Are Lava Lamps Eco-Friendly? 11 Important Things You Should Know

Savanna Stanfield

Whether you consider them cool or kitschy, lava lamps have been a staple in many people’s homes ever since they were invented in 1963.

No matter how you feel about them, it is really cool to watch how the “lava” flows and bubbles inside of them.

But the thing is that in order for the lava to continue to flow like that, the lamp has to be plugged in all the time.

This raises concerns about how much energy is being used and how eco-friendly the lamps are because of it.

As interesting as they are, lava lamps are not eco-friendly not only because of the energy they consume but also because of what the lava itself is made of.

In this article, we’ll explore what exactly lava lamps are made of and filled with, how much energy they are potentially using, and other aspects of them in order to understand why they are not eco-friendly.

1. What Are Lava Lamps Made Of? 

Besides the lava itself, the outside casing and housing of the lamp are made out of materials that are fairly eco-friendly.

The bottle that contains the liquid and lava is made out of glass, while the housing for the lightbulb and the top part that conceals the bottle cap is usually made out of aluminum.

But what is the lava itself made of? This has been a mystery in itself for a long time as people have tried to figure out exactly how the lava lamp works.

The exact composition of what’s inside the glass bottle is still a proprietary secret for the most part. But, the lava itself is made mainly from paraffin wax with chemicals added to it that increases its density.

The liquid that the lava is contained in is usually either water or mineral oil, and then of course there are dyes and other elements such as glitter that are added as well to make everything look cooler.

Since paraffin wax does not mix with water or mineral oil due to differences in composition and density, it allows the wax to rise, fall, and float when heat is added.

The heat from the light bulb causes the wax to expand, which causes a change in the volume and density of the wax and allows the lava to move around inside the liquid.

2. How Much Energy Do Lava Lamps Consume?

The thing about lava lamps is that they rely on a constant source of heat in order for the lava to continue to move around.

You already know that the heat comes from the lightbulb and that the lamp has to be plugged in constantly in order for the lightbulb to stay lit. 

But as you can imagine, quite a lot of energy is being consumed if the lamp is plugged in all the time.

Lava lamps run off of either a 15, 25, 40, or 100-watt lightbulb depending on the size of the lamp. The wattage of a lightbulb indicates how much energy is consumed. 

But if you wanted to know how much energy is being consumed over a period of time, you would need to convert that wattage into kilowatt-hours.

There is a calculation that allows you to do this by multiplying the wattage of the bulb by the number of hours and days that the light is being used.

So let’s say that your lava lamp has a 40-watt bulb and it stays on 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. 1,000 watts equals 1 kilowatt.

If you multiply 40 watts x 24 h x 365 d, your lava lamp is using approximately 350,000 watts of energy, or 350 kilowatts per year.

A 100-watt lava lamp would use 876 kilowatts of energy per year if you had it turned on all day, every day.

It’s hard to estimate the total percentage of household energy consumption that lava lamps use because it varies on a household basis. 

However, assuming that your lava lamp is plugged in all the time, turning it off for just a few days per month can save a small percentage of energy use.

3. Do Lava Lamps Work With Energy-Efficient LEDs?

Using energy-efficient LEDs is one of the easiest ways to reduce energy consumption in lighting, and it is estimated that LEDs use up to 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer.

One of the ways they save energy is that they don’t get as hot as incandescent bulbs.

But their high energy efficiency also means that LEDs can’t be used with lava lamps since they don’t produce as much heat.

Using an LED bulb in your lava lamp will still produce enough light to light up the lamp.

However, it won’t produce enough light to melt the wax inside the lamp so that it moves around.

With that being said, the best way to reduce energy consumption from a lava lamp is to not leave it turned on all the time.

4. Are Lava Lamps Bad for the Environment?

Lava lamps can be considered bad for the environment for two reasons. The first reason is due to how much energy they consume and the fact that they don’t work with LED bulbs.

However, you can still reduce the amount of energy that is consumed with incandescent bulbs by unplugging them and not leaving them on all the time.

The second reason that lava lamps are bad for the environment doesn’t have anything to do with energy consumption. It’s actually because of what the lava itself is made of.

Remember that the lava is made mostly out of paraffin wax. Paraffin wax is a by-product of refining crude oil.

Crude oil is not an eco-friendly raw material because it is a non-renewable resource that is used to make plastic in addition to getting paraffin wax from it.

Plus, collecting the crude oil can create pollution and habitat loss, not to mention the pollution that is created by refining it.

Even though the other materials that are used to make lava lamps – glass and aluminum – are more eco-friendly, containing paraffin wax makes lava lamps less eco-friendly.

5. Are Lava Lamps Toxic?

Lava lamps are not toxic as long as they are used as intended. Paraffin wax and mineral oil are non-toxic as long as they aren’t ingested.

With that being said, if for some reason you were to ingest the contents of a lava lamp, it’s highly likely that you will get very sick.

You’re more likely to be harmed by a lava lamp as a result of the heat that is produced.

Lava lamps can cause burns if you touch them while they are hot, and they can also pose a fire hazard if they are set near something flammable or on a flammable surface.

6. Are Lava Lamps Sustainable?

Lava lamps are not sustainable as long as they contain paraffin wax in them. Remember that paraffin wax comes from crude oil, which is a non-renewable resource.

Considering that crude oil is used for a lot of other things besides creating paraffin wax, it will eventually run out.

Plus, lava lamps don’t work with LED bulbs. So if for some reason LEDs became the only lightbulbs to be produced, lava lamps would not work with them.

The only way to make lava lamps truly sustainable would be to find a way to make them work with LED bulbs and find a more eco-friendly material that works the same way paraffin wax does inside the lamp.

7. Are Lava Lamps Biodegradable?

Lava lamps are not biodegradable. Remember that the main materials used to make them are glass, aluminum, and paraffin wax.

Glass and aluminum are not considered to be biodegradable materials because they do not break down and decompose quickly in the environment.

Paraffin wax is not biodegradable either. Although it may break down some in the environment, it has the potential to release harmful chemicals into the environment.

8. Do Lava Lamps Contain Plastic?

The best answer to this question is that it just depends on the type of lava lamp you have. 

The traditional lava lamps were made out of a glass bottle.

However, there are newer versions of lava lamps in which the bottle is made out of high-quality plastic or resin instead of glass. 

In some cases, the base of some lava lamps may be made out of a heat-resistant plastic as well instead of being made out of aluminum.

Lava lamps that contain or are made out of plastic are less eco-friendly than lava lamps made out of glass and aluminum since plastic comes from crude oil.

9. Are Lava Lamps Recyclable?

Lava lamps as a whole are not recyclable. However, there are certain parts of the lamp that can be recycled especially if the lamp no longer works.

Any plastic or glass bottle can be recycled provided that it is empty and cleaned out and that your local recycling center accepts these materials.

They can’t be recycled with the liquid and wax in them as they can tear up the recycling machines.

The aluminum base cannot be recycled as it contains electronic parts, but the aluminum cap at the top of the lamp can often be recycled with other metal depending on what your recycling center accepts.

10. How to Dispose of Lava Lamps Properly

If the lava lamp still works, the best way to dispose of it is to donate to a secondhand store if you no longer want it.

If the lamp doesn’t work but you want to keep it, see if the bulb just needs replacing.

If it doesn’t work and you can’t fix or don’t want to keep it, empty and clean out the bottle and recycle it if you have a recycling facility in your area.

Just don’t pour the contents of the bottle down the sink since it contains wax and mineral oil.

Instead, pour them into a separate, sealable container and throw the container away.

The base containing the electronic parts will need to be thrown away as well or you can take them to a facility that specializes in electronic waste.

11. Are There Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Lava Lamps?

Despite not being eco-friendly because of what they’re made of and the amount of energy they use, lava lamps are still pretty cool.

However, there are alternatives to lava lamps that run off of LED bulbs and are just as cool as lava lamps.

These lamps may still be made out of materials that aren’t the most eco-friendly – for example, plastic and resin – but they can consume a little bit less energy.

There are all kinds of lamps that run off of LED bulbs. 

Jellyfish lamps look similar to lava lamps but have fake jellyfish inside of them. Or, there are color-changing lamps that look like the moon.

If you’re just using a lava lamp as a nightlight, there are plenty of cool nightlights that run off of LED bulbs as well. 

And even if the lamps themselves aren’t made out of the most eco-friendly materials, LED bulbs can last a very long time and can be replaced when they do go out.

That way, you can get a lot of use out of your lamp.

Conclusion

Not much about the design of lava lamps has changed since they were first invented over 50 years ago.

Unfortunately, they are not the most eco-friendly since they contain paraffin wax and aren’t energy-efficient either.

However, making them more eco-friendly with the use of different filler materials or energy-efficient bulbs could interfere with the function of them.

Until it’s possible for lava lamps to be more eco-friendly but still function the same way, you can help a little by not having them turned on all the time which will conserve energy.

Or, you can switch to a different type of lighting altogether that runs off of longer-lasting, energy-efficient LED bulbs.

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