Introduction: How to Make a Vortex in a Bottle

Picture of How to Make a Vortex in a Bottle

We have had one of these around the house for years.  Our grandchildren, of all ages, love to watch the water swirl from the top bottle to the bottom bottle.  Our 2 ½ year old grandson would bring it to one of us, to have us swirl it, over and over again.  The first time I saw this principle used in life was when a Marine swirled a bottle of wine into a punch bowl, at a military wedding. It was way cool then, just as cool now.  Here is How to Make a Vortex in a Bottle.

Step 1:

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2 straight walled, 2 liter bottles with caps
5 minute epoxy (about $4.00 at craft stores)
Electrical tape
Small paper cup
½ drill bit
Large nail
Sand paper, medium grit
Food coloring  (your choice of color)

Step 2:

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Here is the safety precaution:  Be careful when using the drill, the epoxy and the lit candle.  If you are a Kid under age 18, have an adult help you with this project.  If you are an adult, use common sense when making this project. 

Clean the labels off the 2 liter bottles.  Leave the white plastic ring on the bottle. It will help hold the caps in place when you are ready to make a vortex.

Step 3:

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Use the sand paper to smooth down the tops of the two caps.  These caps are not level so try to make them as level as possible.  They do not need to be perfect. The sanding isn’t so much as to make the tops smooth, but to rough up the tops so that the epoxy will stick to them.

Step 4:

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There are two ways to make the hole between the caps.

1.  Using the drill, drill a hole in each cap.  Match the holes up and then mix the epoxy in the small paper cup, with the toothpick.  

Step 5:

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Use the toothpick to spread the glue, gluing the two caps flat sides together, with the holes aligned , cover all around exposed areas with epoxy. Put it on the inside of the hole and around the outside of the caps.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth or even.  When hardened, stretch the electrical tape around and around the cap to hold it tight and keep it sealed.

Step 6:

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2.  Mix the epoxy in the small paper cup, with the toothpick.  Use the toothpick to spread the glue, gluing the two caps flat sides together, and cover all the exposed areas, including the outside of the caps.  Let harden.  When hardened, stretch the electrical tape around and around the cap to hold it tight and keep it sealed.   Light the candle and use the pliers to hold the large nail.  Stick the pointed end of the nail in the flame until red hot, and use the hot end to melt a hole through the two caps.  Reheat the nail as often as needed to make a nice sized hole between through the two caps.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth or even.

Let the cap sit for 12 hours to cure.

Step 7:

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Fill one of the bottles over ½ full of water.  Put food coloring into the water.  The vortex will be easier to see when the water is colored.

Step 8:

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Screw the cap on to the bottle with water in it.

Step 9:

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Turn the empty bottle upside down and screw it into the top of the cap.

Step 10:

Now you are ready to create a vortex-in-a-bottle.  Turn the bottles upside down with the water filled bottle on top, give it a good swirl, and make sure it is stable on the bottom bottle.  Enjoy your vortex.

Step 11:

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Some suggestions have been made to add glitter to the water, or use oil and water instead of plain colored water.  Experiment on your own, and have FUN!


ramicaza (author)2011-12-04

I'm sorry if this insults anybody but how did this get featured?

craftknowitall (author)ramicaza2011-12-04

I really have no idea. No insult taken. Appearantly, an editor saw this instructable and chose to feature it. Thanks for looking.

Lt.Greg (author)craftknowitall2011-12-08

Well, I i kind of went - "Huh?" myself. Seems rather obvious for a feature piece. Then again is IS pretty cool, and anything that gets new people interested in science is definitely worthwhile!

Side note - I used to work in a HS science lab, and used distilled water to prep most of the chemistry. Flipping a 5 gallon water jug's spout into the 20 gallon large bottle - the water would take a while to flow from the 5 on top down into the 20 below. Glub --- glub --- g l u b -- g l u b .....

To speed up the transfer process, I used to give the full 5 gallon on top a quick swirl, which set up a vortex and allowed the entrained air in the lower jug to move up through the restriction while the water in the top jug flowed down and filled the main one. Every so often the kids would glance into my prep lab and see the tornado, and their eyes would go wide.

imcp1024 (author)Lt.Greg2016-05-08

Tilting the bottle to let air pass at same time takes far less effort.

craftknowitall (author)Lt.Greg2011-12-08

Like I said, no offense taken. I know the reaction I get from it from my grown children and grandchildren. I am still not sure what I did right to get it noticed. Thanks for looking.

vincent7520 (author)2011-12-08

then are we north or south of the equator ?…

when I went to Brasil I was dumb enough not to have checked which side water turned when emptying from a tub in Europe, so when I got there I never really found out !!!…

childish, isn't it ?… (I'm 63 !!!!…)

seraine (author)vincent75202012-04-19

gaiatechnician (author)2011-12-08

Does the vortex speed up as it runs or is it constant speed once it gets going? Maybe you could add some particles of something so we could tell this in the video?

The speed will increase until the liquid's viscosity limits the speed it can go, then it will go the same speed from then on.

You can go faster with a fluid of lower viscosity or if the bottle is larger diameter.

I was right the first time, according to the law of conservation of angular momentum, if it was going as a constant speed, but over a shorter distance, it would look like it is speeding up, when in reality it is going a constant speed. Bernoulli's Principle has more to do with air than liquids.

You're right it would look faster, but it actually does go faster as it spirals in as well.

Angular momentum is speed times distance from the axis, and the distance has gone down, so conservation means it must have speeded up!

It's like tornadoes, that's how they get such incredibly high wind speeds.

I will not be redoing the video any time soon, but I did drop a plastic bead into the bottle and watched it swirl. It seems to be affected by Bernoulli's Principle. As it approached the contriction in the neck of the bottle it sped up. If I had thought it through more completely, I would have realized it that would be true. Thanks for looking.

I really don't know! I think that it goes down at a constant speed. I will need to do some thinking, maybe put tick marks down the side of the bottle and see how fast the water moves from one tick mark to the next. Let me think. Why don't you create one perform your own experiment? Thanks for looking.

heathbar64 (author)2011-12-04

so, how do you keep the water from all running out of the top bottle while you are swirling it up? and what effect does changing the hole size have?

If you turn the bottle upside down, the water slowly glug, glug, glugs it's way down ward. You have plenty of time, to get the water to swirl before it all goes down the spout. You can experiment with the hole size, the larger the hole the larger the base of the vortex. Pretty basic. If you want, you could make a square hole and see how that works, that would make a great experiment and I would love to hear about the results. Thanks for looking.

ok, I made mine today. I'm thinking of trying smaller bottles for the next one. 2 litre's seem a bit cumbersome

Kozz (author)2011-12-17

I was wondering whether I could weld the plastic somehow, rather than use epoxy, and found this great video. I hope it can help someone else, too.

craftknowitall (author)Kozz2011-12-18

The maker of that video contacted me based on the you tube video of the vortex. Right now Iam revamping how I make them and will up grade my Instructable. Thank you so much for sharing, and thanks for looking.

louis.m (author)2011-12-10

My mother taught me how to empty a bottle faster, by using a rotating wrist movement causing a vortex while holding the bottle upside down.

Royski (author)louis.m2011-12-11

That's what some bottled beer drinkers do in competitions. It allows the displacement of air without the glugging effect. They swirl then quickly turn the bottle, open the epiglottis and pour straight down.

craftknowitall (author)louis.m2011-12-10

You've got it! This is just for the fun of watching it. Plus you learn a little science on the side. Thanks for watching.

AnnArborBuck (author)2011-12-09

I've done these before, but one trick I figured out is that the bottle caps will fit nice and snug inside a piece of 1" (I think it was one inch off the top of my head, maybe 1 1/4") PVC Pipe. Just cut the pipe just long enough to hold to the two bottle caps, epoxy them into the pipe, and then when the epoxy dries drill the hole.

Using the PVC pipe makes the joint very strong so little kids can go nuts on it with no issues of breaking the joint, etc.

dewexdewex (author)2011-12-08

That's beautiful, and really well described in your write up. Thanks. I wonder if you could put a little pump to transfer the water from the bottom to the top and introduce it into the top bottle with a jet at an angle; a bit like a cyclone vac in reverse. That way it would be continuous.

You know, I have never thought about that. It is so easy to turn it over and start up the swirl, that part of the whole weather thing never intered my mind. Fun idea though. Thanks for looking.

dewexdewex (author)2011-12-08

Scratch that, this looks easier ;)

Ray-l-l (author)2011-12-08

Love it. Simple, yet I could watch one for hours.

craftknowitall (author)Ray-l-l2011-12-08

I have! Thanks for looking.

rhdy (author)2011-12-08

I first saw something like this (single bottle only) some 25+ years ago in high school from my physics teacher. He said this was the fastest way to empty a bottle because the air coming up through the middle enabled the liquid to empty most efficienty (as opposed to the "glurg glurg" interrupted pouring out). I'm guessing somewhere, sometime, someone has tested this.

Later I worked in a store that sold all sorts of items, and one was a Tornado Tube - you attached the two bottles to the threaded tube.

craftknowitall (author)rhdy2011-12-08

Where am at the tubes are hard to come by and bottle caps are not. Thus my instructable. Thanks for looking.

desmondtheredx (author)2011-12-05

Australians, some africans, south americans and researches on Antartica are going to get diffrent results

cesarakg (author)desmondtheredx2011-12-08

No. See and

craftknowitall (author)cesarakg2011-12-08

Hi! Thanks for the info on the coriolis effect. I hope it helps him undedstand. Thanks for looking and commenting.

Doesn't matter which direction it swirls, it will still swirl, only exception would be if it freezes solid in Antartica, etc. Thanks for your comment.

oh yyeah 4got bout freezing in antartica

leea9 (author)2011-12-08

A store near me has sold a device to do just this for years. Nice science toy for the kids.

craftknowitall (author)leea92011-12-08

I got tired of looking for one, so I decided to create one for myself. And it worked. Thank you for looking.

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2011-12-03

Nice! I always loved playing with this!

So have I, thanks!

rimar2000 (author)2011-12-04

Very interesting.

craftknowitall (author)rimar20002011-12-04


sunshiine (author)2011-12-04

Thanks for sharing! These are so fun.

craftknowitall (author)sunshiine2011-12-04

Thank you for looking.

GummiBear (author)2011-12-04

so cool! im going to make one with glitter in t and bits of painted cardstock or cardboard!

craftknowitall (author)GummiBear2011-12-04

Post a picture so that I can see it! Try to make the cardstock or cardboard water proof, or it will get soggy and disintigrate. You're right, that would be so cool.

blinkyblinky (author)2011-12-03

I think its more like "Vortex in Bottles".

Cool, though.

The vortex is only in one bottle at a time. The top one. Thanks for your comment.

You're welcome.

omnibot (author)2011-12-04

Nice, this is so much fun. Any kid or child at heart can spend hours just watching the swirl. I made this once but witch a short piece of pvc between the caps and no glue or tape. It worked to but was a bit wobbly. Small action figures inside the bottles make fun to <3

craftknowitall (author)omnibot2011-12-04

How about a cow or a tanker, like in the tornado films?

rammstein2 (author)2011-12-04

will it work if i use ,oil for example, differently coloured (so that the colors appear to mix when swirling) or will the viscosity of the oil "kill" the swirl??

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Bio: In a valiant attempt to keep myself from dying of boredom, I create.
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