Edward Craven Walker invented the modern Lava Lamp after seeing one on a counter in a pub in England after World War II.  

Wax bubbles in a lava lamp during operation

Wax bubbles in a lava lamp during operation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He bought it, found out the designer had died and set about to improve it.

He launched it in 1963, won a patent for his design in 1965 and the company that now makes them still sells 400,000 a year.

Though my grandson and I tried to make one recently, it turned into a science experiment instead of a working lamp.

The question in our experiment was, can you use crayons to color the water in the mixture instead of liquid food coloring?

What if you melt the crayons in a toaster oven?

The answer was no. The melted crayons simply turned into hard particles as soon as you put them in the water, but my grandson was onto something by suggesting crayons as a coloring agent.

It turns out that real Lava Lamps use wax in their lava mixture.

The wax, in a proprietary formula, melts when heated over an incandescent light bulb in the base, rises to the top of the lamp, hardens into a blob and floats back down to the base to rise again once the heat softens it again, changing its density compared to the water in the mix and creating a continuous flow as long as the light is turned on.

I show below instructions for creating your own Lava Lamp.

As long as you have liquid food coloring, you don’t need a light bulb to heat the lava mixture, which, in this case is vegetable oil, not wax.

Now that I have liquid food coloring, I will have to wait for the next grandchild visit to test out this activity.


  • 2-liter plastic soda bottle (washed and rinsed, with cap)
  • Large bottle of vegetable oil (if you use a smaller plastic bottle, you will need less vegetable oil. Be sure to use a clear bottle with the label  removed so you can see the oil and water mixing and unmixing)
  • Water
  • Food coloring (liquid)
  • Plastic cup
  • Spoon
  • Optional: funnel, helpful for pouring things into the soda bottle


  • Fill a plastic cup with water
  • Add a few drops of food coloring to the water and stir to mix it up
  • Pour vegetable oil into the empty bottle until it is half full
  • Add the colored water to the soda bottle
  • Put the cap on the soda bottle. Make sure the cap is on tight!
  • Gently turn the bottle sideways
  • Draw and color what the water and oil look like now
  • Draw and color the following options:
    • Tilt bottle gently back and forth on its side
    • Shake the bottle up and down to try to mix the water and oil
    • Let the bottle stand on the counter overnight
    • Turn the bottle on its side again and gently tilt it back and forth.

What Should Happen?

Oil and water don’t stay mixed because they have different densities.

The colored water lets you track what happens with the gentle or vigorous shaking of the oil and water mixture.

The mixing and then gentle falling out of mixture of the oil from the water is similar to what happens with a  Lava Lamp, but its action is continuous because wax in the lava mixture is melted when it is low, near the light, then cooled when it rises, away from the heat of the light bulb.

Thanks to A+ Science Projects: Grades 2-3, which my grandson noticed and asked for at Michael’s craft store, for this activity

Click on the title to order a copy of A+ Science Projects: Grades 2-3 from amazon.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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