Homemade Lava Lamps: Chemistry in action!

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Did you have a lava lamp growing up? As it turns out, it is easy and inexpensive to create your own lava lamp while learning a thing or two about chemistry.

Creating your own lava lamp is a great way to showcase the reaction between vinegar and baking soda to your child in a colorful way. Plus, given the nature of this experiment, the reaction continues for quite some time!

It’s easy to set up and there are tons of lessons you can teach your toddler with this experiment, including chemistry, how colors mix to create new colors, and challenging their fine motor skills.

How to make the Lava Lamp science experiment

Supplies you will need

For the Lava Lamp experiment, you’ll need:

  • A container (we used a tall mason jar)
  • Cooking oil
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Pipette
  • Food coloring

Before you start

Due to the reaction occurring in this experiment, do not use a lid on your container!


Here is how to do the Lava Lamp science experiment with your toddler:

Step 1: Add baking soda to the container

Small amount of baking soda in container to cover bottom

Add enough baking soda to cover the bottom of your container, plus a little extra.

Get your preschooler involved: Have your toddler add the baking soda to the container! I helped guide the baking soda to the container and then let her pour it. It’s great for helping your toddler follow directions!

Step 2: Add cooking oil to the container

Cooking oil on top of baking soda in container

Start pouring the cooking oil directly on top of the baking soda. Don’t worry – they won’t mix. Even if they mix at first, the baking soda will settle back to the bottom of your container.

Since the cooking oil is where you will see the action of this experiment – don’t skimp! I filled my container about 1/2 full with cooking oil, but that’s because we were running low. Ideally, I would have filled it about 2/3 full!

Get your preschooler involved: I also let my toddler pour in the cooking oil. Since the cooking oil bottle was pretty large and heavy, I helped her get the bottle up to the mason jar and helped her start pouring. From there, she poured the rest.

Step 3: Create your colored vinegar in a separate container

Adding blue food coloring to vinegar

I used a small ramekin for my colored vinegar. I filled it about halfway full, then added 3-4 drops of food coloring (you can add more if you want a deeper color). Then, use your pipette to give it a good swirl to mix it together.

Get your preschooler involved: Let your toddler add however many droplets of food coloring to your vinegar. Even better if you can mix colors to create new colors, then talk about it!

Step 4: Use a pipette to add colored vinegar to the container

Added colored vinegar to cooking oil/baking soda container

The reaction will be pretty slow at first because there is quite a bit of baking soda at the bottom of the mason jar and very little vinegar.

The more colored vinegar you add, the bigger the reaction!

Get your preschooler involved: Allow your toddler to do this step entirely on their own! It’s fantastic for fine motor skills and it lets them take charge of the reaction.

Try experimenting

We wanted to see what would happen if we added multiple colors to the experiment at once.

  • Would the colors mix into one color?
  • Would each individual color stay intact?

We found that each color stayed separate from the others, giving us a pretty neat-looking lava lamp! Be sure to hit play in the video below to watch the individual colors in the lava lamp.

Video of multiple colors (red, green, and purple) in lava lamp experiment

The science behind the Lava Lamp science experiment

The Lava Lamp experiment is excellent for learning about chemistry and seeing the reaction between an acid and a base!

How it works

The Lava Lamp experiment is another classic vinegar-baking soda experiment. The difference this time is that the reaction takes place in the cooking oil, creating colorful beads bouncing around.

As we add the colored vinegar to the container, it sinks to the bottom because vinegar is denser than oil.

Once it reaches the baking soda at the bottom of the container, it creates carbon dioxide bubbles mixed with vinegar, which float to the surface of the oil. When it reaches the surface, the bubble pops and colored vinegar sinks back down to cause another reaction. This is how you see dancing colored bubbles.

More chemistry experiments to try out with your child

FAQ about the Lava Lamp Science Experiment

How do you make the Lava Lamp experiment with Alka Seltzer?

Since Alka Seltzer provides carbon dioxide bubbles without the use of vinegar and baking soda, you will need fewer ingredients for the lava lamp experiment.

Simply fill the bottom of your container 1/3 of the way full with water, add the food coloring you desire, fill the rest of your container with oil, and add the Alka Seltzer.

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