A hydrometer is an instrument that measures the specific gravity (relative density) of liquids—the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water.
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 test 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 correlates to specific gravity. Hydrometers usually contain a scale inside the stem, so that the person using it can read specific gravity. A variety of scales exist for different contexts.
Hydrometers are calibrated for different uses, such as a lactometer for measuring the density (creaminess) of milk, a saccharometer for measuring the density of sugar in a liquid, or an alcoholometer for measuring higher levels of alcohol in spirits.