Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

Lets figure out the original lava lite formula..I have a good start

Through my struggles to revive my consort lamp I have discovered a few interesting things. The reason why most people dont get their consorts running is because the formula they are using simply wont work. The liquid used in consorts is only slightly more dense than water. Waters density is 1,000 kg/m3 while a consorts fluid is slightly denser.

Heres a handy chart to give you an idea of how dense things are.



I have been measuring the densities of various lava lamp liquids. The only thing I have right now is a alcohol hydrometer so I have to convert brix to kg/m3. Sadly I dropped it yesterday and it broke so I have to buy a new one today.



What I have found out is that the consort is only slightly more dense than water. The china lamps made by lava lite a year ago have the same density. The 32oz and 52oz lamps we all love ranging from the early 70's to 2003 all have a density of 1,0381 kg/m3.


So we have the densities... now how about the formula? I tried refilling my consort with distilled water along with a little bit of surfactant and a few drops from another lava lamp. For some reason it would not melt properly and it liked to "freeze" mid blob so obviously my fluid is lacking something vital. So now I am on a quest to remade the original formula. I happen to have some info from my big post that is a compilation of information I have gathered from other people.



The lava lamp was found to contain water, 38% by mass; chlorinated paraffin, 36%; low molecular weight polyethylene glycol, 13%; kerosene 7%; and microcrystalline wax, 6%.



Lava lamps flow optimally at 45-50 C.

The wax contains paraffin wax, a mineral oil such as ondina 17, carbon tetrachloride, and petroleum jelly.

The liquid contains glycerol ethylene, glycol, polyethylene glycol or propylene glycol(30% of total volume).



For the wax we can assume that the majority of the mix is paraffin wax. *edit* It turns out "paraffin" is actually kerosene in the UK which is where the patents were written. So I think that paraffin wax may not be the wax base. *edit* Petroleum jelly is used to make the paraffin wax more liquidy. I am assuming that the carbon tetrachloride is used to weigh the wax down. It has a gravity of 1,584kg/m3. I do not know the density of the paraffin wax so does anybody have a way to test this?

Mineral oil is liquid paraffin wax..

From wikipedia about the microcrystalline wax.

"It is generally darker, more viscous, denser, tackier and more elastic than paraffin waxes, and has a higher molecular weight and melting point."

So microcrystalline wax is used is used to make the paraffin wax stretchier as well as increase the melting point.


??% Paraffin wax900 @kg/m3 : Melting Point: 117°F to 147°F

??% mineral oil @920 kg/m3 : Melting Point: 

or ??% petroleum jelly 810-880 kg/m3 : Melting Point:    -might be the same thing

??% carbon tetrachloride @ 1587kg/m3 : Melting Point: 73.22°F 

??% kerosene "paraffin"


Not sure if this is in the wax.

??% microcrystalline wax @ 960 kg/m3 : Melting Point: 170°F-180°F 


The liquid will probably be rather easy to figure out. The analysis from the guy who drank his lava lamp shows that the liquid contained water, 38% by mass; chlorinated paraffin, 36%; low molecular weight polyethylene glycol, 13%; kerosene 7%; and microcrystalline wax, 6%. I am assuming he must have drank it while warm if he had wax in him, but I might be wrong.


30% water @ 1,000 kg/m3 

35% chlorinated paraffin@ ??? kg/m3  Not water soluble.

13% polyethylene glycol @ 965.3 kg/m3 

7% kerosene @ 820.1 kg/m3 Not water soluble.

6% microcrystalline wax @ ??? kg/m3 Not water soluble.


Going by the patents suggests

70% water 1,000 kg/m3

30% glycerol ethylene @ ???? kg/m3


30% glycol @ ???? kg/m3


30% polyethylene glycol @  kg/m3


30% propylene glycol @  1,036 kg/m3

The patent says "preferably propylene glycol"

So it looks like the original formula is just 70% water and 30% propylene glycol.


This is about the extent of my knowledge. I am hoping someone here can pick up where I left off and point out any errors I made in my reasoning.

I am attaching the patent files for reference.

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With regards to paraffin being kerosene here in the UK, let me give you the ingredients as listed in a tub of paraffin wax: Paraffin, Paraffinium Liquidium (Mineral Oil), Cera Microcrystallina (Microcrystalline Wax). Hope this is helpful.

Some more clues I found online, regarding the composition.

"During the manufacture of Lava Lites, the density of the waxy liquid is measured extremely carefully. It is made up of 11 different secret ingredients, and each batch is matched exactly to the water solution it will float in. Water-soluble dyes will color the water solution and not the wax or oil. Oil-soluble dyes will color the lava and not the water. This is how the two solutions can be made up of different colors."

Read more: Chemical Information on Lava Lamps http://www.soyouwanna.com/chemical-information-lava-lamps-1111.html...



"Water and wax, which the original patents name as main ingredients, remain components of the commercial recipe, says Tom Spain, vice president of sales, marketing, and product development for Haggerty Enterprises, the official U.S. manufacturer of Lava brand lamps. Additional agents, he explains, help the wax gently plume upward instead of breaking apart into bubbles as it is heated and keep wax from sticking to the sides of the container.

Walker's U.S. patent mentions additives such as dye, mineral oil, carbon tetrachloride, and polyethylene glycol (PEG), but the exact formula of commercial lamps is a trade secret. Spain tells C&EN that only five or six staff chemists know the formula and are in charge of occasional reformulations. Densities must be recorded for each batch of wax that Haggerty makes, which is mixed in 5-foot-tall vats in factories in China.

Last but not least, the water layer is added to the cooled wax very slowly so as to avoid creating emulsions, which are cloudy-looking oil-water mixtures. In fact, the recipe for the water layer is carefully adjusted to perfectly complement the density of each unique batch of wax."


MiraLAX is polyethylene glycol 3350 mixes with water and is clear and it does raise the specific gravity of water. depends on how much you put in just like salt does. I use a hydrometer for saltwater fish tanks to measure how much.

Autumn said:

Here is some information about polyethylene glycol. You can get several densities of this stuff and from PEG 200 to PEG 600 it is a clear liquid. From Peg 630 to 1500 it is a paste. Anything above that is wax like. 



This site lists all of the densities for several types of PEG.

I have also found propylene glycol at Tractor supply.

Another ingredient found at Advance auto Parts. Add to wax to make it heavier.
CRC Brakleen® Brake Parts Cleaner
Tetrachloroethylene (PERC)  95%
Carbon Dioxide  5%

Ok so I am trying to find out what to add to make my wax more "stringy " less just round blobs . I am thinking from the sounds of all of this that Microcrystalline Wax will help

I haven't read all of this thread, so some of this may be old news, but I thought I might add my two cents to this conversation.  I work in a Geochemistry lab and I have worked with carbon tetrachloride (CTC) before because it's a common environmental contaminant.  If it was merely to weigh down the wax, I would think there might be another type of parafin wax they could use or another, less hazardous, additive they could use.  It may have been used for its high specific gravity, but it has other properties that make it useful as a solvent and degreasing agent, which might also make it useful in the construction of lava lamps.  Other chemicals in the same chemical family have also been used as plasticisers, making rubbers and plastics more flexible.  I've seen many posts here on Oozinggoo about how the modern lava lamps "don't flow right" or how the modern ones just form bubbles instead of streams and other various interesting shapes and flow patterns.  A plasticizing effect would make the wax less rigid and flow more easily when melted, improving without emulsifying the wax. 

Also, while it's true that CTC is poorly soluble in water, it is quite soluble in other organic solvents.  It's therefore difficult to determine exactly how much CTC was used in the old formulas.  It could be much greater than the solubility of water would allow because it's dissolved in a wax, which may also contain kerosene and other organic compounds.  I would consider to be likely as there is no way to completely prevent all interaction between the organic components and the water based components.  I would also caution those who frequently remove the contents of older lamps that over time, the CTC would also partially dissolve into the aqueous components in dangerous concentrations in the same way that dye bleeding from an old lamp with red lava will eventually turn the water slightly red as well.  This is why I don't open lava lamps.

CTC's health risks alone are no doubt the reason why Lava and any other lava lamp manufacturer would remove it from their formulas in more recent years.  From the late 70s on, greater awareness of the risks of CTC and other chlorinated hydrocarbons has caused many industries to expend great resources looking for safer substitutes, many times with somewhat disappointing results as we've seen in lava lamps. 

I've seen pure CTC dissolve part of a container when someone tried to store it in plastic instead of glass, so I would guess that it does have some of the plasticizing qualities of other members in its chemical family.  I would also guess that in small quantities, it might be responsible for the more liquid behavior that people have come to love from the original lava lamps.  It would no doubt have been difficult to find a substitute that would do the same job and be safer to work with as has been the case in many other industries using similar chemicals.  The one thing I don't understand, and that might negate some of my suppositions in this post, is how it's possible to open the lamp, drain the liquid, and heat the wax on a stove top without volatilizing all of the CTC (and for that matter the kerosene) in the wax.  CTC evaporates at a much lower temperature than water and I would think that its removal would change the wax's properties. 

Autumn said:

I believe carbon tetrachloride is what weighs down the wax. CTC is not soluble in water so I don't see what else it could be used for.

Kempton said:
Okay i think we have a problem. Like I said paraffin wax's density is 0.9. Well it is wrong. It ranges from 0.82-0.96 (found here http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_specific_gravity_of_paraffin_wax). The density of water is 1 and polyethylene's lowest is 1.08. This means the wax will float to the top of the globe and never come down. How do i know this? I put candle wax (paraffin wax) in a 52 oz globe and distilled water in. Heated it up and all the wax floated to the top and is now stuck there to this day.

Hi there,

Yes propylene Glycol is about 1036 KG/m3 at 25 celsius, but the problem I have is when you heat the PG the density lowers a lot, I am experiencing goo staying still and do not go up or down when hot.

I have used about 70% PG and 30% RO water and 10ml of SLS on a 52oz lava lite from 1998, the model is 100 and has a starlit base.

Im running another test and this time I ad 20 ml of pure PG, to get higher density...lets wait and see.

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