Test tube chandelier with insulin vials, other clever reuse ideas
September 17, 2015 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I have lots of empty Lantus insulin vials. I want to make some version of this test tube chandelier. What should I use for the colored water?

I read somewhere some time ago that regular food coloring in water would mold eventually. I thought that person said something about using alcohol-based inks. I can't find the reference now. What should I use for the colored water that will be 1) vivid and translucent colors, 2) stay homogenized and 3) not mold?

Also, I'd love to hear about other crafty insulin vial reuse ideas. I've seen some online but they mostly seem to involve them being used as tiny vases and I'd have to think they'd get pretty yuck inside and be impossible to clean. Thanks!
posted by Beti to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry I forgot to ask also, what's my best option for a cleaning solution? There's a tiny bit of insulin in each one that I need to clean out as well as possible. I'd like to use a bigger syringe to rinse them several times without removing the metal band and plastic cap. Otherwise I'll have to open them up, clean them and then buy tiny corks to replace the band/cap. It'd be more secure and less of a pain to keep the original seal. Thanks!
posted by Beti at 11:12 AM on September 17, 2015

Best answer: For cleaning I would try a peroxide solution followed by rubbing alcohol.

What if you didn't fill them but used translucent glass paint? Or maybe used mineral oil and pigment instead of water to fill them?
posted by zennie at 11:26 AM on September 17, 2015

(No idea of any colorant works with mineral oil.)
posted by zennie at 11:28 AM on September 17, 2015

Best answer: You want some kind of solution that will inhibit mold or anything else growing. You have lots of options. I would use either plain distilled vinegar or a solution of roughly 30% or more rubbing alcohol in water. You could also use a strong sugar syrup, heavily salted water, water with bleach in it, etc. You can add food colouring or dye to any of these and you should be fine. The only concern I would have is that the food colouring may settle at the bottom of the vial over time, but a quick shake should fix that. Can you try a test vial or two before you commit to the whole thing?

For cleaning, I would soak in a scoop of Oxyclean dissolved in hot water. This is what home brewers often use to dissolve crud inside glass or containers and it is very effective. Leave it soaking until all the crud is gone and then rinse in plain water.
posted by ssg at 11:38 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Where I am, they sell brightly coloured lamp oil in different hues. Maybe that's a good option? It won't mold and it doesn't evaporate quickly even if open.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:57 AM on September 17, 2015

Best answer: When the PhD students graduate at my University they get pulled down town in a cart. Ours is decorated with eppendorf tubes filled with coloured water, where the water is coloured by soaking crepe paper in water to get the colours out. Despite the cart living in a damp, dark basement the colours stay vibrant and strong for a long time, with the oldest ones on there being least 3-4 years old. No mould or anything similar in sight.

Since it's probably still relatively sterile in there with the original seal in place I'd just rinse them out with a big syringe of distilled water and a sterile needle. Or maybe well boiled water if that's easier for you to get hold of. Try to keep it as sterile as possible. Then use more of the clean water with the crepe paper colouring to fill.
posted by shelleycat at 12:16 PM on September 17, 2015

Oh: wear gloves and don't get any on your clothes if you do go the crepe paper route. Those dyes like to stain.
posted by shelleycat at 12:17 PM on September 17, 2015

I had a friend who once decided to fill three clear glass bottles with different coloured water and stand them in a window sill to look nice. He was using ordinary cheap food colouring. They looked lovely; ruby red, emerald green and sapphire blue. I suggested, since the water might otherwise get scummy, he add a few drops of bleach into each bottle.

He did so. They promptly turned back into clear fluid. It was like magic.

Bleach and food colour not a good idea. Trust my experience.

I used to have a glass hurricane lamp that was filled with ruby red lamp fuel. The entire upstairs ended up smelling strongly of lamp fuel during a warm summer. I had to dispose of the lamp fuel - which presented some problems because you can't just pour it into an old tin can and then put it in the garbage like you can with bacon grease.

The tubes in the chandeliers in the pictures are open at the top. That's how they can use them for wild flower vases. Are you sure you couldn't take the tops off them and just leave them open? If you could it would make cleaning the insulin out, and changing the liquid in them much easier. It looks to me like one of the benefits of the chandelier shown is that you can change the fluid as often as you like.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:27 PM on September 17, 2015

If I understand you correctly, the vials are still sealed, and you don't want to take the seals off. In that case, I wouldn't bother rinsing out the residual insulin, and use oil or alcohol instead of water--I think water is going to get cloudy eventually no matter what you do. No idea of what kind of dye to use, though.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:22 PM on September 17, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for taking time to answer. I tried out several different recipes, rubbing alcohol, water, vodka with various inks and food coloring. I even bought some glass paint to try out today. I'll let them sit for a month to see if any start looking like a used petri dish before committing. Thanks again!
posted by Beti at 5:04 PM on September 18, 2015

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