Stress balls have become a popular desk accessory and calming tool for both children and adults. The soft, squishy exterior makes them perfect for squeezing away anxiety or boredom. But what’s actually inside these colorful balls? And is the filler safe if exposed or ingested?
The most common ingredients used in stress ball filler are salt, sand, flour, tiny foam beads, and gel. These materials are generally considered non-toxic. However, there are a few factors to consider regarding the safety and potential risks.
Salt: Table salt or sodium chloride is commonly used in DIY stress balls. Salt is an ingestible food product that is generally recognized as safe by the FDA. However, large quantities of salt could potentially cause vomiting or electrolyte disturbances. Additionally, if stress balls leak, the salt could interact with electronic devices.
Sand: Fine sand makes a great stress ball filler. Play sand is generally made of crushed quartz which is chemically inert and non-toxic. However, natural sands might contain impurities like clay or dust that could be irritating if inhaled over time. Silica dust in particular has been linked to lung inflammation and silicosis with repeated exposure.
Flour: For homemade stress balls, flour makes a cheap, accessible filler. Plain white flour is a food-grade product that is not toxic. Some people even use flour or salt dough for play dough. However, like salt, large ingestions of dry flour could cause choking or vomiting. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should also avoid flour-filled stress balls.
Foam beads: Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam beads are a common filling in commercial stress balls. EPS contains a potentially hazardous chemical called styrene that could leach out over time. Short-term exposure to styrene is unlikely to cause harm. However, chronic exposure may irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.
Gel: Gel stress balls are filled with a viscous polymer liquid or hydrogel. These are considered non-toxic, especially medical-grade hydrogels made of cross-linked polyacrylamide. Cheaper polymer gels may use plasticizers or vinyls which could leach chemicals. However, gel is contained within the ball and ingestion is unlikely.
Ultimately, occasional contact with stress ball filler is unlikely to cause harm in most people. However, it’s reasonable to take precautions:
- Avoid putting stress balls in mouths or chewing on them
- Wash hands after exposure
- Choose stress balls with double stitching/minimal leaks
- Buy from reputable manufacturers
- Read product details and warning labels
- Keep stress balls in good condition; replace leaking ones
- Supervise use in children and pets
- Avoid DIY recipes with known irritants
- Seek medical care if ingestion or concerning reaction occurs
Certain individuals may need to be more cautious with stress ball use:
- Children under 3 years old (choking hazard)
- People with respiratory conditions like asthma
- Those with skin sensitivities or allergies
- People who are prone to ingest non-food items (pica)
Overall, occasional contact with stress ball filler is unlikely to be hazardous. But ingesting or inhaling large amounts could potentially cause harm, especially in sensitive groups. As with any product, it’s smart to use basic precautions and supervise young children during play. With reasonable care and quality manufacturing, stress balls can safely provide hours of fun and stress relief.