NEW YORK — Just so you know, there is a lake in Manhattan filled with 350 gallons of slime.
“Oh, ewwwwww!” howled a bald man in a polo shirt and rolled-up jeans after wading in one Thursday morning in June. Then he started laughing as the two kids he accompanied raced ahead so they could circle back and do it all over again.
The slime lake is located at the Sloomoo Institute, a 12,000-square-foot slime paradise in SoHo, a few blocks down Broadway from the Museum of Ice Cream. The institute has a giant slime wall, a slime-making bar, a cave full of glow-in-the-dark slime. Just around the corner from the lake, visitors stand against a blank white wall while buckets of lukewarm slime rain down upon them and onlookers heed the command of a jumpsuit-clad “slimetender”: “When I say slime, you say time!”
Slime is everywhere these days, as you might have noticed. And not just the bad/metaphorical kind. Good slime — the fun-gross, freely chosen slime that seeped into the lives of normal Americans and their kids nearly a half-century ago — is also having a moment. Sloomoo, with its slime lake and slime showers, is a significant watershed (it’s opening much larger locations in Chicago and Atlanta later this year, with plans to expand to half a dozen more cities next year), but to witness America’s obsession with slime you need only log on to YouTube, TikTok or Instagram, where the slime content seems to ooze forever and ever. (Amen?)
For instance: A video of a woman who calls herself “Doctor Squish” mixing 50 varieties of slime — “strawberry fraise,” “sqwish chowdah” and an orange slime spiked with tiny plastic eyeballs — into one big, totally inedible “slime smoothie” has been viewed 6.8 million times.
What exactly is going on here?
Compared with naturally occurring slimes, artificial slime has no practical use. It is not, like algae, an icky yet essential element of an ecosystem. It does not, like mucus, play a key role in respiratory health. And yet the slime hobbyists who interact with it most — mainly kids, but also grown-ups — are effusive about its benefits. They say it relaxes and soothes them, eases stress, engages their senses, brings them into connection with themselves or the people they’re with.
“When you go through things that are hard, you realize how incredible the purest escape moments that are really healthy and playful are,” says Karen Robinovitz, who co-founded Sloomoo. “When you’re playing with slime, nothing else matters.”
So much of life is hard, dismally serious. But at least there is slime, to make it a little more fun.
Slime existed mostly in the movies until 1976, when the toy maker Mattel started selling it in plastic pots that looked like garbage cans. They dyed the slime green, of course, just to up the ante on kids’ pleasure and parents’ repugnance. Nickelodeon, the kids’ entertainment channel, has been dumping slime on kids’ heads for more than 40 years now, starting with shows such as “You Can’t Do That On Television” and “Double Dare.” Producers made it a tradition to drench celebrities in the stuff at annual awards shows, and the channel continues to find ways to spotlight slime, most recently with a prank-filled golf tournament called “Slime Cup” in June.
The standard slime recipe — which dates back to the 1940s, when an engineer dropped boric acid into silicone oil — almost always starts with glue. There are variations that use borax, baking soda or contact lens solution, plus lotion to make it silky or shaving cream for those who prefer a little fluff, but glue is a go-to base.
In early 2017, gallon jugs of Elmer’s glue started flying off shelves. Newell Rubbermaid, which had acquired Elmer’s Products a little over a year earlier, couldn’t keep up with demand.
“We shipped more glue in the month of July 2017 than we shipped the entire year of 2016,” says Nick Hopf, Elmer’s marketing director at the time. “It was wild. It was a crazy time.”
Thanks to social media influencers, do-it-yourself (goo-it-yourself?) slime was on the rise. In 2014, videos of teenagers in Thailand making and manipulating slime began popping up on social media, and by 2016, the trend had spread everywhere. Many DIY slime videos attracted tens of millions of viewers. Some of the most popular ones feature anonymous hands playing with slime, stretching and squishing it, poking holes to create a sucking sound. Viewers logging on for this kind of slime action don’t care as much about how the slime looks or feels as how it sounds. They’re after the ASMR — autonomous sensory meridian response — that causes their brains to feel tingly when listening to the sounds of slime.
Today, Elmer’s features slime at the top of its website. The company sells slime kits and premade slime, clear glue and “cosmic shimmer” glue designed for use in homemade slimes. Slime lovers who don’t want to spend their time mixing ingredients can purchase ready-made slime in scents including “cotton candy frosted cake” and “cherry cola freeze.” Entrepreneurial slime makers have boasted six-figure monthly revenue streams from online sales, and there have been reports of underground slime markets popping up in the stalls of elementary school bathrooms.
Which makes sense, because slime has a vaguely transgressive vibe.
Early life lessons: Don’t play with your food. Don’t pick your boogers. Don’t track that mud into this house.
Early slime lessons: Dig in. Don’t worry about the mess.
“It’s the allowed naughtiness of it,” says independent toy consultant Christopher Byrne. “It’s kind of gross. But gross in a way that’s kind of okay.”
“It’s really fun,” says Eliana Niederhoffer.
The 10-year-old, who goes by Ellie, moved from New York City to Manchester, Vt., during the pandemic. One of the friends she made in her new town invited her over for a playdate and showed Ellie something she’ll never forget: a dedicated slime room. The slime room housed a “bunch of slimes she had made, a bunch of slimes she bought and then a bunch of things that, like, make slime,” Ellie says. It was heaven.
Ellie went home and asked her own parents for slime. “They’re not the biggest fans of slime,” she says. “So they were reluctant.” Luckily for Ellie, it was close to her birthday, and who could deny a mid-pandemic kid a $6 pot of slime? Unluckily for Ellie, her two younger brothers also liked playing with the slime, and somehow it turned into a game to see who could throw it highest in the air, which is how the pink stain on the ceiling happened.
Earlier this month, Ellie’s grandparents brought her and her little brothers to Sloomoo in SoHo. She walked on the slime lake, stood under the shower of falling slime and strapped on a headband outfitted with electrodes that purported to show how her brain activity became calmer as she played with slime. Two days after her visit, with her sheets covered in blue and green gunk, she learned an important lesson: Don’t take slime to bed.
The rise in online slime-making tutorials was quickly followed by a rise in online slime-cleaning tutorials — and postings featuring slime-covered carpets, couches and kids. Vinegar usually undoes the damage.
Ellie’s sheets were back to normal before her parents even got back to town.
Some people are convinced that slime offers a deeper benefit than just diversion.
“Gallons of white glue are one of my largest recurring expenses for my business,” says Katie Lear, a child therapist in Davidson, N.C.
When Lear was studying for her master’s degree in mental health counseling, her professors didn’t talk a lot about slime, which seems like an oversight now, given how much of her day is spent working with slime.
When a troubled kid first shows up at her office, rather than sit them down in a chair to talk about their feelings, Lear will break out the glue and glitter and have them roll up their sleeves to start mixing some slime. She’s found that, after several slime sessions, kids are often more willing to talk and to be open to new ideas. “It’s like a gateway to doing deeper work,” she says.
Lear has a theory about why slime is effective with her clients.
“You’re hearing the sounds slime makes, you’re feeling the texture of the slime. We’re scenting it, so you’re smelling it. We’ve selected a color, so you’re paying attention to what it looks like. It’s incorporating many senses at once in a way that is intensely grounding,” she says.
“It’s much harder to be worrying about the future or thinking about the past or overanalyzing what you’re saying when you’re having that kind of multisensory experience.”
The Sloomoo Institute itself emerged after Robinovitz, the co-founder, became switched on to the soothing powers of slime.
She had been running a talent agency for social media stars when she and her husband decided to separate in 2017. While they were living apart, he died suddenly. Less than nine months later, while Robinovitz was still cemented in grief, her 14-year-old cousin, Alyssa Alhadeff, was killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.
Survival became Robinovitz’s only goal. She sought relief from therapists, shamans and grief counselors, but remained barely functional, almost never leaving her apartment. One day, a friend visited, along with her daughter, who brought a few pots of slime to pass the time while the grown-ups talked. Out of curiosity, Robinovitz asked to see the slime.
“Before I knew it, four hours passed and I was still sitting there, playing,” she says. “For hours I wasn’t grieving. I was in a complete space of escape and joy.”
Robinovitz started buying her own slime and asked her old friend Sara Schiller to come play. Schiller had also been through life’s wringer. Her oldest daughter has a rare genetic disorder called Angelman syndrome, which deprived her of the ability to speak, and seven years ago, Schiller’s husband suffered a bilateral stroke that left him severely disabled. Robinovitz and Schiller began having regular slime dates and quickly started dreaming up a place where people could experience the pleasurable reprieves slime offered them — Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but with slime instead of chocolate.
They eventually named their institute for an online trend that had slime enthusiasts replacing the vowels in their name with double o’s, so Kira would become “Kooroo” and slime becomes “Sloomoo.”
“This is really soothing,” Kanchan Koya said to a friend while she plunged her hands in and out of a bowl of sparkly lavender slime at Sloomoo earlier this month.
It was the second time Koya paid the $39 entrance fee to bring her young daughter to Sloomoo, but the first time she actually touched the slime. “It’s like I’m standing here, meditating, not thinking about anything.”
Behind Koya, Charles Jackson and his 11-year-old daughter were mixing cake batter and blackberry scents into the slimes they were making. Jackson has two older daughters. He’s acutely aware that it’s a matter of months, maybe days, before his youngest will become more interested in spending time with her friends than her father. So when she asked to go to Sloomoo at the start of summer vacation, the Waldorf, Md., resident agreed to take a day trip.
“I’m grasping at the moments as they come,” Jackson said. When they got home, Jackson’s little girl combined their two slimes into one. It smells like strawberry shortcake and is slippery, like the moments Jackson is trying to keep in his grasp.
He knows that as his daughter moves into middle school, her life will probably get harder, more serious. So for now, he wants all the slime time they can get.