Ocean in a Bottle




An ocean in a bottle is fairly quick and simple to make. Since "quick & simple" is my middle name, this project was one of my favorites as a kid. Five minutes' work will yield an attractively hypnotic "ocean." It's also a fun use and a second chance for an old plastic bottle.

This is my first instructable--suggestions welcome. Onward--->

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Step 1: Materials

What you'll need:

-->a plastic bottle {I'd recommend 1 liter or smaller for weight's sake}
-->food coloring
-->mineral oil (any oil will do, but this one is nice n' colorless; it can be procured at a drugstore for
a reasonable price)
-->water insoluble glue
-->a funnel {not pictured}

-->electrical or duct tape

Step 2: Adding the Water

Once you have your materials, remove the label from the bottle. You may need scissors for this. Or not.

Next, fill the bottle about half way up with water and decide what color you want it to be. I was out of red and yellow, so I settled on a teal hue (two drops green, three blue). Add the food coloring and give the bottle a light swirl to mix.

Step 3: Oil Time

Here's where that funnel is going to come in handy.

Slowly fill the rest of the bottle with your oil. The funnel with prevent the oil from getting all over the outside of your bottle and rendering it hopelessly slippery (I know from experience). Come as close to the top as possible without spilling.

Step 4: Seal It!

Now to seal in the goodness.

Basically you're just going to screw on the cap as tight as you can. I put some glue on the threads of the bottle before closing as added insurance.

You can also wrap some electrical/duct tape around the cap as further protection against leaks if you feel so inclined.

Step 5: And Enjoy (plus Variations)

Ta-da! Rock, tilt, and shake the bottle to enjoy the fascinating, elegant wave patterns.


-->I used a fairly large plastic bottle for demonstration purposes, but a smaller and/or a glass bottle
would be fun to try this with.

-->You could color the oil instead of the water; I just don't remember how.

-->Maybe throw some glitter or something in there. Who would dare stop you?

Have a good time!

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52 Discussions


Question 1 year ago on Introduction

Do you need to fill all of the top half of the bottle with mineral oil for it to work or can you just put a thin layer of oil and still get the same effect?


2 years ago

You can also use turpentine in place of oil.


10 years ago on Introduction

My daughter is off school today (gas leak!) I think we'll make this today. What might stabilise the oil to prevent it becoming lots of little globules if shaken too hard? - or has anyone found what type of oil serves best?

4 replies

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

Excellent question, and one to which I wish I had the answer as well! I had one of the store bought variety on my desk one time and someone came up and shook it. As they were shaking it, they asked what happens if someone shakes it!!! Ijit! I told him he had to buy it from me then! It was never the same after that: the oil and water never completely separated, and the little bit of air mixed with the oil permanently as well. If you get an answer, let the rest of us know!!! Please!


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

maybe you should leave the bottle there for a hour at least. i used veggie oil and it works for mine.


Reply 3 years ago

I recommend NOT using vegetable oil. It can spoil and turn rancid. We made an ant barrier for my mother's hummingbird feeder, and she filled it with olive oil the first time. Some few months later, ants invaded the feeder and investigation revealed that the oil went rancid, turning thick and gelationous... the ants could then walk right across it! After cleaning it up and refilling with mineral oil, it generally lasts at least a year before getting too full of miscellaneous debris and needing to be cleaned and refilled again, but the mineral oil remains liquid.


Reply 3 years ago

...of course, being sealed in a plastic bottle will keep air and microbes from getting to the vegetable oil and it might last a really long time if you're lucky. But unless you sterilize everything and work very carefully to keep it that way, there's no way to be sure.


Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

I dunno if u could use more than 2 types since water oil don't mix due to density AND polarity... there's only polar (e.g. water) and non-polar (e.g. oil)...so the two that were both (non)polar they might just mix once u shook it up (even if they had different densities)... but like i said i dunno... :P


Reply 4 years ago

For multiple layers you need:

#1: hydrophobic liquid that's less dense than water

#2: water

#3: hydrophobic liquid that's denser than water. This is the tricky one. I've seen tetrachloroethylene recommended for this purpose on DIY lava lamp websites, but it's also bad for you, so you would need to do this whole thing in a glass container AND make sure the container never breaks. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrachloroethylene


4 years ago on Introduction

I bought plastic fish/dolphins/sharks and put them in the bottle to swim around - it looks v cool!


4 years ago

Nice build. Captain Morgan bottles work great because of the etched ship. I'm gonna try to make one of these with the ship inside. I challenge someone to make an instructable for that.