’s kind of like artwork slowly evolving into something grand. And it’s doing most of the work!

    So… good luck to you!

    I’ll be doing more work with crystals at a new website in the near future. Working with some dangerous minerals and growing colorful crystals that require special gloves and mask and great care.

    And I may do one with epsom salts just to see what that might be like. It’s all good.

    Good luck!

    Brother John
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

    Comment by Brother John — January 21, 2010 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

  17. YAY!!!! You should totally add some food coloring! I want pictures of GREEN crystals!

    Comment by Jessica M — April 3, 2010 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  18. What kind of string should I use for growing crystals for the first time?

    Comment by Saida — October 25, 2010 @ 11:50 am | Reply

    • Saida,

      The idea is to give the crystals a way to “hold onto” the string. So the string should not be too smooth or the crystals will just drop to the bottom of the solution container and grow there. (You’ll never get them back out if they grow onto the container itself). I’d just pick something that, when you look at it close up, has some texture to it.

      Another good trick is to dip your string into the solution, getting it nice and coated. Then take it back out and lay it on a piece of wax paper. As the solution dries, it will form tiny “seed crystals” on the string. Seed crystals are like crystal magnets and will attract the crystals that “come out of solution” during evaporation. Crystals love to form on crystals, and is in fact, how they grow. So try “seeding” your string.

      Brother John
      Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

      Comment by Brother John — October 25, 2010 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

      • thnx!!!! tht helped a lot! my crystals are making good progress

        Comment by Saida — October 31, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

      • Saida,

        Most excellent!!!! Way to go!!!

        Brother John
        Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

        Comment by Brother John — October 31, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  19. that is awesome!!!!!!!!

    Comment by vinny — February 22, 2013 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

  20. […] crystal formation […]

    Pingback by Crystallography | Taught By Grace — January 3, 2014 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

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