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There are few pieces of decor that add charm and warmth to a room quite like vintage lighting. I am a huge fan of the 1960s and 70s swag lights – the kind that hang from the ceiling by chains, with their cords woven in the chain links.
Until recently, I’ve only allowed myself to indulge my love of vintage lighting with one avocado green, macramé, swag light. Now that we have our own home and we can drill as many holes in the ceiling as we like, I have been scooping up all of the vintage lighting I come across while treasure hunting.
When the light is turned on, a pump moves the mineral oil up one of the pipes to the top of the lamp, where it rains down little droplets on the strings surrounding the goddess statue.
My favorite fixture thus far is a swag-style light I’ve have had my eye on since I was a little girl. It’s called a rain lamp. It features a small statue of Venus surrounded by drip lines, and green, plastic foliage. The base of the lamp is filled with mineral oil – or Drakeol #35 oil if you want to shell out a bit more money for the original stuff. When the light is turned on, a pump moves the mineral oil up one of the pipes to the top of the lamp, where it rains down little droplets on the strings surrounding the goddess statue.
Rain lights came in tabletop, wall-mount, and swag styles. The most common and popular lamps have the Venus statue in the center. There are some that feature other statues, such as prayer hands, a cabin, the Three Graces, or a dancing couple. The lamps were invented and originally manufactured by Johnson Industries.
Rain lamps were popular in the late 1960s, 1970s, and into the 80s, which is when I came across one as a little girl.
Rain lamps have captured the nostalgic hearts of vintage lovers these days. As a result of their cult popularity, these babies have gone up in price. If you want to snag a rain lamp on eBay that is still in good shape, you are looking to spend upwards of $200 plus shipping costs.
Lamps found at a thrift store or garage sale will often need a good cleaning and perhaps a little maintenance. After years of use, these lamps get coated with a layer of oil and will need to be cleaned up with soap and water.
It is generally recommended that you clean the inside of your rain lamp out about once a year. When I first read this I was a little intimidated…I didn’t want to break my new treasure! As it turns out, this is a totally simple process.
The very first thing I suggest doing before picking up your tools is to find a workspace that will not be damaged by oil. Many of these lamps have mineral oil inside from decades past, and it will stain clothing, tablecloths, carpet, etc. Cover your workspace with a plastic garbage bag and have plenty of paper towels handy.
The first step in dismantling the rain lamp is to remove the foliage and unscrew the center statue. The greenery can be removed pretty easily. After removing the foliage, I turned the lamp sideways and drained as much oil as possible into a container. The oil will spill from the larger holes near the small holes that hold the foliage stems.
To unscrew the center statue, reach very carefully through the strings and twist the statue counter-clockwise. I suspect that this was the first time my lamp had been dismantled, so it was a little difficult to loosen the statue. If possible, I suggest asking someone to hold the lamp for you while you do this step.
After removing them, I soaked the statue and foliage in hot soapy water and then scrubbed them with a sponge in order to remove the layers of oil and dust that had accumulated over the decades. I also wiped each string with a soapy paper towel to remove the grime.
Underneath the base of the statue, you will see the two screws that secure the motor. These screws do not have to be removed unless you find that the motor needs to be removed, cleaned, or replaced. I suggest leaving them in place until you decide whether this is necessary.
The second step to cleaning the interior of the oil vessel is to unscrew the three screws that are on the base of the lamp. I’ve included a photo of the screws on my lamp (above), but they may look different on other lamp styles.
There are similar screws on the top of the lamp that can be removed in order to open up the top side. If you have a lamp that has clogged drip holes at the top, go ahead and carefully remove the light bulb and then open the top of the lamp by removing the screws. This will give you access to those top holes, which can be cleaned with a toothpick.
The next step to clean out the oil tray is to carefully remove the base of the lamp. This is where the oil sits when the lamp is not in use, and also where you put the oil when you refill the lamp. Again, I think this was the first time my lamp was taken apart and I really had to (carefully) wiggle the base back and forth to coax it off. I suggest having an assistant hold the top while you remove the base.
After removing the base, I washed it with hot soapy water and a sponge. The motor seems to function properly on my lamp, so I just wiped off the excess oil. (You can see the motor in the top right of the photo above.) If you discover that your motor is burned out, you can buy a replacement motor on eBay.
After allowing the pieces to air dry, I reassembled the lamp. When re-positioning the greenery surrounding the statue, be sure that none of the plastic plants touch the drip lines and disrupt the flow of oil. This can be a little tricky and requires some patience. Leave one of the oil fill-holes empty until after you fill your lamp up with oil, at which point you can add that last bit of greenery.
I have read that it takes 1-3 pints of oil to fill the lamp up, depending on the size of the lamp. I added exactly 2 pints to mine and caused more of a downpour than a gentle rain! I emptied a bit out of it until it had a nice steady, beaded drip. Learn from my mistake and add just a little bit of oil at a time until your lamp begins to rain.
Next step: Hang it up, turn it on, and admire your vintage rain lamp!
If you don’t have one of these incredible vintage lamps and would like to get one, I suggest checking Etsy and eBay:
As soon as I finish painting my living room and hanging my lamp, I will snap a picture of it for you all to see!
Do you remember seeing rain lamps when you were a kid? Or maybe you had or have one yourself? Tell us your story in the comments section!
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