Lava Lamp Experiment

Did you know that oil and water are not the same density? That is why oil and water don’t mix.

However, they will add up to something that’s more fun. This difference in density is the foundation of the fascinating Lava Lamp Science Experiment.

Combining elements of chemistry, art, and design, the homemade lava lamp offers science lessons about concepts of density, nonpolar liquids, and chemical reactions in an exciting and visually appealing way.

All you need for this engaging lava lamp science activity are simple household ingredients and a tall clear glass or bottle. This cool lava lamp science project is perfect for kids and adults alike.

Lava lamp in a glass using water, oil and blue food coloring

Homemade Lava Lamp

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

How to make the perfect lava lamp? We experimented with a few different ways and will show you what we found out.


  • water
  • oil (we used baby oil and vegetable oil)
  • food coloring
  • Alka-seltzer effervescent antacid tablets


  • tall glass or bottle
  • adult supervision


  1. Fill the glass with 1 to 2 inches of water.
  2. Add your favorite food coloring.
  3. Fill the rest of the glass with oil but stop at about 1 inch from the top so that it won't bubble over.
  4. Drop an antacid tablet into the mixture and watch.


  • Try using different sizes of alka-seltzer tablet.
  • Try using different types of oil.
  • Try mixing the different types of oil to get your favorite "lava" flow.

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Density is the amount of matter in a given space, measuring how tightly packed the particles that make up a substance are.

Water is a polar liquid. It is slightly denser than oil, a nonpolar liquid.

Thus, if we mix the two, water will sink to the bottom while the oil will float above. This interaction forms the basis for the lava lamp science project.

The Reason Behind It

Alka Seltzer tablets contain three ingredients: aspirin (pain killer), sodium bicarbonate, and citric acid.

When immersed in water, sodium bicarbonate, and citric acid combine to produce sodium citrate, carbon dioxide, and water.

This sodium citrate can neutralize stomach acid. This is why alka-seltzer is an antacid medicine.

During the chemical reaction, carbon dioxide gas is created as a byproduct. Since carbon dioxide has a lower density than water, it forms bubbles that rise to the top, taking droplets of dyed water along with them.

These colorful bubbles create the energetic lava lamp display we associate with lava lamps.

When the bubbles burst, the blobs of colored water sink back to the bottom due to their higher density than oil.

The lava lamp action continues until all the ingredients in the tablet are used up.

lava lamp using blue food coloring

Which oil is the best?

In our lava lamp experiment, we experimented with different types of oil to find the perfect lava lamp.

We first tried baby oil, which is clear, colorless, and has a pleasant scent. However, the bubbles produced were plenty and tiny, quickly clouding the solution and making it difficult to see the characteristic colorful blobs of lava lamps (the picture below is exceptional among many cloudy pictures).

The bubbles also fell quickly through the oil and back into the water. You could miss them easily if you blinked.

Blue water and baby oil inside a clear glass, with blue bubble rising, makes a Lava lamp using baby oil.

Next, we tried traditional vegetable oil, which worked much better.

The large bubbles of colored water fell gracefully through the vegetable oil, creating a better representation of the lava lamp.

However, the oil appeared yellowish, even though it was clear.

Blue water and yellow vegetable oil with blue bubbles rising. It is a lava lamp using vegetable oil.

Preferring a colorless appearance, we attempted a third trial by mixing a small amount of vegetable oil with baby oil.

This combination resulted in slightly smaller bubbles than using vegetable oil alone, but they looked impressive and fell slowly and elegantly through the oil.

The oil mixture was also slightly yellowish but visually appealing, combining the best aspects of both oils. I think we have a winner!

It was combining the best of both worlds.

Note: There is no need for a dark background and backlight to create a spectacular lava lamp. The lava lamp project is splendid the way it is.

Through this simple lava lamp experiment, we observed the captivating interplay of liquid density, chemical reactions, and artistic design became a wonderful lava lamp science project.

Exploring Variations and Further Experimentation

To make your lava lamp science project even more engaging and educational, you can explore multiple variations and further experiment with different aspects of this. Here are a few ideas you can try:

1. Food Coloring: Experiment with different colors or combinations of food coloring to create a rainbow of lava lamps. Observe how different colors interact and how the hues change as the colored water droplets move through the oil.

2. Alka-Seltzer Tablet Sizes: Try breaking the Alka-Seltzer tablets into various sizes or using different quantities to see how the lava lamp action changes. Observe the differences in bubble size, speed, and duration of the lava lamp display.

3. Oil Types: As we discovered earlier, different oils can have varying effects on the lava lamp experiment. You can experiment further with other types of oils, such as coconut oil, canola oil, or even essential oils. You can witness how the lava lamp experiment behaves with these options.

4. Temperature Effects: Investigate how temperature affects the lava lamp action using hot water, cold water, or a combination. Analyze the impact of temperature on the density and behavior of the oil and water.

5. Bottle Shapes and Sizes: Try using different shapes and sizes of glass or plastic containers for the lava lamp science project. Observe how the container’s dimensions affect the movement and visual appearance of the colorful blobs.

Lava lamp using a mixture of baby oil and vegetable oil.

So, gather your household supplies, and immerse yourself in the fascinating world of the homemade lava lamp.

Exploring various aspects of this experiment will not only give valuable science lessons.

This will also create a mesmerizing and colorful display that can captivate the attention of everyone around you. Enjoy the learning process and be mesmerized by the beauty of the lava lamp experiment as it unfolds before your eyes.

Experiment with different types of oil to and blue water to create the best homemade lava lamp.

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