What Is in a Lava Lamp? The Secret Revealed!

Velina Nenova
Velina Nenova

Updated · Oct 16, 2022


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Lava lamps are the ultimate holders of the title “oldie but goodie.” They were invented in the 1960s and still sell today.

The magically moving liquid can hypnotize a busy mind into calmness. But what is in a lava lamp that makes it so mesmerizing? Today, we’ll uncover the mystery.

Let’s jump right in:

What’s a Lava Lamp?

The lava lamp was invented in 1963 by Edward Craven Walker. Its original name was the Astro. 

His inspiration came from a handmade egg timer he saw in a pub. The unique device consisted of a glass shaker filled with water and a wax ball. When placed in the pan, the heat would melt the wax and turn it into a fascinating floating substance. That indicated that the egg was cooked.

The original lava lamp became a groovy symbol and popular countercultural decorative piece, although it wasn’t marketed that way at first.

Lava lamps serve more as mood creators rather than illumination sources. They don’t give much light and are suitable for people who enjoy dimmed lighting.

In 1964, Walker patented the lava lamp design in England. In 1965, a company called “Lava Lite” showed interest in them and bought the US manufacturing rights. The Astro lamp’s name changed to Lava, and it became an iconic American home accessory.

You might also be wondering:

What Is in a Lava Lamp?

The lava lamp contains two main components that are mutually insoluble—water (or oil) and wax

Edward Walker used a light bulb and glass bottles in his initial tests. Before the light fixture took its recognizable form, it resembled a lantern.

The way it works hasn’t changed much throughout the decades. The classic model still exists and sells the most. There’s also a rocket-shaped lava lamp inspired by the space-age thrill.

New designs create vortexes and simulate volcano eruptions. Candle-powered lava lamps are also available.

Today, Schylling (US) and Mathmos (UK) own the rights to produce original lava lamps. Although the exact lava lamp ingredients and their proportions are a company secret, there are clues about what’s in them.

Now let’s dive a bit deeper:

The liquid part is made of water or mineral oil, antifungals, and dyes. Sometimes sparkles are added to achieve a whimsical effect.

The whirling globs are mainly paraffin wax. Carbon tetrachloride is a solvent used to add weight to the wax. Otherwise, it would be too floaty.

More fascinating lava lamp facts await below:

How Does It Work?

An incandescent light bulb at the base produces heat. The wax liquefies and becomes less dense. Then, it rises to the top, cools down, and sinks back to the bottom.

Here’s what happens in terms of physics:

Density equals mass divided by volume. When heated, the wax expands and starts floating. It increases in volume and, therefore, decreases in density (because they are inversely proportional in the equation).

After the wax reaches the top, it turns colder and denser and falls to the bottom. The process of liquids rising and falling due to density changes is called a convection current.

Both candle and electric lava lamps work according to the same principle. The heat source is what causes the movement. Simple yet effective.

New lava lamps take up to three hours to warm up. After a few uses, heating time decreases to about an hour (or an hour and a half).

How Are Lava Lamps Made?

Mathmos (founded by Edward Craven Walker) is the company producing authentic lava lamps in the UK from the beginning.

Behind such a cool interior piece is an intricate manufacturing process:

The transparent container that holds the lava lamp fluid is a custom-made glass bottle with a lid. Glass blowing into the desired shape is done mechanically, and the bottles are cooled down.

All custom bottles go through a thorough quality check by hand. Such inspection is crucial since they must fit perfectly into the housing later on. They also have to withstand constant heating and cooling.

The next step in manufacturing is metal spinning—the base and cap are steel.

The lava lamp liquid is translucent and has two components—colored wax and the solution it sits in. Mathmos keeps the precise formula a secret.

An interesting fact:

The fluid is poured into the bottles along with a metal spring that helps distribute the heat. The filled bottles are put into a hot water bath to separate the two substances. The lids are secured with glue.

The final step is assembling the base, bulb, glass container, and top. And there you have it—the classic lava lamp.

Are Lava Lamps Safe?

Lava lamps are safe to use as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions. Make sure you purchase your lamp from a trustworthy source.

Safety first! Some key points to consider:

  • The space around the light should be free of clutter. Keep it away from curtains, papers, and other objects that could catch fire.
  • Lava lamps become hot when they’ve been on for hours, so make sure not to touch them to avoid burns.
  • Don’t shake a hot lava lamp—this might cause skin burns, or the glass might shatter.
  • It’s not recommended to leave the lava lamp bulb on for over eight hours to avoid overheating.
  • If the blob stays at the top of the lamp for a long time, it’s probably overheated. Turn it off to cool down.
  • Placing a lava lamp on a hot stovetop or a heater can lead to an explosion

Modern lava lamps are marketed as safe for both children and adults. These innovative models don’t grow too hot, and the bulb is accessible only with a tool. They use low voltage halogen bulbs that heat the lava directly, omitting the metal base.

Wrap Up

Lava lamps might be one of the most recognizable home lights in the world. They make the perfect nightlight since they throw a softer and dimmer glow. 

So if you want to avoid the glare of bright lights, try a lava lamp. The lava lamp light is calming to look at due to the mesmerizing glob movement. It’s also cool-looking home decor.


What is the thing inside lava lamps?

The thing inside lava lamps that looks like plasma is a combination of substances:

  • Water and wax
  • Oil and wax
  • A mixture of water and oil plus wax

The floating globs are made of paraffin wax and a density-increasing solvent. The exact recipe of the liquid around them is a secret.

Is the stuff inside a lava lamp toxic?

The lava lamp liquid isn’t toxic for children, pets, or adults.

Nothing will happen to you if the light fixture accidentally breaks. The liquid or fumes emitted aren’t poisonous.

Does a lava lamp have real lava in it?

The “lava” is not real.

It’s mainly paraffin wax, made from petroleum and also used in cosmetics and candles.

Can you replace the liquid in a lava lamp?

You can’t replace the liquid and wax. You’d have to buy a new bottle that fits your lamp model.

Understanding what is in a lava lamp means you can’t just pour the liquid in. There is a technology that prevents the wax from sticking to the sides and bottom of the bottle.


Velina Nenova

Velina Nenova

Velina describes herself as passionate media savvy and a versatile individual with numerous different interests, most a result of her Media & Communications BA. She has also developed a keen interest in Digital Marketing and Advertising. Her never-ending desire to constantly learn new things and enrich herself and her ultimate dream to go around the globe before 45 are her driving forces.

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