How to Make a Cloud in a Bottle

Cloud in a bottle
Ian Sanderson/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

In the real world, clouds form when warm, moist air is cooled and condenses into tiny water droplets, which collectively make up clouds. You can mimic this process (on a much smaller scale, of course!) by using everyday items found in your home or school to put a cloud in a bottle.

What You'll Need:

  • A clear bottle, mason jar, or another see-through container with a lid
  • A dark-colored piece of paper
  • Hot water
  • Ice
  • Matches

Warning: Due to the use of hot water, glass, and matches, young children are cautioned not to do this experiment without adult supervision.

Getting Started

  1. First, rinse your glass to make sure it is clean. (Do not use soap and do not dry the inside.)
  2. Add hot water to the jar until it covers the bottom by 1" deep. Then swirl the water around so that it warms up the sides of the jar. (If you don't do this, condensation may immediately occur.) You've just added one of the key ingredients for cloud formation: water.
  3. Take the lid, turn it upside-down (so that it acts as a small dish), and place several ice cubes in it. Place the lid on top of the jar. (After doing this, you may see some condensation, but notice there's no cloud yet.) The ice adds another ingredient needed for clouds to form: the cooling of warm, moist air.
  4. Carefully light a match and blow it out. Drop the smoking match into the jar and quickly replace the lid of ice. The smoke adds the final ingredient for cloud formation: condensation nuclei for the cooled water droplets to condense onto.
  5. Now look for wisps of cloud swirling inside! To see them better, hold up your dark colored paper behind the jar.
  6. Congratulations, you've just made a cloud! After you've and named it, lift the lid and let it flow out so that you can touch it!

Tips and Alternatives

  • For younger children: If you prefer not to use matches, you can substitute air freshener spray in step # 4. Lift the lid of ice, spritz a small amount into the jar, then quickly replace the lid.
  • Advanced: Use a bicycle pump to change the pressure and see even more clouds. 
  • Going further: Try using other sizes of dust particles. Design an experiment to determine the best size of dust particles to use. You could also test different water temperatures.

Now that you've learned some basic principles of how clouds form, it's time to "up" your knowledge. Study these cloud photos to learn the ten basic types of clouds and what weather they forecast. Or explore what the many storm clouds look like and mean.   

Updated by Tiffany Means

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Your Citation
Oblack, Rachelle. "How to Make a Cloud in a Bottle." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Oblack, Rachelle. (2020, August 26). How to Make a Cloud in a Bottle. Retrieved from Oblack, Rachelle. "How to Make a Cloud in a Bottle." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).