Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

Since I am new here, I'll first introduce myself a bit.  I've been fascinated by Lava Lamps since I was a little kid.  I can remember when my older sister had moved into her first apartment we all went to visit her.  As we left, everyone was out front of the building yakking away, it was about dusk.  I noticed a Lava Lamp on the window sill of a garden level apartment so I wandered over to watch it, messmerized.  After about 10 minutes I guess the resident wanted a little more privacy and came to the window and drew the curtains shut!  I'm not a peeping Tom, just a kid fascinated by the goo!


I must have been successful expressing to my parents how bad I wanted a Lava Lite because I got one on my 14th birthday and I've had it ever since.  I wish I'd kept the box!  I do still have the warranty card and instruction sheet around somewhere...  Anyway, it was a gold Centry, it is dated May 1975 and originally had yellow fluid and red goo.  I used it a LOT when I was a kid.  That may be why it has a few issues now.  It still functions and does okay, at least as well as it ever has, but it has a few issues I hope I can correct given all the data I've found and read on this site.  Anyway, I'll list out the issues I want to address and hopefully I can get some good advice on how to bring it back to like new condition.


1.  The cap is cracked.  I posted a note in the Buy/Sell/Trade section, hopefully one will turn up. 

2.  The fluid now appears clear, not yellow.  It never sat in a window, heck for the past roughly 20 years it sat in a closet away from all light.  How can I recolor the fluid back to its original yellow?  I read that McKormick's food coloring can be used.  Is this correct?  Perhpas just add a drop or two at a time until the proper color is acheived?  Any dangers in doing this?  Any idea why it faded?  It was certainly yellow when it went into the closet.

3.  The fluid, while not exactly cloudy, does have a fair amount of visible particulate in it.  Is there any way I can safely filter this out without damaging the fluid and perhaps without going so far as the ceramic filter method I read about?

4.  The flow isn't the greatest.  Good sized chunks of wax get stuck at the top while on.  Much of it eventually falls, but often it has a writhing column of goo from top to bottom instead of nice floating blobs and terminated fingers of goo. 

5.  The wax appears chunky.  The method for addressing this strikes me as rather drastic (boiling) and I'd be concerned about doing harm to the wax or fluid but I do want to take some action.  This probably came about by overuse when I was a kid (I often left it running for days at a time) and/or having sat neglected for so long although I remember it being chunky also many years ago.


Even with a cracked cap, the lamp has not lost much fluid, maybe 1/8" or 1/4" from back in the day.  I've read I can top this off with distilled water.  I see no harm in trying this.  Mechanically the lamp is in great shape.  I just installed a new bulb and it warms up in less than two hours and seems to work as well as it ever did, I just know it could work better.


I recently bought a new LL at Menards for $7.50!  I wanted to remind myself how one SHOULD work.  It is a 14.5" tall (32 ounce?) unit with purple fluid and yellow wax.  I love how the goo looks yellow/orange/red depending on how the light catches it and how far up the globe it goes.  I've heard the current (made in China) lamps often don't work that well, but this one works great.  Who would have thought you could find a bargain on Lava Lamps at Menards of all places!


Anyway, thanks in advance for any and all help that may be provided.


I'll try to post up some photos at a later date.

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But surf isn't what is used to adjust specific gravity. It may affect it in one direction or the other, but the idea is to either add distilled water or PG to adjust the gravity in one direction or the other.  I guess you could put a hydrometer in pure distilled water, then add surf and see which way the measurement goes.  Not sure what that specifically would tell you.  The specific gravity is what determines the buoyancy of the wax, not the tendency to blob or remain stringy (blob and stringy are scientific terms you know).  To really make this all scientific you'd also need to know the factors involving the wax too.  I read in a history or Mathmos or Lava that when done right, they match the make up of the liquid to the make up of the wax in each batch to achieve the best results and thus no two batches are entirely the same.  They are shooting with pinpoint accuracy, we are shooting somewhat blindly.

Let's remove the term "surf"....my bad... The only chemicals I will use is

DI and PG.  I saw the term "surf" used in reference, but I didn't realize

they had different functions.  Also, I'm working with original fluid/wax no


As you mentioned, we don't know what the target is, but the only variables

we have to work with are;

run time/heat

wax (unknown)

specific gravity of the liquid. 

We know we have to balance the specific gravity

of the two masses but how do we solve for "X"

"X"= The tendency to blob or remain stringy.

This is what challenges me.

From what I've been told, blobbiness vs. stringiness is more a function of surf content than of the specific gravity balance between the fluid and the wax.

But I am far, far, far from being an expert on this stuff.  I DO however want to learn and know more about this stuff whether I ever actually use it or not.  It is never enough for me to know something is cool, I have to know how it works.  I spent hours in a neon shop talking with the craftsman that make the tubes when I first got hooked on neon.  I read quite a few books on it too.  Sadly, there are no books on lava lamps.  At least none I know of.

So "X" = Function of Surface Coefficient.

This would be a third chemical to the mix, not DI or PG ?

What would it be ?  Hey, I'm new to this as well, trying

to figure it out...

As far as neon goes, it's just an evacuated tube of glass, filled

with noble gasses and excited with HV.  I do love it !!!!!


Propylene glycol is a surfactant.  It may need to be enhanced with a lesser amount of additional surfactant to get the flow you desire.

I found a lot of good archived data on the old OG site.  Here is a sample that seems pertinent to where this discussion was going.  Very detailed and very interesting, not sure what I'll do with this data and knowledge yet though!


Chunks are showing up again in the wax in earnest.  Dammit.  Why must this old bitch keep fighting me?  ;)

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