Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

This thread is going to be a bit messy, since I'm still learning, but I'm going to share with everyone what I've learned about replacing the liquid (not the wax) in older (60s and 70s) Lava Lite lamps. Please attempt at your own risk and know your results will vary. I would only attempt this on a lamp where the liquid is so cloudy that you can't see through it.


I will continue to update the original post with new information as I come across it. 


I'm sure many of you have seen/have something like this:


Filtering is always an option
, but most of the time on these old lamps, they will cloud up again. At least that's been the case for me. I did try and filter this one, and it cleared, but after two runs, it clouded up again:


Same with this one:


I do have one lamp that is cloudy when it sits, but will clear up almost completely after running. It's a weird one. So, before you do anything, run the lamp several times (1 week or more - 4+ hours or more) and if you're not seeing any improvement, you probably never will. Cycling a lamp is a good way to clear up mild haziness on 90s lamps, but cloudy lamps like this from the 60s and 70s almost never clear up after cycling. 

I have dealt with lamps that have junk in the lava/coil, too. I have taken the lava and run it through a fine-mesh strainer to get some of the crap out. It was worked with decent success.Obviously, strain while the lava is hot. 


What I've found out is this: once you remove the lava/liquid from the globe and clean it, 1) you'll really need to clean the crap out of the inside of the globe (use a degreaser like Jungle Jake) and 2) I've almost always had lava stick to the globe after this process. Oddly, I've been lucky and oftentimes, the lava will unstick itself, esp after several experiments with liquid/additives. If you don't need to do anything to the lava, just leave it. There seem to be more problems with sticking once the lava is removed from the lamp and put back in. 

When I replace the liquid, I replace it entirely. No sense in saving cloudy liquid. Unless the lava needs to be "cleaned" too, my vote is to just pour out the liquid when the lava is cold and replace with water. Leave the lava (wax) intact and try to minimize wax knocking the side of the globe as much as possible.


I've had good luck using both tap water and distilled when replacing the liquid in my globes. I didn't see any real noticeable difference between the two. That being said, we have pretty decent water here. So, if you don't want to deal with distilled, I see no problem in using tap water to replace your water, but if you're concerned, spend the 97 cents and buy a gallon of distilled. 

Here are all the things I've added to the liquid/tested (not all at the same time obviously):


Epsom salt * Canning (or pickling) salt * Glycerin * Propylene Glycol (50/50 mixture of PG and water) * Miracle Bubbles * Sodium Laureth Sulfate (also known as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate * Ajax dish soap * Shampoo

Here's where you can find the following supplies. Links are posted within. Most of this stuff is for the US, but can be found worldwide:
 

  • Epsom salt - Grocery store, personal care aisle or Amazon.com
  • Canning (or pickling) salt - Grocery store or Amazon.com
  • Glycerin - can be found on Amazon.com
  • Propylene Glycol (50/50 mixture of PG and water) - Found on Amazon.com - I bought the 50/50 mixture, but if I had to do it over again, I'd just get straight PG.
  • Miracle Bubbles - Can find at Wal-Mart, Walgreens. These are blowing bubbles and are very cheap and common. Don't get the perfumed stuff. 
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (also known as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate) - can be found on eBay, here and here
  • Ajax dish soap - Grocery store. Any dish soap will do. Some have recommended Dawn. 
  • Shampoo - tried it, but would not recommend. Too many other ingredients in it. 


So what are these items/what do they do?

  • Epsom salt - changes (increases) the density of the water 
  • Canning (or pickling) salt - changes (increases) the density of the water 
  • Glycerin - Changes the way the wax acts. 
  • Propylene Glycol (50/50 mixture of PG and water) - not sure yet. Will update later. 
  • Miracle Bubbles - acts as a surfactant
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (also known as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate) - acts as a surfactant
  • Ajax dish soap -  acts as a surfactant
  • Shampoo - acts as a surfactant


Per Kaia: 

Polypropylene Glycol and Glycerine do exactly the same as salt (alter the density of the water) but without the risk of the coil/gauze rusting. Glycerine is far more concentrated and you will need a lot less mixed with water than PG to achieve the same effect.

Some older Crestworth (and others probably) lamps used pure water, which is why people get varying results with additives.


So, what's a surfactant (also known as "surf")? "A substance that tends to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved." Also, you can read the Wikipedia entry on it. From what I can tell, the surfactant is what breaks up the wax and causes it to "snake". When you first add it, you'll see the lava do some weird stuff and then normal out a little bit. Always add surf drop-by-drop with an eye dropper or something similar. 


Why canning (or picking)/Epsom salts? Regular salt can and will cloud the water. 

When experimenting, only add one ingredient at a time. If you add two and you like what happens, you won't know which ingredient worked. 

So, how to start? When the lamp is cold and the wax is solid, dump out all the liquid. It's going to stink, so be prepared. The liquid takes on a petroleum smell and your new liquid will do the same once it's been flowing. Be careful not to bump the wax around too much. If possible, you can empty out 99% of the liquid and replace with new stuff; that way, the wax is surrounded by a thin layer of original fluid and hopefully, shouldn't stick. 

Pour in new water, slowly. I'd recommend cold or lukewarm. Then, turn on the lamp. You'll see air bubbles in the liquid and on the wax - this is normal. 


Once the wax has melted, this is where the experimentation comes in.


I have replaced the liquid in two late 60s model lamps and each one has been a little different. I tried a bazillion things, but here's what worked for each one. It should be noted that both of these globes have what I call "low wax" (see here for pic) - something that is common (and normal) for late 60s lava lamps. All it means is that less wax was used during production. These lamps will run on a 30W flood bulb instead of a 40W appliance bulb. I believe the entire formula for these lamps may be different than 70s lamps. Not sure. 


1) My green/red Century: I must've tried everything with this lamp. At least six different attempts were made. I had wax sticking at first, but it resolved itself. Once the lava wax melted and started to "dome", I added some epsom salts (pre-mixed with warm water at a ratio of 4:1 water to salt), a few drops at a time until the lava separated and flowed to the top. Be careful about adding too much salt mixture - when I did, the lava separated from the coil entirely and caused problems. So just add enough that the lava separates and flows to the top. Once it did that, I added a drop or two of plain old dish soap and the wax did all kinds of funky stuff. Don't add too much dish soap - just a drop at time. You won't need more than a few drops. 

The lamp doesn't "normalize" until you've run it a few times. So try something, run it for an evening and then see if you like it. Also, I did my salt first, then dish soap. Each time I added my chosen surfactant (dish soap / Miracle Bubbles / SLES) the wax got pretty bubbly/foamy-looking.


As the lamp continues to cycle, this has lessened. As of yet, I don't know a way to prevent this. 

This is what I ended up with (happy with the turnout):

 

2) My yellow/orange Squiggle Aristocrat. This one has been interesting. This one required no salt, just some SLES and it flows almost perfectly. I have no idea why, but I'm happy. Could it be possible that this one was different because I used tap water instead of distilled? Not sure. 


The unknowns:

  • I don't know what propylene glycol does (someone here recommended it)
  • I don't know what glycerin does (someone here recommended it)
  • I don't know if there is any kind of surf that will not cause the wax to get foamy looking (it does seem to clear up though)
  • I don't have a good way of unsticking the wax from the globe if it happens, though luckily, both lamps have rid themselves of this problem with several cycles. 


So, the simple version? Salt-water mixture and SLES/Miracle Bubbles restores lamps! Well, the liquid anyway. ;)

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It looked good in the picture, but I ended up redoing it.
The liquid reclouded really badly and wasn't happy with the flow.

On the second go around, I tried something different. I brew beer, and have a refractometer (it checks the sugar etc) but what it did for me is show me what the gravity of the liquid was so I could get back close to that quickly.  1.010 by the way (the wax I didn't check, this thing is for testing food, but it is heavier than 1.010) Anyways that made for quick work and not so much eye dropper of salt water.
Unfortunatly its clouded again, but not as bad so the theory that rinsing the bottle may fix it could be correct.

I've been running it for a week or so now, really happy with the flow, cloudy but better than when I first started, and just for interest sake made the liquid dense with a mix of aquarium salt and epsom salt this time. Heated the water, mixed it in, let that water cool so any extra salt and epsom would fall out, and then mixed that into my water.

Thanks for the update Colin. Valuable input to have!

Hi Colin,

which refractometer model do you use? I want do buy one.

ColinW said:

On the second go around, I tried something different. I brew beer, and have a refractometer (it checks the sugar etc) but what it did for me is show me what the gravity of the liquid was so I could get back close to that quickly.  1.010 by the way (the wax I didn't check, this thing is for testing food, but it is heavier than 1.010)

I'm curious on the refractometer, too.

http://www.ebay.ca/itm/RSG-100ATC-Black-rubber-strip-Brix-Beer-Suga...

You put a drop of the liquid on the refractometer and it registers the bending of the light.
Normally we are measuring the sugar in the water. But there is no reason why it won't measure, salt or any other substance making the water's gravity heavier.

Polypropylene Glycol and Glycerine do exactly the same as salt (alter the density of the water) but without the risk of the coil/gauze rusting. Glycerine is far more concentrated and you will need a lot less mixed with water than PG to achieve the same effect.

Some older Crestworth (and others probably) lamps used pure water, which is why people get varying results with additives.

Adding your notes to my original post here Kaia.

Kaia1165 said:

Polypropylene Glycol and Glycerine do exactly the same as salt (alter the density of the water) but without the risk of the coil/gauze rusting. Glycerine is far more concentrated and you will need a lot less mixed with water than PG to achieve the same effect.

Some older Crestworth (and others probably) lamps used pure water, which is why people get varying results with additives.

Came across this lamp today.. wanted to clean it up and get it working but I haven't a clue what I'm doing wrong.

Filled with water.. there are micro bubbles that do break free of the mass but as a whole it's unmoving.

I am assuming it's a late '60 lamp.. looks freaking awesome. This is an image of what it looks like (not mine.. mine is apart at the moment)

What's even peculiar is it has this.. petrol smell to it. Like diesel or wd40 to the water. The water also seems just that. Cloudy water.

Anyways,  did I mis-understand something? Was I supposed to add a 1:4 epson salts:water or fill it with distilled and gradually add the 1:4 mixture to it?

Attachments:

Brian, here's what I would suggest you have a different era of lamp that mine was, so the formula would have been different,  "Some older Crestworth (and others probably) lamps used pure water, which is why people get varying results with additives."

So you're going to have to experiment to get your liquid close to the density of the wax. if you're getting little bubbles it means you are likely close but not close enough.

The idea is that the wax is denser than the 'water' when cold, and lighter than the 'water' when hot, so it moves and falls. if the wax doesn't get light enough it doesn't move.

When I did mine I found Epsom Salt came out of solution and crystalized when cold. I recommend Aquarium or Pickling Salt (unlike regular salt these have no additives)

As for your other question, fill the lamp with distilled water, mostly full, leave an inch maybe at the top.
Don't forget your drop or two of dishsoap to make it flow
Keep in mind yours may have been straight water so it might just work right away.
If not then your 4:1 mix of warm salt water is what you are adding drops of to change the density of the water. Take your time, stir it gently or let it mix before adding more.
obviously stop when it looks right to you

Thank's Colin.  I appreciate it. Sadly I dripped a few drops of water on the one bulb I had for it and broke it (d'oh) so I has to stop experimenting. Dish soap.. I forgot the dish soap.  Thank you for that also.

I'll let you know what's up.  Is that sweet/petrol smell a normal occurrence? This is my first endeavor in doing this.

Thank you so much.

Have her flowing.. she wants to pillar though. Saw another thread about old oil separating and thing that may be an issue.

Suggested draining the water and turning it on and 'boiling' the wax might fix it so I'll do that.

Been a while since I've had fun like this. Thank's for being here helping newbies such as I. :)

just a tiny drop more soap, and it should blob.
I wouldn't boil the wax or anything yet.

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