Oh, the lava lamp! A nostalgic staple from the childhoods of many people, being launched and loved since the 1960s. Who didn’t have one of these in their room at some point? Unsurprisingly, they’re still very popular today.
A very common problem lava lamp owners are all too familiar with is the wax not melting properly and getting stuck at the top or bottom of the lamp.
Wax won’t move properly if there is an issue with the temperature in or around your lava lamp. These issues can typically be solved by increasing heat in a number of ways.
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How a Lava Lamp Works
Fun fact: the actual ingredients in a lava lamp are part of a proprietary mixture that’s pretty highly guarded. It is mostly paraffin wax and water though, with some added chemicals to prevent mold and fungus growth.
Lava lamps work because of something called the Archimedes’ Principle. Put simply, materials that are less dense than water will float, and more dense materials will sink. The bulb at the bottom of the lamp heats up the wax, constantly changing its density through agitation.
As it falls near the bottom of the lamp, it becomes warmer and expands. As it rises to the top, it cools off enough to contract. The result is the beautiful cycle of rising and falling bubbles we all know and love.
How to Fix Wax Stuck at the Top
The reason behind most lava lamp problems is temperature. Let it get too hot or too cold and your lamp won’t work right.
If it’s too cold in the room, it is going to cool the wax off faster than it should. This will cause a large amount of wax to just sit at the top of your lamp.
If you don’t want to adjust the temperature in your room, try moving your lamp near a window so it can get additional heat from the sun while it runs.
The same principle applies here. If the wattage on your bulb is too low or the bulb is starting to go out, it’s not going to heat the wax and the water up properly.
When my lava lamp wax was stuck at the top, changing the bulb to higher wattage solved the problem after a few hours.
One way to check if your bulb is the issue is to wrap the lava lamp in some foil and observe it over the next few hours. The foil will increase the heat inside the bulb and if after 2 or 3 hours you notice the wax moving freely, your issue is that you need a new bulb.
A word of warning on this: Do not leave your lamp unattended while trying this and continuously check the temperature. If it starts getting too hot, unplug your lamp and remove the foil immediately.
Sometimes, the wax just needs a little coaxing to get moving again. Run a hair dryer around the top of the lamp to try to quickly heat the wax up. You should notice a difference within 10-15 minutes.
Afterwards, give it a gentle swirl or tip it upside down and right side up in a very slow manner. Do not vigorously shake your lamp under any circumstances. You will end up emulsifying the less dense and more dense wax and will ruin your lamp for good.
Drain and Reheat
This method takes some finesse. Remove the top of your lava lamp and slowly pour out half of the liquid while keeping the wax inside the bottle.
Return your lamp to the base and slowly heat it back up again. With less water in between the wax and the heat source, it should heat up easier and begin to reconstitute back into the less dense wax.
After a few hours, add in half the liquid and allow that to come up to temperature as well. Add the remainder of your liquid once you feel your lamp is working how it should.
Patience is Key
Lava lamps normally take between 1-2 hours to fully heat up from a cold start and the state of the wax will change as time goes on. After about 10 hours, they should be shut off so that the wax does not get overheated.
Don’t leave your lamp on endlessly hoping it will eventually return to normal. None of the above methods is a “quick” fix by any means,, so be sure to have patience when trying to get your wax moving again.
Treat your lava lamp gently when trying to get the wax moving again. Oftentimes the fix is as simple as moving it towards your window!
Second-hand lamps and lamps that are years old typically act up near the end of their lifespan, so if that’s the case, you may simply need to buy a replacement. Don’t worry, they are very affordable.