Lava lamp oozes fun for whole family

Jessica Young

Winter blahs got the kids feeling down? Is the family moping around the house, restless and bored? You don’t have to let the inclement weather sabotage playtime any longer. Here are a few activities that can help chase away the cabin fever.

Challenge: To amuse bored siblings sans Nintendo Wii.

Project concept: Lava lamp


- 1/2-liter clear plastic water bottle with cap: Even a 1- or 2-liter bottle will do. Just pay mind and adapt the remainder of the recipe amounts if you choose a larger or smaller container. Find one at the grocery store for 89 cents.

- 12 oz. corn oil: A 24-fl. oz. bottle of Safeway is $2.15.

- 5 drops of food coloring: Grab a box of McCormick assorted food color off of the shelf for $3.28.

- 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets: You’re going to want extra for extended fun time. A 20-count box is $3.99.

- 4 oz. water

- Measuring cup

- Cup or glass

- Funnel

Prices are based on purchases made with a Dominick’s Fresh Values savings card.


Empty the bottle and strip off any labeling, using Goo Gone to rid the exterior of any peeling paper or plastic and glue gunk. Make space on the kitchen table and lay down some newspaper or paper towels for easy cleanup. Have the materials ready to go.

Now, it’s game time.

Optional: To make the project educational, consider doing some research on the science angle. Google and discuss solutions, one substance dissolved homogeneously in another, versus emulsions, or the suspension of one liquid in another liquid.

Step 1: Using the measuring cup, pour out the necessary water and oil amounts. If you only have one measuring cup, measure out the water first and transfer it to the cup or glass before using it again to portion out the oil.

Step 2: With the funnel, fill the bottle about 3/4 full with the oil. Add water to the bottle until it’s nearly brimming to the top, leaving just a little space for when you add food coloring and the tablets.

Step 3: Choose your favorite color. Steer clear of yellow, which won’t show up as well against the hue of the corn oil. Aim for a darker color like red or blue. Then add the five drops.

Step 4: Put the cap on tight and turn the bottle on its side or upside down. Observe what happens to the oil and water as they move around in the bottle. Then let the bottle sit still for 3 to 5 minutes.

Step 5: Break an Alka-Seltzer tablet in half. Remove the cap and drop the tablet into the bottle. Replace the cap and observe what happens. Colored bubbles should rise up through the corn oil layer, creating a lava-lamp-like effect. You can turn the bottle upside down to shake things up. Keep tossing tablet pieces in to recreate the burst of bubbles.

Reflection: “I really liked how the bottle looked when we were done putting all that stuff in it,” Alex said.

Project instructions courtesy of Christine Barry, school program manager at the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, Ill.