How To Restore Your Lava Lamp To New When Cloudy And Useless

by Jerrico_Usher

Lava Lamps creator/distributor claims you can't restore a Lava lamp that's gone cloudy, but this is not true. There is an easy and simple solution that's safe...

Lava Lamps bring a lot of joy and random intrigue from the shapes and forms created from the lava like wax. Lava lamps are an example of thermal dynamics being modeled live. It’s educational but more so fun to watch.

For those in a meditative disposition who love to have meditative things around, Lava lamps are an essential part of the furniture collection.

Technically it is a lamp and does illuminate a room as well as bring pleasure!

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Lava Lamps Restored Already

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Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Some Background On Lava Lamps

3. Research For Restoring Lava Lamps (freezing?)

4. The Technique: Of All The Techniques Available This One Is The Best

5. What You Will Need To Complete This Restoration

6. The Steps To Restoring Your Lava Lamp:

7. Conclusion

8. Home Made Lava Lamps...

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Go To:
"The Steps To Restoring Your Lava Lamp"
To Go Straight To The Restoration Steps
(skip the lava lamp background)

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Introduction

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In this article I will share with you a way to restore your lamp to new without having to use dangerous chemicals or any complex tasks. This is so easy a child could do it (but not recommended due to the toxic oils in the original formula primarily the carbon tetrachloride).

We will remove the old formula of oil concoctions and will replace it with a new one that you can use (repeating the process of restoring) again and again to restore your lamp if necessary. You will also learn a bit of the physics of how these lamps work here. One thing you should already know is not to shake a Lava Lamp when it's on or the wax is warm, for it will ruin it! 

Cloudy lamps suck. Bottom line. You can't see through the wax infested haze so your more frustrated trying to focus to see it than actually meditation. Am I right?

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Some Background On Lava Lamps

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Lava Lamps very shape has become an icon for a variety of spinoff concepts. A few notable ones (shown around this page) is a plasma lamp built into not a globe but a dome (lava lamp shell). Another cool one is the lavaquarium or lava lamp shaped aquarium!

Weather it's the lava oozing up and down the lamp or the shape of the lamp itself that has everyone intrigued, fact is both are fun. The inner blobs are even innovative at this point (on actual lava lamps not aquariums) with different colors together inside the lamp and various lamp styles. 

Enthusiasts are creating some amazing looking lamp designs innovating the core lamp components such as using a skull at the base instead of a triangular piece and changing the imagery around the lamps top and bottom sections to theme and even brand it. Let's talk a bit about the mechanisms of a lava lamp.

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Lava Lamps are actually quite a simple piece of equipment. It has a light bulb in the base that acts as a heating element. It heats up the glass but by transference it heats up a coil resting at the bottom. This creates less surface tension in the wax (keeping them together better into those beautiful blobs we love).

The wax is just translucent wax and the liquid- that's where part of the magic happens. The liquid contains a surfactant, an oil concoction that expands less than the wax does when it all heats up.

The result is a vehicle for wax to expand, rise up, and cool off at the top of the glass container which is merely a few degrees cooler but enough to cool the wax enough where it both floats temporarily at the top and collects all the rising wax.

When the wax at the top becomes more dense as it cools it falls back down and the cycle repeats. This Lava Lamp is essentially a playground for heat transfer in a way that creates visually stimulating and yet meditative movements of wax blobs!

The original mixture in the lamp is made up of mineral oil, paraffin wax and carbon tetrachloride. Carbon tetrachloride is a dangerous chemical if ingested by animals or people it could kill both. They say as little as 20 milligrams can kill a cat (that's like one tiny lick). So when your restoring your lamp be very aware of this chemical and make sure you wash your hands well after handling it. Make dam sure to get all of the liquid you pour out up on a paper towel and throw it away.

The First One Is A Real Plasma Ball In A Lava Lamp Dome Shell!

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Research For Restoring Lava Lamps

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Freezing?

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Problem Chart

Lava Lamp Behavior And Possible Issue

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In my research I read a bunch of things discussing concepts like "cycling"-  This is where you essentially power up the lamp for 6 hours, turn it off to cool down and the wax to crash and drop down - You would do this for several months sometimes half a year and it may or may not work.

This is basically just allowing the lamp to heat up the wax, then turning off allows it to cool and for the wax "pieces" to ram into one another on the way down creating more solidified pieces. After enough cycles, and if your lamp contents haven't emulsified (become one) the wax will all fall down and when heated up become more solid pieces.

Doing this over and over may help but it's incredibly iffy. If your lamp was shaken while the wax was hot this will cause the wax and oils to emulsify. At that point you're screwed- well not anymore, since the advent of the internet the lava lamp company can't lie to us anymore and say there is no way to fix this without replacing it- gibberish! 

I think if running hot cold cycles (explained above) doesn't work in a month's time it's not going to. The physics just doesn't support it in every situation. Freezing the lamp (just the glass portion not the base) has been reported to work wonders for a lot of people (and I'd try that first, afterall you're about to replace the inner oils so why not try that first, there is nothing to lose, unless you don't take it out before the second hour!). 

If you do put your lamp in the freezer, you need to realize we're not making a goal to literally "freeze" the lamps contents- primarily the water/oil mixture. Never leave your lamp in there for more than an hour or 2 MAX. If you do, it will solidify the water and cause salts to extract (or some white substance nobody is sure what it is) that will make the wax void to use for the lamp.

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Of All The Techniques Available The Following Is The Best

Simply, It Works, and is relatively safe!

Introduction

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The following technique isn't foolproof but it works. It's a technique using A Special Salt (magnesium sulphate), clear hand soap (2 drops), and cold tap water. I'll break this down below.

If you screw it up or even if you do everything right and your lamp won't recuperate  try again. Sometimes you put in too much of one ingredient and not enough of another... in this calibration adding salt and hand soap is a patient process. The salt actually helps the blobs form and creates a stimulating playground for the wax.

There is no specific formula of how much of each to use as each lamp is different, it's aged differently and the wax has aged differently so it may work on some not others. If you find your lamp is just a dead piece of equipment, I've put some fantastic new models you can get on Amazon around this page to soften the blow for you. (and some innovative lavaquariums (fish home), and other cool lamps that have effects comparable to the lava lamp!

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 What You Need To Complete This Restoration:

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  • Lava Lamp In Need Of Restoration (cloudy etc...)
  • A small glass With A Flat Bottom
  • Some Ordinary Epsom Salt (a small container is more than enough) This is NOT table salt!
  • A bowl partially full of hot water
  • A drinking straw (or anything like a straw)

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You May already have this stuff but if you don't here's where you can get it

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The Steps Are Easy:

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1. Prepare Your Lava Lamp- Unplug and let it cool for 2 hours (minimum)

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Example of a cloudy astro lava lamp (astro was the first company to create/invent this lamp, later licensed in the USA by the Lava corporation.
 
Lamps get cloudy when wax emulsifies(becomes one with each other) and won't separate again.
This usually happens when the lamp is shaken, an earthquake happens while it's on/fully "blobbing"...
 
 
Be sure to turn the lamp off / unplug it and remove the glass base and set it on the counter for an hour to fully cool it off before continuing. 
The idea is to cool the wax and have as much as possible fall to the bottom. When you pour out the oil/water/mineral concoction you don't want to lose any wax.
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2. Removing The Lid
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With the lamp sufficiently cooled (2 hours recommended) now you need to remove the top cap (it just comes off with some pushing and twisting). 
 
Next get a plumber's wrench (pipe wrench) and grip the metal lid very securely. 
 
It may take some muscle but go back and forth till it gives way.
 
 
 
They glue this sucker in so you'll have to put some strength into twisting it off! You may want to have a spotter because if you slip off the cap this lamp will go flying!
 
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3. Removing The Tainted Solution (Without losing wax!)
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Now we need to get rid of that crappy solution. I would suggest you pour it down the toilet not the sink due to the poison content in the solution. 
 
Pour the liquid away gently. If your lamps wax isn't solid you have to wait for it to fully cool.  The idea is to remove the solution not the wax.
Be aware, the smell is not exactly flowers. It's a paraffin wax and oil smell.
When you have it poured out, swill in some COLD water but pour it in gently from the sides NOT directly on the wax. We don't want pieces flying off, the idea here s to remove any remnants of the oil sludge... just pour some in so it drains down the sides and swish it around to capture the remaining crap on the bottom, and pour out. 
DO NOT attempt to return any wax that falls out into the sink or sink filter as it's tainted with bacteria once it hits that. If the piece is big you can rinse it off in COLD water and return it but only if you have to! Swish out the rest of the glass (above the wax) with COLD water. Pour it in very gently. Let it run down the side so as not to hit the wax directly. Swish it around gently and pour it out. You want to get the oily gunk completely out.
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What you should end up with is: (a clean jar and wax at the bottom)
Feedback
  
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4.  Refill The Water (rebuilding the formula)
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Now It's time to refill that sucker with water. You can use tap water but it's recommended to use distilled water (more predictable and clean).
Again don't pour the water directly onto the wax, just pour it in from the side draining it into the bottle that way. Fill it up so when you put that cap back on (the main top one not the lid), the water is above it but still leaving 1-2" of air up there for the hot water to expand into when fully on. 

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5.  Clean Water! Now Leave With The Lid Off Still, Turn It On!

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Feedback
 
(We're not done yet, this is where it gets interesting!)


Now that the water is clear, the stage is set for the testing (research/trial/error) phase.

In this phase you will be adding ordinary CLEAR liquid hand soap and special salt. Before anything starts you will need to (patiently) let the wax melt completely (it won't blob it will likely create forests of wax like superman's fortress but the hot wax is what we need to happen before adding the next ingredients/steps.

 

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6.  Soap, Salt, Prayer

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Now that the wax is melted (not necessarily moving) add literally only a few drops of liquid clear (scent free) hand soap. Not the kind with antibacterial properties. This will serve as a surfactant.

This is like an activator for the blob functions. Together the two ingredients create less surface tension on the wax thus allowing it to create large blobs.

You will have to experiment with the salt. You will be dissolving it in the next step to add a little at a time. Make sure you are very frugal and patient when adding the salt AND soap. The soap you only need two drops, less is more here.

The salt you'll need more but you'll have to throttle it based on how your lamp reacts. You can always start over and try again- nothing will be lost. More salt is said to create more smaller blobs more consistent with a glitter globe, and less creates blobs, but too little and you get just a big one.

Meanwhile... We Need To Dissolve The Epsom Salts In Tap Water.

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Epson Salt

Epsom Salts are also known as magnesium sulphate. Epsom crystals have many health uses but they make the lava lamp come alive! 

You can get them at any pharmacy or drug store. Walmart has a nice supply.

You just need the smallest container they have, less than 200 grams is needed.

You'll need a bowl of warm water and a glass of tap water (lukewarm). Start adding the sea salt into the glass of water and stir it around to dissolve the salt crystals.

At some point they will no longer dissolve and this is due to the temperature limitations. To correct this fill a small bowl with HOT water and center the glass in it. Continue to stir it vigorously  In a few minutes the rest of the crystals will dissolve into the water. You want about 1/4 of the glass worth of salt in the end dissolved in the water. 

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Only add 1 teaspoon at a time and repeat after each one has dissolved in the glass. you need to stir vigorously.

Feedback

 

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From sitting there on heating up (cap off) the wax will either sit there and become a pool of wax at the bottom of the water, or it will ride up the sides making cool forests but it will not likely do much else. The soap drops will help this but the salt seems to activate the lamps best properties. If you already added the soap drops don't repeat this!!! 

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Feedback

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The next step will be to grab your straw and pretend you're a kid again with soda. Put the straw in block the mouth end with your finger... The lamp will actually seem to work after a while but this isn't the end yet. You have to get the right blend of salt and soap in there to make it bubble just right. A few drops of soap and some straw fulls (about a quarter full actually) will do it.

You need to put a little salt into the bottle and let it keep going see if anything changes. Give it sufficient time (about 30 minutes if the wax is melted and the lamp hot. You should see something happening pretty quick actually since it's hot and mixing is easy (do not stir! The lamp is self stirring if you stir it you will create a brand new cloudy lamp!)

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Put the straw in on the edge and release the solution (salt and water) slowly. If you throw it in too fast the wax could break up into thousands of tiny pieces... this takes finesse. Another way to do it is to dip the straw about an inch into the water and slowly release the salt (still on the edge you want it to go in on the edges not where the wax is blobbing).

What's happening is the salt raises the waters density making the wax less dense (so it can rise up) than the water/solution. This also has a side effect of keeping the blobs together as if water were traveling through a balloon. The blob shape is the result of this network of concepts.

When you initially add the salt the lamps contents will sort of swirl about and start glooping. This is normal and passes. When it settles down again you can add more salt. Treat it like adding gasoline to a fire! What you want is for the wax to bubble up and float to the top then fall like you're used to seeing.

Half way up and falling means something is missing or too much of something was introduced. Usually you will see a column or bubbling that only goes half way before descending again like it's too heavy. You may need to mess with it for an hour slowly monitoring how it reacts to each dose of salt. 

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The lava lamp pictured below has blobs that start to rise but stop midway this is an example of looking ready but not yet being. This still needs more epson salt solution (may be only a few crystals from ready!) ...

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This lamp is fully restored with this process and working great!

This is the lamp at the top of the page that was cloudy and useless!

I'm sure the lava company made theirs to last years so this may not be that stable, but it's safe and effective.

If it lasts a year I'd be happy, but capped off and glued (so the water doesn't evaporate out), I think it will last a long time.

 

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Conclusion

Lava lamps are great fun. I used to throw cloudy lamps out but now I'll just restore them and feel the accomplishment :).

If you can't get your lamp back to showroom shine again perhaps you should just get a new one. They are actually reasonably priced these days and there are some really cool ones. Good Luck!

Just for fun, below I've found some great home made lava lamp videos. These are mainly for kids but even grown up enjoy them! We tried them and they were actually fun! Thanks for reading!

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Home Made Lava Lamps...

Updated: on 10/19/2012, Jerrico_Usher
 
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Jerrico_Usher on 11/17/2012

thanks Hollie :) I'm sure this will come in handy in a few years when it clouds up from being tipped while on and falling :) I'm gtting the aqurius tank myself :)

HollieT on 11/17/2012

Hi jerrico,

I bought my son a lava lamp for his bedroom a couple of years ago. It was a blue one similar to the one illustrated in your first image. It went all odd, the lava (or whatever it is) dropped to the bottom of the lamp. Having read what you'd said in the problem chart, it appears it was too cold and I should've checked the bulb. Pity I didn't read this article before I threw it out. Ah well, he wants another one, so now I have a reference if the new one doesn't work as it should. Thanks. :)

Jerrico_Usher on 10/19/2012

thanks Katie :) yea the bulb is important if it's too hot it could blow up the lamp as pressure builds inside, if it's not enough watts it's just a night light :)

katiem2 on 10/19/2012

WOW how cool, both my daughters have lava lamps. Great to know how to restore them. My sister has one from the stone ages, she will def enjoy this tutorial as well. You do need to be careful to use the proper bulbs. I've heard horror stories of those trying to replace the bulb with the wrong wats. Thanks for the great lava lap page! :)K



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