How do lava lamps work?


Quick Answer

Lava lamps work when the heat of the light bulb is absorbed by the dense liquid solutions within the base of the lamp, causing them to rise and sink. The two insoluble liquids have similar densities, yet the liquids push against each other to produce a globular effect.

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Full Answer

For a lava lamp to function, the bulb must be turned on so that the heat activates the dense solutions, also known as the blob of the lamp. The two liquids within the lamp are similar, yet one is slightly more dense than the other. Activated by the heat of the lamp, the liquid that is more dense pushes on the less-dense liquid.

As the light bulb provides heat, the denser solution expands and rises to the top of the lava lamp. Once it reaches the top and begins to cool, the blob sinks to the bottom. The process repeats for both liquid solutions within the lamp. The reaction that occurs within the lava lamp is often gradual and slow, since both liquids have similar densities. Once the lava lamp is turned off, the solution settles toward the bottom of the lamp and may form a waxy substance at the base of the globe.

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