Summer’s right around the corner, but the heat is already on. From unrelenting sunshine to sizzling grills, feeling hot (and cooling down) are part of the daily grind now. PopSci is here to help you ease into the most scorching season with the latest science, gear, and smart DIY ideas. Welcome to Hot Month.
In the heat of summer, few toys are more fun for kids than a slip and slide. With a bit of plastic, some water, and enough speed, kids can zip across the yard with a squeal and a splash.
A slip and slide can be as simple as laying heavy-duty plastic on a hill, but we wanted something a bit safer and higher-end. Our slip and slide has bumpers to keep kids and water on track, breaks down easily for storage, and as a bonus, recycles at least some of the water to keep the environmental and financial impact of our summer fun to a minimum.
With a bit of prep on a hot summer afternoon, you can build a quality slip and slide for your family. We built ours about 30 feet long, but this can easily be adjusted for whatever space you have available.
Warning: Fun and refreshing as slip and slides can be, they can also be potentially dangerous, so be careful. In particular, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has recommended that adults and teenagers not use this type of slide due to the risk of injury, including spinal cord damage.
- Time to build: 2 hours
- Material cost: $100 to $200
- Difficulty: Easy
1. Choose a sliding location. Pick an area of your yard for the slide. Not everyone has a great hill, but find a spot with at least a gentle slope (though not an exceedingly steep one)—this will make the water flow better.
2. Rake the area clean. The last thing you want is for a misplaced stick or rock to tear the slide, or worse, cut your kids.
3. Cut the plastic down to length with scissors or a utility knife. We used 6-millimeter plastic with the expectation that it will last longer than 4-millimeter sheets. Thinner plastic, however, will cost a bit less.
4. Lay the pool noodles along your slide route. Position the foam rods to form a track the full length and width you want for the slide. Don’t leave more than a foot or so of space between them, or you risk your kids jetting through the openings and off the slide.
5. Drape the plastic over the noodles. Make sure that the plastic extends at least a few inches beyond the noodles so that it doesn’t fall off the track.
- Warning: Always pick up the plastic when you’re done sliding—leaving it in place will kill your grass.
6. Create your pool. To recycle the water, you’ll need a pool at the end of your slide. This works best if the slide ends on flat ground. We built our pool by rolling a pair of pool noodles into the plastic at the end of the slide and butting them as tight to the last two of the track as possible.
Make sure that there are no folds or channels in the plastic where water can escape. Laying the noodles on top of one another can help eliminate those leak areas. For added support, I placed the box that holds my coiled hose against one corner to hold the structure in place—you can use anything you have handy.
- Pro tip: You can glue or epoxy the noodles in place to keep the pool intact, but this makes disassembly harder when it comes time to put it away. We tried to use hook-and-loop fasteners (like Velcro) to hold everything in place, but none of the brands or adhesives we tried worked.
7. Water down the slip and slide. With your regular garden hose, wet the plastic from end to end. If you’re using a pump, you’ll need to fill the pool at the end of the slide. About 4 or 5 gallons was enough for my setup, but you may need more or less based on your pump speed and how long and steep the slide is.
Send the kids down while you’re spraying to make sure it works. Bonus points for soaking them as they splash past.
- Pro Tip: If you have a soaker hose, you can put it along the inside edge of the slide. This should keep the entire length of the slide more uniformly wet than the pump hose alone. You can also drill holes in an old hose for the same effect.
8. Set up your pump. Put the pump’s intake hose in the lowest area of the slide pool where the water collects. Ensure that there is enough water in the pool that the hose remains submerged.
Run the output hose to the top of the slide and position it so the water runs down the middle. If you don’t have much incline, someone may have to be on hose duty, walking back and forth to keep the full length of the slide wet. You may also need to periodically add new, clean water to the end of the slide to keep the pump working.
- Pro Tip: Use a pump with a hose rather than one that sits in the water itself for two reasons. First, you don’t want the kids crashing into the pump and hurting themselves or breaking the machine. Second, it’s not a great idea to have an electrical device in the water with the kids, even a device designed to get wet. Whatever pump you use, make sure that it has a delivery height, or head, that can pump water to the vertical elevation of the top of your slide.
9. (Optional) Increase the speed. Some people just can’t get enough speed. One obvious way to go faster is to find a bigger hill, but you probably already picked the biggest hill you have access to and feel safe on.
Alternatively, use a little soap to lubricate the run. However, be warned—the wrong soap will end the fun early by stinging everyone’s eyes. Use a tear-free baby soap. It has all the speed of other soaps with none of the burning. Just be careful—get going too fast on the slide and the kids might slide right off the end, which can be unpleasant.
10. Have fun, and stay cool. Run fast, slide long, and get wet. It’s all about having a good time in the hot summer sun. Laugh with and at the kids, and don’t forget to get some pictures and videos of the fun!