Shaken or Knocked over Lava Lamp
Repair by Cycling
Repair by Filtering
A cloudy lava lamp is probably the most common problem a lava lamp owner can encounter. Lava lamps cloud for a variety of reasons, but the core concepts are all the same. Emulsions are forming in the master fluid. This happens when the master fluid and the wax are mixed together and particles become suspended in the master fluid. Usually the particles are chemicals being released by the wax, but sometimes it is a mixture being formed from different ingredients reacting due to age or storage conditions of the lamp. A lava lamp shaken up from shipping or being knocked over is a lot more likely to be fixed than one left in a garage for 30 years that has undergone a chemical breakdown due to storage conditions. This article will discuss the first two scenarios because I have not found a way to save lamps in the third scenario.
Shaken or Knocked Over Lava Lamp
Firstly it needs to be said if you bought a new Lava brand lava lamp from a company like Spencer’s, Walmart, Amazon, or even Lava itself if it shows up cloudy you deserve a replacement or a refund. These were shaken during shipment and should be considered defective. Despite what some resellers will tell you this is not acceptable and you should not be required to try to fix it on your own. Modern lamps seldom clear on their own back to their factory state. Spencer’s even put this in their FAQ and it is wrong.
The truth is Lava branded lava lamps have had issues with clouding the past 20+ years ever since they moved manufacturing over to China. It is their responsibility to make a product that can survive shipping to their customers.
If you just knocked over your lamp the best thing you can do at this point is to turn it off and leave it alone. Depending on how bad it is shaken up you may have to go to more advanced fixes. You should leave it alone for at least 24 hours. Once the 24 hours has passed look at it and evaluate its condition. Is there still a lot of stuff floating around in it? If yes leave it for longer. If it just looks slightly cloudy run it and see how it flows. If it is still cloudy after several runs it may require filtering to fix.
If it looks like this it is probably done for and will never look the same as it used to.
Repair by Cycling
Most American made Lava Lamps can be fixed by simply running the lamp. The lamp can be put on a timer to run the lamp for you. Set the timer to run the lamp for 6 hours on (or as long as it can be run without overheating), and 6 hours off. Run this cycle until the cloudiness goes away. You should notice a ring of white residue start to gather around the side of wax at the bottom of the lamp while it is running. This residue should go away when the lamp cools off. This residue is what is clouding the lamp.
The lamp pictured to the right will clear up after being ran enough times.
If the cloudiness does not go away after a month, then there might be a more severe problem with the lamp. Some will clear up better if you let them sit in a cold place for a while. It depends on the reason the lamp is cloudy and the age of the lamp. If you are the owner of a second hand lamp it’s hard to determine what the best course of action is.
If the lamp is a Chinese made lamp it may never clear up. The same methods can be tried as if it were an American made lamp but your results may not be as good.
Another way to clear up a lamp is to simply let it sit. This can take several months to years. Lamps that have shown no indication of clearing up will sometimes clear if left alone. However usually what happens is white powder settles at the bottom and will cloud up the lamp again once the lamp starts flowing and the powder gets mixed up again.
If after a few dozen runs you see no improvement you will want to look in to filtering. It may be the only way to fully restore the clarity of the fluid.
Choosing the Right Filter
Before any filtering advice is given something needs to be cleared up. In the past MSR miniworks ceramic filters were often recommended by community members including myself. These filters have been discovered to cause damage to the surfactants in some lamps depending on what formula they use. Additionally they will damage all lamps if they are repeatedly filtered. This damage is caused by the inner carbon filter present in all MSR miniworks ceramic filters.
You also cannot use filter papers including coffee filters or typical water filters such as the ones offered by Brita. Not only do they not filter to the same extent as a hollow tube membrane or ceramic filter, but the Brita filters contain carbon which will damage the surfactants.
Filters used for removing are particles the size of bacteria are required because they are able to strain out the very small particles that cause clouding in your lava lamp. These particles are very small which means typical filters are not sufficient.
What you want to use is a Sawyer hollow fiber membrane filter. These use a different technology with hollow fibers and most importantly no carbon and do not damage the surfactants in the master fluid.
Opening one of these filters shows that they are indeed just hollow fibers and nothing else.
Let the lamp cool until it reaches room temperature before filtering. Putting the globe in the refrigerator helps because it solidifies the wax more and reduces the chances of clouding post filtering.
Have a clean spare container ready to hold all fluid from the lamp. The Sawyer filter can attach to any standard disposable plastic bottle you typically drink out. Just be sure to clean it thoroughly with rubbing alcohol first because you don’t want to transfer bacteria into your lamp or cause mold to grow inside it. Additionally you will want to make sure everything you work with is clean and has not been sitting stagnant with water inside it. If there is white sediment under the wax try to stir it up to suspend it in the master fluid. The idea is to make sure all of the sediment is removed. Remove the cap on the lamp and slowly pour the fluid into your container. A guide for removing and replacing the lava lamp cap can be found here.
Once the fluid has been removed from the lamp fill it back up with water and gently swirl it around in the lamp and then pour it out. This picks up any remaining sediment that may be stuck to the wax. This may need to be done several times. Continue doing so until the water stays clear.
Attach the filter to the bottle and put the tip of the filter inside the opening of the lava lamp. Squeeze it until all is ran through the filter. You may have to pause for a while if too many bubbles form. The key is to get reclaim of as much fluid as possible. You will likely lose a little fluid in the process which can usually be topped up with distilled water.
Pretend this woman’s head is a lava lamp and you will get the idea.
There are other methods that work better for larger filtering jobs. For example a primer bulb can be used in place of a bottle where you can pump the bulb to move the fluid.
If you want to commit to going all in you can use flasks with a vacuum take-off adapter and a vacuum pump to filter large batches.
After the bubbles settle down run the lamp for a full cycle. If the lamp is low on fluid you can refill up to 1/2″ with distilled water. If you have fluid from another lamp of the same make (Ex: USA to USA, China to China) you can use much more to top the lamp. Filtering should not remove more then 1/2″ of fluid so if your missing more fluid it is probably still in your filter. Keep in mind if using distilled water you may be altering the density of your lamp which will change the way it flows. Once you are sure your lamp is flowing properly and has the correct fluid level you can reseal the lamp. You do not need to reseal the lamp when it is hot. This is another wide spread incorrect practice. Doing so increases the chance that you will be unable to identify a poorly sealed lamp.
The lamp below was filtered with a hollow fiber membrane filter. After several runs it still does not exhibit any signs of damage.
This lamp was so cloudy the wax couldn’t even be seen. The Sawyer filter was used on this lamp.
This lamp was filtered with an MSR Miniworks filter. It worked, but that is not always the case.