I am trying to fill a vial with as many immiscible liquids as possible so that they form many separate layers. I want to do this as a way to visualise how liquids with different refractive indexes flow past one another.

TLDR Is there some list or way of finding out which transparent liquids (at STP) I can mix in a container which won't mix together or react with one another? The liquids need to: a) Be insoluble with eachother even if container is shaken. b) Be at least as transparent as olive oil or better.

I have seen stuff like this done with: maple syrup, honey, milk, dishwashing liquid, water, oil, rubbing alcohol and lamp Oil. I basically want to make this except with clear liquids that won't interact with eachother

However, most of these substances aren't transparent like I need (I'm willing to use any liquid that's more transparent than Olive oil even if it has a slight hue). I'm also not sure if these substances would react with each other if the container is shaken.

I don't mind mixing soluble substances together in order to change a particular layers properties (such as density, viscosity, refractive index, or surface tension).

From my trial and error tests, I've found that the more types of liquids I add, the higher the chance that a liquid will cause a reaction between two previously unreactive substances.

Apart from common household liquids like cleaners, water, vinegar, bleach, etc, I have the following liquids at my disposal (all of which are transparent in form).


  • Kerosene (Paraffin Oil)
  • Lamp Oil
  • Glycerin
  • Liquid Paraffin (Mineral Oil)
  • Coco Betadine
  • Methyl Salicylate
  • Transmission Fluid
  • Micellar
  • Dishwashing Liquid
  • Motor Oil
  • Isopropanol
  • Mineral Turpentine
  • Methylated spirits
  • White Spirits
  • Acetone
  • Ammonia
  • Sugar Soap
  • Lemon Juice
  • 'Clear Glue' (like alcohol based PVA glue)
  • Castor Oil
  • Linseed Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Eucalyptus Oil
  • Propelyne/Dipropelyne Glycol
  • Glucose Syrup
  • Vegetable/Olive/Sunflower Oil
  • A-B Epoxy
  • Hydrogen Peroxide 6%
  • Poly Sorbate

If there's anything else that's reasonably common (that I could get ahold of on eBay, supermarket or hardware store, etc) that would help with this please mention it!

I really hope you can help me figure out what liquids I can use!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The liquids in your example are mostly layered not immiscible. For example water, milk and dishwater soap are miscible. So do you just want layers, which are unstable, or truly immiscible phases. $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Oct 3 '20 at 20:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's far more difficult to make these layered liquids stable to mixing. It's unlikely you'll be able to do more than four layers without using toxic/dangerous materials. The safer liquids I can think of for this experiment would be perfluorocarbons ("fluorinert") and polysiloxanes (liquid silicones). These are fully immiscible with water, and can be fully immiscible with some kinds of hydrocarbons. $\endgroup$ Oct 3 '20 at 23:32

Glycerol has a density $1.263$ g/mL. It is miscible with water in all proportions. So by changing the ratio glycerol:water, you can make a large number of mixtures having all possible densities between $1.263$ and $1.000$ g/mL. And all these mixtures are made of polar molecules. On the other hand, you may make up all sorts of mixtures with non polar substances like dichlormethane (density $1.320$ g/mL) and cyclohexane (density $0.77$ g/mL) in different proportions. These non polar substances are miscible in all proportions. These mixtures can have densities varying between $0.77$ and $1.32$ g/mL. And they will never mix with glycerol-water mixtures.

So try to make $1:9$, then $2:8$, then $3:7$, etc. mixtures of glycerol-water, then of dichloromethane-cylohexane. Measure their density. Or simply try to mix them just to see which one is the heaviest. You may get as many different mixtures as you want it, that can be superimposed in your container. You may also choose ratios which are different from the suggestion $1:9$, $2:8$, etc.

As you may have trouble seeing the separation between the layers, you should add a droplet of ink in all aqueous mixtures.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the responses, so if I can somehow prevent the layers from mixing, I could theoretically have an infinite amount layers stacking on top of eachother with just 2 oil based and 2 water based liquids mixed in different ratios. Maybe I could get around this by surrounding each liquid layer with a thin film or surfactant to stop layers mixing together? Perhaps if the fluids have a low enough viscosity, I could contain the liquids in a ball shaped container to prevent them from mixing by being tilted? $\endgroup$ Oct 5 '20 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ Considering the limited stable options, and since I have suitable safety equipment available, I might try adding both Mercury and Galistan (room temperature liquid metal that's immiscible with Mercury) into the container to add additional stable layers. $\endgroup$ Oct 5 '20 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Of course you can add mercury. But it is not colorless, as expected in you first demand. $\endgroup$
    – Maurice
    Oct 5 '20 at 16:56

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