lava lamp homebrew recipe  
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The Retro-Basic Formula

retro272's Lava Lamp Method

This great lava lamp formula was submitted to Oozing Goo by the concoction master retro272. Thanks to his experimentation, many many many (maybe 12, maybe 1200) lava lamp scientists have successfully circumvented the annoying gag gift store at the local mall. This formula gets the Oozing Goo seal of approval. We've chimed in with the pink text below. Now get to work!

WARNING! This electronic document deals with and involves subject matter and the use of materials and substances that may be hazardous to health and life. Do not attempt to implement or use the information contained herein unless you are experienced and skilled with respect to such subject matter, materials and substances. The author makes no representations as for the completeness or the accuracy of the information contained herein and disclaim any liability for damages or injuries, whether caused by or arising from the lack of completeness, inaccuracies of the information, misinterpretation of the directions, misapplication of the information or otherwise. With these plans, you can create your own motion lamp with easy to find ingredients, at a reasonable price. Because it uses ingredients compatible to those found in the commercial lamps, you will be able to restore old motion lamps. If you have an old commercial lamp that only needs the water replaced, just follow the ‘MAKING THE WATER’ steps. You might also refill an empty, or old non-functioning lamp with new ooze and water. Or, you can build your lamp from scratch, and make it any size. The chemicals used are relatively safe, just work in a well ventilated area, and whatever you do, don’t drink any of this stuff! The wax and water can get VERY HOT and cause severe burns, so be extremely careful. Other than the wax, none of the ingredients are flammable, so it is much safer than the mineral oil/alcohol based formulas. Read the instructions through several times before starting. Be careful, and enjoy!


Here is a list of materials you may need, and some common sources for them:

WAX: Canning and candle wax is the best source. It is used to make candles, or to seal the tops of canning jars. It can be found in craft and grocery stores, usually in a one pound box. For coloring, use candle dye, I have not had much luck using crayons to color the wax as the crayon tends to form flakes and chunks.

PERCHLOROETHYLENE: Also known as: tetrachloroethylene, ethylene tetrachloride, or ‘Perc’. Dry cleaners will probably sell or give you some, they generally refer to it as Perc (pronounced ‘perk’). Also found in spot removers and degreasers. Carefully check the labels. Perchloroethylene is non-flammable, so if the label says ‘flammable’ or ‘combustible’ keep looking. In these instructions, we will refer to this chemical simply as perc. I found a brake parts cleaner at Autozone that is pure perc. It comes in a red aerosol can and is called Brakleen, and it is made by CRC. The label on the back reads: Tetrachloroethylene 127-18-4, and the product number on the front of the can is 05089.

WATER: Distilled water is the best choice.

CANNING/PICKLING SALT: You must use canning and pickling salt, as ordinary table salt will cloud the water. Canning and pickling salt is PURE salt, it has no additives, and it is not iodized. It can be found in most grocery stores. Sometimes called just canning salt, or just pickling salt.

AUTOMOTIVE ANTIFREEZE: Buy the regular ethylene glycol antifreeze. The "non-toxic" propylene glycol antifreeze has a slightly different specific gravity, so if you use it, you will need to experiment with it some.

DISHWASHING LIQUID: We will only need a drop or two. I have always used the Dove brand, but any brand should do just as well.


Several old canning jars with lids are perfect for melting, mixing, and storing your ooze. Make sure the lids screw on airtight. The amount of ooze needed will depend on the size of your lamp, for ease, we will make 1 cup of ooze. If you don’t need a whole cup, use what you need and store the rest in an airtight container. If you need more, simply double or triple the measurements. We will start off mixing 1/3 cup of perc with 2/3 cup of wax. This is only a starting point, as different waxes will have different densities. Unless you have expensive, specialized, laboratory instruments, this is the only way to do it. Take notes while you make the ooze. If you use the same brand wax, chances are you can reuse the same amounts if you make more ooze.

     1) Take 1 cup of water and pour it into an empty jar, and then mark the water line with a marker or tape, and then pour out the water. We will use this line to measure the wax, this saves us the hassle of trying to clean a waxy measuring cup.
     2) Get an old pot big enough to fit a canning jar in. Fill the pot part-way with water, and bring it to a boil. Take your candles, and break them into smaller pieces if necessary, and place them in an empty canning jar. Place the canning jar into the pot of boiling water, and wait for the wax to melt thoroughly.
     3) Place 1/3 cup of perc into the canning jar with the 1 cup line drawn on it. Then carefully pour the melted wax into the jar until it reaches the 1 cup mark. This will give us 1 cup of ooze at a 33% perc, 66% wax solution. Screw the lid on tightly, and be careful, the perc will expand and greatly increase the pressure inside the jar. Gently swirl the jar to ensure the wax and perchloroethylene becomes mixed well. We now have created ooze.
     4) After the ooze has cooled fully, stick a drinking straw into the ooze. When you remove the straw, some ooze should be stuck inside the straw. Squeeze this ooze out of the straw and into the test solutions.


I have an easy way to test the specific gravity of your ooze without using expensive test instruments. Automotive antifreeze usually has a specific gravity of around 1.1 when it is undiluted. Distilled water has a specific gravity of 1. Mixtures of water and antifreeze will have the following specific gravities:

  • 100% water, no antifreeze = 1.00
  • 90% water, 10% antifreeze = 1.01
  • 80% water, 20% antifreeze = 1.02
  • 70% water, 30% antifreeze = 1.03
  • 60% water, 40% antifreeze = 1.04
  • 50% water, 50% antifreeze = 1.05
  • 40% water, 60% antifreeze = 1.06
  • 30% water, 70% antifreeze = 1.07
  • 20% water, 80% antifreeze = 1.08
  • 10% water, 90% antifreeze = 1.09
  • No water, 100% antifreeze = 1.10

    Commercial ooze is usually around 1.03. Mix up an 80% water, 20% antifreeze solution. Also mix up a 60% water, 40% antifreeze solution. If your ooze floats in the 40% antifreeze solution, it has a specific gravity less than 1.04. If your ooze sinks in the 20% antifreeze solution, it has a specific gravity greater than 1.02. Therefore, your ooze is somewhere between 1.02 and 1.04, and should be close to 1.03.

    NOTE: You can make your ooze any specific gravity you choose, but 1.03 seems to work well.

    NOTE: It is important that you let the ooze cool thoroughly, as the ooze’s density will change with temperature.

    NOTE: If the ooze does not sink in a 20% antifreeze solution, you will need to add more perchloroethylene. Add an 1/8 of a cup to the jar, screw the lid on, and remelt the ooze. Let the ooze cool thoroughly and test again.

    Once the ooze will sink in 20% antifreeze solution, test it in a 40% mix of water and antifreeze. The ooze should float.

    NOTE: If the ooze does not float in the 40% mixture, you will need to add more wax. I suggest that you use petroleum jelly or mineral oil, as it is easier to measure. Place a tablespoon of petroleum jelly or mineral oil into the jar, and remelt the ooze. Let the ooze cool completely and retest.

    Once the ooze will sink in 20%, and float in a 40% mix, the ooze is ready to go into the lamp. Reheat the ooze until melted, and carefully pour it into your lamp. Let it cool thoroughly before you add the water.


    Make sure the lamp is absolutely cold. Start by filling the lamp with distilled water, leaving an inch or two at the top. Add a teaspoon of canning and pickling salt to the water, and invert the lamp several times to help the salt to dissolve. Let the lamp heat up for several hours. You will now need to add more salt until the lamp operates properly.


    The whole density thing may cause you problems. It is very easy to get confused and get it all backwards. So again, go slow. Let the lamp heat up for an hour or two before adjusting the mixture. Let the lamp run for an hour between adjustments. Add the canning salt a bit at a time. Check to make sure the salt doesn’t collect on the bottom under the ooze, if this happens, let the lamp cool, and gently invert the lamp to help the salt dissolve. As you get close to the correct amount of salt, the ooze will start to ‘dome’.

    Now add a VERY SMALL DROP of dishwashing liquid to the water. (The dome may settle back down, that is OK.) Add more salt until the ooze begins to break into bubbles and rise. If the bubbles seem to be rather large, and are moving very slowly, you may want to add one more SMALL drop of dishwashing liquid. If you add too much dishwashing liquid, your ooze will become ‘runny’ and not break into bubbles properly. If you add too much dishwashing liquid, you will have to pour out the water, and start with fresh water.

    The dishwashing liquid helps reduce the surface tension of the ooze slightly. If you don’t add any dishwashing liquid, the ooze will form one giant bubble. This giant bubble will rise up, and when it settles back down on the bottom, it will not connect with the coil. This giant bubble will just sit there, and the lamp will not cycle at all. With the addition of a small amount of dishwashing liquid, the giant bubble will flow down and connect with the coil. The ooze will break into smaller bubbles, and the lamp will cycle properly. If you add too much dishwashing liquid, the ooze will become ‘runny’ and will not form nice bubbles. If you add too much, you will have to start over with new water, as it is impossible to take the dishwashing liquid out once it is added. Go slowly and carefully!

    Remember: If the ooze doesn’t float enough, add more canning and pickling salt. If the ooze floats too much, add more distilled water.


    Don’t get discouraged if it takes you several tries to get your lamp working right, this is normal. A motion lamp requires a very close balance. I’ve read that at the factory, they measure the specific gravities down to the ten-thousandth! Patient, small adjustments are needed, but when you get it right, it will be worth it.

    Be Careful, and Good Luck!
    Please post comments or corrections on the lava line.

    Last revised February 11th, 2002


    I thought it might help to go over how you can calculate the specific gravity of a mixture. Estimating a solution’s specific gravity is not too hard, you just need to know the specific gravities of each component. I looked up the material safety data sheets for each of the ingredients for the lamp, and the specific gravities are approximately:

         Distilled Water = 1.0
         Glycerin = 1.26
         Perchloroethylene = 1.62
         Wax = 0.8

    Multiply the specific gravity times the percentage for each ingredient, and add together.

    For example, A 50% glycerin, 50% water solution has a specific gravity of:
    (1.26 x 0.50)+(1 x 0.50) = 1.13

    If we have a 25% glycerin, 75% water solution, we can estimate the specific gravity as follows:
    (1.26 x 0.25)+(1 x 0.75) = 1.065

    A 1/3 perc, 2/3 wax solution would have a specific gravity of:
    (1.62 x 0.3333)+(0.8 x 0.6666) = 1.07


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