Building Homemade Volcanoes

How to Make a Volcano for Kids

Building a homemade volcano for kids can be easy and fun! This timeless and well-loved science experiment is easier and less messy than you may think. In this blog post, read our favorite three ways to build an at-home volcano.

Three Best Homemade Volcanoes for Kids

Photograph of two boys watching homemade volcano

Dough Volcano

Photograph of two children and homemade volcano experiment

Clay Volcano

Dirt Volcano

Building volcanoes is fun indoors and outdoors!

Take advantage of a beautiful afternoon outdoors and build a volcano outside. Or if you can’t make it outside, an indoor volcano is just as fun. Building your model volcano in a large cake pan or on a large cookie sheet with an old towel underneath to soak up any overflow lava makes cleanup a breeze.

How to make exploding lava

The same basic lava recipe can be used in all three volcanoes. Here are the basic proportions, but there’s definitely wiggle room to play around with different amounts of ingredients.

Lava Recipe
⅓ cup baking soda
1 teaspoon dish soap
½ – 1 cup vinegar
Food coloring or washable paint

Note: do not premix

#1 – Dough Volcano

Our favorite dough volcano uses these two dough recipes—one for lava and one for ash.

Dough Recipe
3 cups flour
1 cup salt1 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until the texture and stickiness are to your liking. If it is too wet, add a spoonful of flour. If it is too dry, add a spoonful of water. This dough will represent your lava layer. 

Sand Dough Recipe
2 cups flour
1 cup sand
1 cup salt
½ cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until the texture and stickiness are to your liking. If it is too wet, add a spoonful of flour. If it is too dry, add a spoonful of water. This dough will represent your ash layer.

Other ingredients needed for this volcano:

Volcano Supplies
Bottle with a narrow opening
Plastic straw
Masking tape
Lava Ingredients
Baking soda
Food coloring
Dish soap

After making both types of dough, gather the other necessary supplies and ingredients. A 20-ounce soda bottle and a straw work well to form a magma chamber. A larger bottle could be used if you don’t mind mixing more dough and creating more lava.

Poke two holes randomly on the sides of your bottle, just big enough to fit a straw into. Cut your straw in half and stick one end of each piece into each of the holes; then secure them with masking tape. These straws will serve as side vents for your volcano. Set your bottle in the middle of your pan or directly on the ground if you are outside. 

Now it’s time to create your layers. Roll out each type of dough and start to build up your volcano around the bottle, alternating the regular (lava) dough and the sand (ash) dough. The thickness of each layer is up to you—be creative! Be sure to leave your straw pieces sticking out for now. Once you’ve formed your cone-shaped volcano all the way to the rim of your bottle, trim the straw pieces so that the ends are flush with the sides of the volcano.

Now it’s time for the eruption! 

First, add ⅓ cup baking soda to your magma chamber (bottle). Then add about a teaspoon of dish soap for an extra foaming effect and top it off with several drops each of red and yellow food coloring. Last, when you are ready for the action, pour in ½ to 1 cup of vinegar and watch the eruption.

The different textures on this volcano provide a great teaching opportunity to explain the composition of real-life volcanoes. The straw vents also add some extra excitement that can be used in any of these volcanoes.

Graphic of dots in a line

#2 – Clay Volcano

Next, we built a more basic volcano using air-dry clay. We built this one up around an eight-ounce disposable plastic cup, and we found it worked just as well as the bottle magma chamber. Use whatever you have on hand! We didn’t wait for it to dry before our eruption, but if you want to make yours look a bit fancier and more realistic, let it dry first and then paint it.

Volcano Supplies
Bottle or cup
Plastic straw (optional for side vents)
Masking tape (optional for side vents)
Air-dry clay 
Lava Ingredients
Baking soda
Food coloring (or washable paint)
Dish soap

We also put a slightly different twist on the lava this time. We used the same basic recipe, but we substituted roughly two ounces of a combination of red, yellow, and orange washable paints for the food coloring. The result was very pretty, richly colored lava.

Using washable paint is a great idea if you are building your volcano indoors since it won’t stain like food coloring.

Graphic of dots in a line

#3 – Dirt Volcano

The easiest and least expensive volcano to make is a dirt volcano. For this one all you’ll need to have on hand are the lava ingredients and a bottle or cup for the magma chamber because the rest is built from nature.

Volcano Supplies
Bottle or cup
Plastic straw (optional for side vents)
Masking tape (optional for side vents)
Dirt, mud, or sand
Lava Ingredients
Baking soda
Food coloring
Dish soap

Find a small area of dirt or sand that you don’t mind digging in. We chose an empty spot in our flower bed and lightly sprayed it with a water hose. Then we dug down just deep enough to make a cozy little spot for our bottle to sit in. We built up the dirt all the way up to the rim of the bottle, rewetting it as needed to help it stick together. Don’t let winter stop you—build your volcano out of snow!

Real volcanoes come in different shapes and sizes, and yours can too! Kids enjoy searching for backyard plants, sticks, and rocks to decorate the volcano. With so many variations to choose from, make your volcano unique to your family. It can be as small and simple as taping duct tape all the way around the rim of a cup diagonally down to the base it sits on or as large and detailed as using a two-liter bottle, painting your own homemade dough, and creating an elaborate scene around it. Get creative!

We hope this post inspires you to go out (or stay in) with your family and make your very own volcano. Try using different mediums, ingredient amounts, and colors. Have your child record the experience in his or her science journal with descriptions and drawings or photos. We would also love to see what you came up with in the comments below! Building a volcano is such a fun, educational project that is sure to provide your family with wonderful, lasting memories.

Watch all three volcanoes in action!

All three volcano experiments are part of The Good and the Beautiful Geology science unit. This one-of-a-kind 14-lesson science unit is filled with engaging hands-on activities and informative videos that make studying the earth’s composition interactive and exciting. Learn more about all of our family-style science units here.

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  • Heather

    Since it’s February, and very cold and snowy where we live, we did this experiment using snow instead of clay or dirt. It worked great and there was no clay to mix and no mess to clean up.

  • Debe

    Im not sure I understand the reason for putting holes in the bottle and straws into the hole into the bottle. Can you help? My son is doing a science fair. He is 5.

    • The Good and the Beautiful

      Hi Debe! What a fun science fair project. The holes and straws are optional to create side vents which often occur in volcanoes. You an learn more in our Geology science unit if desired but here is an overview from that science unit: “Side Vent: When cracks or dikes branch off from the main conduit and then open at the surface of the side of a volcano, a side vent forms. Some volcanoes have many side vents, creating several layers of hardened lava.”

  • Jess

    Can you reuse the dough/air dry clay volcanoes? Or does the eruption ruin them?

    Thank you!

    • The Good and the Beautiful

      Thank you for your interest, Jess! You should be able to complete the project a few times in the same day, but it is not something you would be able to keep to complete again at a later date. Let us know how it goes!

  • Tatiana

    You guy are the best! Thanks for tips it really helped!

  • thor

    Thanks you helpt me so much now i can do my sience project.