Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for Best lava lamps

These days, everything old seems to be new again – which may be why liquid motion lamps, more commonly known as lava lamps, are once again a trendy décor item. Motion lamps became popular in the 60s and 70s. While they fell out of style for a while, they’re back again, and you don’t have to be a retro queen or vintage junkie to enjoy a motion lamp. These liquid-filled lamps don’t really provide light, but they can be a fun accessory for a bedroom, dorm room, or any space that needs a little livening up.

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The liquid lamp was invented in 1963 by Edward Craven-Walker, a British engineer.

Anatomy of a Lava Lamp

A liquid motion lamp features a clear glass vessel containing translucent liquid. This liquid usually consists of water and mineral oil. Colored “blobs” made from a wax mixture are dropped into the liquid, and the vessel is placed on top of a base that holds an incandescent or halogen bulb.

When the light is turned on, the liquid and wax are heated. This causes the wax to expand more than the liquid. The wax then floats in the mixture, moving around the vessel to create an interesting display.

The bulbs in most motion lamps are usually 15 to 40 watts, so it can take up to an hour for the wax to heat enough to generate the trademark motion that makes motion lamps so interesting.

Despite the name, liquid motion lamps aren’t really intended for use as a light source. They do contain a light bulb, but it’s used mainly to heat the liquid and wax components inside the lamp to create the distinctive motion. Motion lamps don’t provide much in the way of illumination, so they aren’t suitable as task lighting. So why would you want one?

A liquid motion lamp can help create a calming atmosphere in a room. It can also serve as a unique decoration or conversation piece. Regardless of your reason for wanting a motion lamp, however, there are a few things to consider before you buy one.

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Did you know?
The moving “lava” in a liquid motion lamp is usually composed of a wax mixture that floats in a translucent liquid.

What to consider when choosing a Lava Lamp


The best-known manufacturer of liquid motion lamps is the LAVA company, which actually holds the trademark for the term “lava lamp.” However, there are a variety of other brands that produce motion lamps similar in appearance and function to the classic LAVA lamp.

If it’s important to you to own an authentic lava lamp, you should opt for a model from the LAVA brand.

Otherwise, there isn’t much difference among the various manufacturers.

"Avoid placing a motion lamp in a room with extreme temperatures. If the room temperature is very hot or very cold, it can affect how well the lamp performs."


All liquid motion lamps are small enough to sit on a table top, but they range in size from 11.5 inches to 27 inches.

  • If you want a liquid motion lamp you can use as a nightlight, consider a smaller model that is 11.5 to 14.5 inches in height. These smaller models work well as accent lamps or nightlights.

  • If you want a slightly larger accent piece, consider a lamp that is 16 to 17 inches tall.

  • A liquid motion lamp that stands greater than two feet tall is a large lamp, indeed. If you’re looking for something that could serve as the focal point of a room, consider a lamp of this size.

"Never move or shake a liquid motion lamp when it’s warm. The movement could cause the wax to separate or make the liquid cloudy."


The classic lava lamp is cone-shaped, but you can find variations on this. For example, there are bullet-shaped lamps, cylindrical lamps, rectangular lamps, and globe-shaped liquid motion lamps.

Base and caps

The vessel that contains the liquid/wax mixture sits atop a base that houses the lamp bulb. There’s usually a matching cap on top of the vessel as well. Some lamps feature plastic bases and caps that range in color from basic black to hot pink. Others have aluminum bases and caps that are typically silver in color.

If you prefer a lamp that stands out even more, look for a base/cap combination that features a wild pattern or design, such as lively rainbow stripes or fun firework bursts.

"There are liquid motion lamps that feature a chalkboard base. You can draw and write messages on the base with chalk."


The liquid in a motion lamp is translucent, so the wax mixture is visible as it floats through the vessel. But you have a pretty wide range of liquid color options, including clear, pink, blue, purple, red, and green. Some motion lamps feature multiple liquid colors to create a rainbow effect.

In addition to the liquid color, there are a variety of wax shades to choose from as well. Some lamps feature a single wax shade, while others offer multiple colors for a more interesting look.

There are even lamps that change colors via colored lenses in front of the lamp’s bulb – a true rainbow effect.

"Because of the soft glow that it provides, a liquid motion lamp makes an ideal nightlight."


A basic liquid motion lamp is pretty cool just as it is, but you can find models that have extra features that up the unique factor even more.

  • If you like sparkles, consider a lamp with glitter in the liquid, wax, or both. It’s a particularly eye-catching option because the lamp’s light reflects off of the glitter.

  • If you want a multipurpose lamp, choose one that features a Bluetooth speaker. You can listen to music streamed from your smartphone, tablet, or other device while you bask in your lamp’s display.

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Did you know?
A fluid motion lamp’s attractive colors, soft light, and relaxing movement can help create a soothing ambiance in any room.

Lava Lamp prices

Liquid motion lamps vary in price based on how large they are and what features they include, but you can typically expect to spend between $10 and $100 on one.

  • For a small motion lamp with no extra features, you’ll usually pay between $10 and $20. Many of these lamps are under 12 inches tall and may have a rather plain base/cap combination finish.

  • For a medium-size lamp with a few extra features, you’ll usually pay between $20 and $60. These lamps tend to be 14 inches tall or less. Many of them have fun base/cap designs or other eye-pleasing features, such as glitter.

  • For a large motion lamp with several extra features, you’ll usually pay between $60 and $100. You may find some lamps that stand close to two feet tall in this price range.


  • The first time that you use a liquid motion lamp, allow it to run for several hours to ensure that the wax is fully warmed and not simply flowing in straight, pillar-like shapes.

  • The more you use a motion lamp, the shorter the warm-up time will be, so it’s a good idea to turn it on daily when you first buy it.

  • Don’t run your lamp for more than 10 hours at a time. It may become overheated, which could halt the free flow of the wax.

  • A liquid motion lamp can get fairly warm when it’s turned on, so avoid touching the vessel and base.

  • Avoid placing your lamp in an area with direct sunlight. The sun could cause its colors to fade.

  • Keep flammable materials, including fabrics and paper, away from the lamp when it’s in operation.

  • You shouldn’t leave a liquid motion lamp unattended when it’s turned on. The exterior can get very warm, so it’s considered a fire hazard.

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The LAVA brand originally called their liquid motion lamp the “Astro” lamp. Its named was changed in 1965.


Q. How much light does a liquid motion lamp provide?

A. In general, motion lamps don’t provide much light. Most are fairly small in size and use low-wattage bulbs, so you can’t count on them to provide enough light to read or work by. However, they provide an attractive glow that can add ambiance to any room.

Q. Are lava lamps safe?

A. If a liquid motion lamp is used properly, it is very safe to use. The lamp can get hot during use, though, so it shouldn’t be handled when it’s illuminated. In addition, if you expose the lamp to extreme heat, it could explode, so keep it away from the stove, heaters, open flames, and any other heat sources.

Q. What type of bulb should be used in a liquid motion lamp?

A. Most liquid motion lamps use light bulbs between 15 and 40 watts, so appliance bulbs work well. However, some larger models may require bulbs of 60 to 100 watts. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions to determine what type of bulb is appropriate for your lamp, and never use a light bulb with a higher wattage than recommended.

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