How to Fix Separated Alcohol Thermometers

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If exposed to warm temperatures for an extended period of time or jarred during transit, the fluid in your alcohol thermometer may become separated. When separated, tiny bubbles develop in the alcohol as the alcohol vapor condenses. These bubbles trap the fluid in place in the rod, making the thermometer unusable. Fortunately, it is easy to remove the bubbles and rejoin the mercury with a little heat or physical manipulation. Try one or more of these techniques to get your thermometer back into working order.

Things You'll Need

  • Cord or wire
  • Tap a mounted thermometer to release the alcohol vapor bubbles. Hold the thermometer's frame, bulb-end-down with the thermometer facing up. Grasp it just below the midpoint of the frame and hold it so that your hand is not touching the glass tube. Hold your other hand open, palm facing up. Then tap the bulb end of the thermometer's mount on your palm with medium force. Check the thermometer fluid. Repeat if necessary until the alcohol is rejoined or you make no more progress. If most of the mercury rejoins, but the bubbles have trapped a segment of mercury at the top of the thermometer, simply hold the thermometer bulb-end-up and tap the top of the thermometer on your palm.

  • Shake the bubbles in a mounted thermometer loose. Hold the thermometer's frame, bulb-end-down with the thermometer facing up. Grasp it just above the midpoint of the frame on its back and hold it so that your hand is not touching the glass tube. Raise your thermometer-holding arm just above your head. Keep a tight grip on the frame and then swing your arm quickly downward to a 90-degree angle to your body. The thermometer should be vertical. Check the thermometer fluid. Repeat if necessary until the alcohol is rejoined or you make no more progress.

  • Swing a mounted thermometer. Centrifugal force may be able to free the bubbles in your thermometer. Attach an 8-inch cord or wire to the mounting hole at the top of your thermometer's frame. Make sure that the knot and cord are secure. Hold the free end of the cord securely in one hand. Then swing the thermometer rapidly in a circle for five seconds. Check the thermometer fluid. Repeat if necessary until the alcohol is rejoined or you make no more progress.

  • Heat the mounted or unmounted thermometer's bulb. Hold the bulb under hot running water until the fluid rises to roughly halfway up the column (any farther and the thermometer may rupture). Then remove the thermometer from the water. Rest the thermometer in the vertical position, bulb-side-down for three to four hours. The alcohol should be rejoined. If not, repeat.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not try this method with a free (unmounted) thermometer. You may break the bulb on your hand.

References

  • Photo Credit thermometer image by Dron from Fotolia.com
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