What Liquid Is Inside a Thermometer?

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In a thermometer, the color helps determine the type of liquid.

Although many people commonly associate thermometers with a mercury filling, the dangerous properties of mercury have spurred manufacturers to use other liquids inside the glass gauges. Some thermometers may still contain mercury but many typically contain less toxic liquids.



The first thermometers manufactured contained water but the fact that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit led manufacturers to switch to mercury. Many older thermometers contained mercury. Because mercury has very toxic properties that can lead to sickness or death if the thermometer breaks, more modern thermometers use a form of colored alcohol.


You can identify the liquid in a thermometer based on its color. Silver liquid indicates that the thermometer contains mercury, while red liquid is alcohol to which red coloring has been added. Although uncommon in modern thermometers, a clear color indicates water.



The liquid in a thermometer typically stays in a bulb at the bottom of the device. Because liquids expand as temperatures rise, the liquid climbs the thermometer tube as the temperature warms.



Keith Evans

Keith Evans has been writing professionally since 1994 and now works from his office outside of Orlando. He has written for various print and online publications and wrote the book, "Appearances: The Art of Class." Evans holds a Bachelor of Arts in organizational communication from Rollins College and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration in strategic leadership from Andrew Jackson University.