Make a Salt Volcano (Lava Lite)

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This activity about density provides instructions for making a miniature "lava lite" with just salt, oil, water, and food coloring. This crowd-pleasing experiment is a hands-on and colorful way to explore how substances less dense than water (like oil) will float in water, while substances more dense than water (like salt) will sink. The activity can be a demonstration, with the instructor creating one lava lite, or it can be a hands-on activity, with each learner making her or his own lite.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 8

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per student)

  • A glass jar or clear drinking glass
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • a few shakes of salt
  • water (enough for 3 inches of water)
  • food coloring (optional)


  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Muller, Eric


  • All rights reserved, The Exploratorium, 1998