A hydrometer is usually made of glass and consists of a cylindrical stem and a bulb weighted with mercury or lead shot to make it float upright. The liquid to be tested is poured into a tall container, often a graduated cylinder, and the hydrometer is gently lowered into the liquid until it floats freely. The point at which the surface of the liquid touches the stem of the hydrometer is noted. Hydrometers usually contain a scale inside the stem, so that the specific gravity can be read directly. A variety of scales exist, and are used depending on the context.
Hydrometers may be calibrated for different uses, such as a lactometer for measuring the density (creaminess) of milk, a saccharometer for measuring the density of sugars in a liquid, or an alcoholometer for measuring higher levels of alcohol in spirits.