Hazers – Oil or Water Based? – The Ultimate Guide

Let’s just start off by acknowledging the elephant in the room.

Haze is cool.

Concert Lighting Design

Photo Credit: Doctor Grondo via Compfight cc

Hazers are really cool.  If you want one way to really spice up your stage lighting, haze is the way to go!  However, I know that there is a ton of confusion about haze, how it works, if it sets off fire alarms, what precautions you need to take, etc.

I know many churches, venues and companies are also looking to get better looking haze than what they already have.

Perhaps all of your haze gets sucked away the second your A/C kicks on, or it just shows up in big clouds and doesn’t dissipate well.  Is water based haze better, or oil based haze?

I’ve got the answers to all of this and more below- in my ultimate guide to haze and hazers!

Water vs. Oil vs. Fog

If you’re not familiar with theatrical haze and fog, you basically have 3 types of atmospheres that you can generate.

The first is fog, which I won’t be covering much in this post.  Fog is a lower, thicker lying atmosphere that doesn’t give anywhere near the same effect as haze, and isn’t designed as the type of effect you’d run all night long.  So we’ll make it a post of it’s own, and focus on haze for today.

Then, you’ve got haze, which we can separate into water-based and oil based.

Water Based Hazers

First up is water-based haze.

This haze is made by heating up a water based fluid and shooting it through a nozzle out of the machine.  It typically is slightly more “smoky” looking because of it has larger particles than oil based hazers.

Water based hazers also tend to “seep” haze out for a minute or 2 in bursts when you stop the output, and this can be distracting if you don’t plan for it.

Just imagine a small puff or 2 of haze drifting across your stage when your pastor/performer/speaker gets up and it’s all quiet!  For many live music shows, this won’t matter, but I can think of at least one theatrical style show I did where it frustrated the LD quite a bit that the hazer would seep when he didn’t want it to!

However, one of the big upsides to water based haze is that they are really quiet when they are running!  Near silent!

Water Based Haze

Water Based Haze Via Incase on Flickr.

When you run your water based hazer for 6 or more hours per show, you will also use a full bottle of fluid in most units- and this will start to get expensive, so keep that in mind too!

Fluid tends to be $20-$30 per bottle, so keep that in mind when purchasing.  Every company has its own fluid and it’s best to stick with that.  Using other fluids may void your warranty!

Though I don’t like water based haze as much as oil, it does have its place.

In a long-term situation, like an installed venue or church, oil based haze will find its way into all surfaces, nooks and crannies of your equipment and room, and is a pain to clean up if you pursue that.

Water-based haze on the other hand, is easy to clean up, and the fluid doesn’t make a mess on and around the hazer itself.

Hazer Sizing

Water-based hazers generally fit into 2 size groups, let’s call them “big” and “small”.  Original, right?

Seriously, though, sizing a hazer can be really tough.  Your first concern is the size of the room.  A small hazer, like this unit by Chauvet is perfect for rooms up to 400 people.  I’ve used it a bunch, and I highly recommend it!

Rock Band Lighting Design

Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

However, that’s not a golden rule you can follow.  On the higher end of room size, it’s going to take 30 minutes or so for the haze to really fill the room properly and settle.   The other big concern is HVAC.  Air conditioning and heating, though a blessing, can suck your haze away immediately if the system is really powerful.

Experiment with the placement of your hazer and see how the AC system moves your haze around.  Usually, you can find a great spot to place your hazer that works with your AC system to distribute the atmosphere evenly.

This magic spot is usually straight across the stage from the main return vent for your AC system.  This is what we’re going for, and will give you a great, haze-filled show or service!  Not every venue will have this issue…and in some venues you’ll be able to stick your small hazer just about anywhere and get a good, thoroughly-hazed look without a lot of effort!

If a small hazer doesn’t cut it, you’ve got a couple of options.  The first is that, if you have the problem of a “hazeless spot” on one side of the stage or another that you can’t get rid of, you can go ahead and get a second small hazer.

But if the small hazer is just too small for the room, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger hazer.  I highly recommend Chauvet’s newer Hurricane 3D hazer, which has twice the output of the old model,  and looks really good!

Ready to make a killer lighting show?  Grab our FREE video training “3 Simple Ways to Transform Your Lighting” by clicking here!

Oil Based Hazers

Oil based hazers make that lovely haze that is uniform, not cloudy, and hangs nearly forever.  It is the choice of professionals for nearly all music tours, special events and theater.

Oil hazers produce haze by pushing a mineral oil fluid through a compressor and out of the unit.  The compressor doesn’t have to heat up, it is ready to go from the instant you turn it on.  Some oil hazers, like the popular DF-50, are a bit on the loud side for small venues, but the American DJ Haze Generator and others are much quieter and still have great output.

Photo by givikat on Flickr.

Oil Based Haze Photo by givikat on Flickr.

Oil based hazers also are better on fluid consumption than water hazers.  You’ll find that most oil hazers will go weeks before needing to be refilled with a new bottle of fluid, offering a huge savings!

Keep in mind that oil based hazers work best when there is an external fan to guide the haze, and they will leave oil on everything that is within 5 feet or so of them.

So keep moving lights, amp racks, and anything with cooling fans a good distance away from your oil-based hazer, and you’ll be great!

As I mentioned above, my favorite oil-based hazer is the American DJ Haze Generator.  It has the output of the classic DF-50, with a very small price.  Check it out here!

Fire Alarms

The last concept I want to touch on is the world of fire alarms.

Water based hazers are more likely to set off fire alarms, but every fire alarm system is different.  If you have beam type detectors, for example, most hazers will set off the alarm system.

Other types of alarms will be set off by different levels of haze.  The only real way to be safe is to work with your alarm company and local fire department to figure out what is the best practice for using haze.

Many localities will help you to work with you alarm company to turn your alarms to silent, allowing a staff member to monitor the alarms, and make sure there are no real fires.  Some venues will allow you to use haze without shutting off the alarms because they know it won’t cause problems.

Never, ever disable your fire alarms or turn them to silent without the blessing of your fire department.  This is how people die every year and tragedies happen.


    • David says

      I’m so sorry! I feel like the worst blogger ever! I’ll fix that right now!

      Thanks so much!


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