How to Make a Lava Lamp

Have you ever felt hypnotized by a lava lamp? The decorative item was invented by a British accountant by the name of Edward Craven Walker, in 1963.

What Is In a Lava Lamp

A lava lamp contains blobs of colored wax or oil rising and falling in a clear translucent liquid. This gives the impression of a smooth flowing lava and hence the name.

Lava Lamp

When you hold the lamp in your hand and move it slightly, the goo quivers before bubbling up in different shapes and colors. The price of commercial lava lamps could leave a hole in your pocket but not the homemade ones. You will be surprised to know that a real lava lamp can be made by very simple ingredients. It is also interesting to note the scientific facts behind its working.

Homemade Lava Lamp

Ingredients for Lava Lamp Experiment

  • Clean plastic soda bottle or jar
  • Soda bottle cap
  • Vegetable oil
  • Food color
  • Salt or Alka-Seltzer tablet or any tablet labeled “effervescent”
  • Flashlight
  • Water

Instructions for Homemade Lava Lamp

  1. Fill ¾th of the bottle with vegetable oil.
  2. Fill the rest of the bottle with water. The water level should be just up to the brim, but it should not overflow.
  3. Add 10 drops of food color. You are free to add some more to ensure that the water becomes fairly dark in color. Notice that only the water gets colored and not the oil.
  4. Break the tablet into eight
  5. Drop one of the pieces into the contents of the bottle. You can also do without using an Alka-Seltzer tablet. In that case, you need to add some salt. If you are using a salt shaker, sprinkle it for about 5 seconds. Observe what happens. When the bubbling stops, add another piece of the tablet or more salt. Watch your lava lamp in action!
Lava Lamp Experiment
  1. When you have used the entire Alka-Seltzer, and the bubbling has stopped completely, tighten the cap on the soda bottle. Shake the bottle back and forth to create a wave. The tiny droplets of liquid join to form bigger blob-like
  2. Add more salt or tablet whenever the blobs start moving.
  3. To make a glowing lava lamp, put the bottle over a flashlight before turning off the lights of the room. This will illuminate the bubbles for an awesome visual treat.

DIY Glitter Lava Lamp in a Mason Jar

The groovy, colorful lamps can be made in mason jars as well, following the same procedure as described above. If you want a glittery lamp, just add some glitter after step 3 mentioned above to give a sparkly visual blast to the kids.

Glitter Mason Jar Lava Lamp

How to Make a Lava Lamp with Wax

It is a little more complex to make a wax lava lamp. Follow the steps below.

Building the Lamp Base

  1. Remove the label from an empty bottle of whiskey with the help of hot, soapy water. Rinse the inside of the bottle thoroughly to remove all traces of alcohol.
  2. Arrange for a cord with a switch, stand, and a light fitting. You can get it at any hardware or craft shop. The light bulb should be of 40 Watt power.
  3. Take a small empty plastic water bottle of the same thickness as the whiskey bottle. Cut off its top.
  4. Drill a hole at its base having the same diameter as the cord.
  5. Pass the cord through the hole and assemble the stand and light.
  6. This forms the base on which the whiskey bottle will sit. Paint it.

Making the Lava Ooze from Your Lamp

  1. Break a few white candles into a can before removing the wick.
  2. Fill a saucepan with water up to 3 inches. Place the can in the water. Heat the saucepan in medium-low flame.
  3. Stir the wax with a wooden spoon as it melts.
  4. Fill a glass measuring cup with the molten wax until it measures 2/3rd of a cup.
  5. Pour a dry cleaning liquid into the cup until it measures one full cup.
  6. Before the mixture settles, stir it continuously with a wooden spoon for at least 5 minutes.

Putting Everything Together to Construct Lamp

  1. Take a half inch long spring and coil it around a disassembled wire coat hanger using needle-nose pliers.
  2. Slide this arrangement at the base of the whiskey bottle.
  3. Warm the bottle in hot water for 5 minutes.
  4. Put the molten lava inside the bottle.
  5. Fill water up to its neck. Add a few drops of food color and pickling salt.
  6. Screw up the cap and switch on the light at the bottom.
  7. Give at least three hours time for the lava lamp to start functioning.
DIY Lava Lamp with Wax

Tip on Safety: It is not advisable to use high-temperature sources, like a kitchen oven, to heat a closed lava lamp as the heat might build up pressure in the bottle, causing it to explode. Then, the shards of glass and hot liquid emanating from it can cause injuries to people standing nearby.

Lava Lamp Video

How Do Lava Lamps Work

On pouring water into the bottle with oil, the water sinks to the bottom whereas the oil floats on top. They never mix with each other. The Alka-Seltzer tablet, on reacting with water, forms tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. These bubbles get attached to the blobs of colored water and float on the surface. When these bubbles pop, the colored blobs sink back to the base of the bottle. That explains the burst of color in your lava lamp.

What Does Alka-Seltzer Do

Alka-Seltzer, containing citric acid and baking soda, works for the experiment by reacting with water to form sodium citrate and carbon dioxide giving rise to the fizz.

Building a simple lava lamp at home is very easy and can be a good science fair project idea for the school. You can also make a handy mini lava lamp if you are really pressed for time or want to keep it portable.


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