If you’re like me, then you love lava lamps. They can truly be a great way to add retro flare to a desk, kitchen countertop, dresser, or just about any flat surface in need of a light source.
They’re also a lot more interesting to look at than a basic desk lamp.
Like all things, though, sometimes lava lamps stop working properly. Mine did years ago, and I remember trying to find a fix online with no luck.
Thankfully, you won’t have this issue because I’m here to help.
Is your lava lamp not working?
Whether the lava isn’t flowing properly, the water is cloudy, or it’s stopped moving entirely, this article will ensure you get the problem solved quickly, so you can get back to those groovy vibes.
Understanding How Lava Lamps Work
Lava lamps provide illumination while being a fun, decorative piece at the same time.
Before we dive into potential problems, I think it’s important to understand how these lamps work.
I’ll give you an overview below:
- While it’s unknown what the lava inside is made of, it’s typically a blend of oils and wax that don’t mix together.
- This combination is housed in a glass vessel with a halogen bulb placed beneath it to not only give it that distinctive glow, but to heat up the wax itself.
- Every lava lamp is meticulously designed to have a few inches of space at the top to allow gases to expand.
- Wax and liquids have different densities and are both completely insoluble with one another. Once the bulb is switched on, it creates liquid motion.
- When the wax absorbs the heat from the bulb it begins to expand slowly. The lava then becomes less dense and will slowly rise in the signature flowing motion lava lamps are known for.
- It takes about 40-50 minutes for the wax blobs to start forming eye-catching shapes.
- Once the wax has cooled down, it will return to the bottom of the lamp, forming a hole.
Lava lamp not working?
I’ll break down 4 common problems and provide some solutions to each one below:
Lava Lamp Not Working: What Could The Problem be?
1. Lava Lamp Won’t Flow
Is your lava lamp not bubbling? This is arguably the most common problem of all.
With that said, if the lava lamp won’t flow properly or lies flat, then you should try the following steps to fix it:
- Turn off your lamp for a few hours if the wax is shaped like a dome. This usually occurs when the lamp is overheated and needs a break from being on (don’t ever leave your lava lamp on for over 10 hours).
- The halogen bulb should be checked if the lava is melting but lies flat. The bulb might be dead and in need of a replacement. Additionally, inspect the metal coil that accelerates the melting process in the base to allow the coil to drop back into place.
- The lamp’s surroundings should be checked if none of the above work. 69-74 degrees is the ideal temperature for a lava lamp. It shouldn’t be placed on a computer tower, TV, near a radiator, or in direct sunlight.
If all else fails try this:
Leave your lava lamp on for at least 4 hours and then take the globe (the glass vessel that holds the lava) off its stand.
Use caution when doing this and wear gloves to protect your hands so you don’t burn yourself.
You can then place the globe on a flat surface and rotate it for a few minutes. This should break up the wax a bit.
Connect the globe back to its stand and allow it to heat up for another hour.
Is the lava lamp not moving still? Then you will likely need to have the liquid replaced. In this case, you would need to contact the manufacturer.
2. Lava Lamp Wax Stuck at Top
After the lava lamp has cooled down, the wax should all return to the bottom. If some gets left behind this typically means your liquid has separated.
This can be somewhat of a difficult problem to fix without ruining the entire lamp. I’ll give you a potential solution below, though:
- If your lava lamp is flowing properly, you can replace the halogen bulb with a higher wattage bulb. This should cause an increase in flow, forcing the wax to unite. If this doesn’t happen, you can swirl your lamp around to try and rejoin the waxes. Do this carefully and gently.
- If your lava lamp is not flowing, you can swirl the whole thing a few more times. Do this gently as well. You don’t want to mix the liquid and the lava.
- If the problem is the wax sticking to the glass vessel, you can use a hairdryer to try and melt it.
- One final solution, if all else fails, you can try something more intrusive. Pour about 90% of liquid into a clean vessel to allow the wax to heat up. Shake or swirl the lamp gently to mix everything up. You can then allow the lamp to cool down and refill it with liquid.
3. Cloudy Lava Lamp
Your lava lamp shouldn’t look cloudy, so if it is, and you thought this was weird, you were right!
The clarity of your lava lamp can be brought back though by following a few easy steps. I have 2 solutions for you:
Unplug your lamp and let it sit at room temperature for around 8 hours. This will allow the wax to settle.
You can then turn it back on, wait until the lava starts to soften, and then turn it back off once again.
Once the lava cools, turn on the lamp and allow it to run for about 8-10 hours.
If the above solution fails try this:
Unplug your lava lamp and let the whole thing cool for a few hours. Once it has you can unscrew the top cap and pour all the liquid out.
The solid wax ball at the bottom should be the only thing left behind. Pour distilled water into the vessel very carefully. Remember: the wax is fragile, so do NOT shake the lava lamp.
Now, pour the water out and repeat the same process a few more times. Once you’ve done this you can fill the globe up one last time with distilled water and leave a 2 inch gap at the top.
You shouldn’t put the cap on, at this point. Simply place the vessel on the base and run the whole thing for an hour.
While you’re waiting, heat up a glass of distilled water. Dissolve as much salt in it as you can.
Grab a pipette and dip it into the saline solution you’ve just created. You can then drop an inch of it into the lava lamp vessel once every 10 minutes. Allow it to diffuse on its own.
Once the lava has risen to the top of the bottle, you can stop this process.
Finally, you’ll add a pinch of dishwashing detergent (Dawn works well) and 2 drops of food coloring (use a color that matches the color of the lava). Put the cap back on tightly and wa-la!
No more murky, cloudy lava lamp!
4. Lava Lamp is Getting Too Hot
As I discussed earlier, you should NEVER leave your lava lamp on for over 10 hours.
Not only can this make it extremely hot and malfunction, but it could quickly turn into a fire hazard, especially if it’s placed near curtains, carpet, or any other flammable object/surface.
To avoid letting your lava lamp get too hot, you should be mindful of how long it’s in use for each time.
Sometimes we forget things, though, so you might want to consider starting a timer on your smartphone as soon as you turn the lava lamp on.
If you’re someone who wants a lava lamp at all times (guilty!) then buy a few of them and take turns using them.
Keep in mind, overuse isn’t the only reason a lava lamp will get too hot. The first problem on this list regarding the lava lamp not flowing or bubbling can also cause this issue.
“Lava lamp not working still…please help!” At this point, if this sounds like you, then you may need to think about replacing the lamp.
As much as it may sting (especially if you’ve owned your lamp for a while) you can find pretty inexpensive replacements online.
Who knows? You might even find one that suits your room or other decor items better!