Oil Lamps Safety!
Updated January 2022 – Several years ago I purchased oil lamps as part of our preparedness plan. Since then, I have learned that they come in many different shapes, sizes, types, hues, and uses.
Oil lamps not only create lovely ambience (and they are much easier on the eyes than LED lighting), but, more importantly, they come through with long-term light energy where battery-powered lights fail. While modern flashlights rely on battery power, oil lamps are fueled by either kerosene or a less-pollutant, less-odorous version of kerosene called “lamp oil”. The basic structure of an oil lamp includes a part that holds fuel, a part that holds the wick, a part that adjusts the flame, and a part that funnels oxygen to the flame.
This guide to oil lamps will address some basic questions about using oil lamps in your home.
- When do you have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning?
- Can you use oil lamps without ventilation to the outdoors?
- Does it matter what kind of fuel you use in oil lamps?
- What are the approved fuel types for an oil lamp?
When you learn to use oil lamps safely, they become much more than useless decorations. Read on for the full guide to oil lamps.
Oil Lamps in Power Outages
If you are stuck in a power outage situation, will your current supply of battery-operated lamps get you through? I honestly think we all might be in the dark if there is an extended outage.
Just think about California’s recent massive power outages. Last year, 2 million people were left without electricity in the Bay Area alone after one such shutoff. Tons of food spoiled in freezers and refrigerators (That’s why PreparednessMama puts a high emphasis on canning and having a prepared pantry for at least 3 month food supply. But that’s another story).
What do you do in case a power outage outlives your cellphone or flashlight battery. Some fortunate souls have invested in a power generator, but we’re talking about regular folks here. Oil lamps are a throwback to the past and a great way to have an independent source of lighting during those dark hours.
Types of Oil Lamps
Oil lamps come in all sizes and shapes. They can be free standing, hook hanging, or of wall-mount design. They are decorative and utilitarian.
You can burn almost any oil in them; including olive oil, nut, and seed oils, hemp oil, vegetable oils, fish oil, mustard oil, castor oil…you name it. You need to do your research to see how the wick will interact with the oil and whether a natural oil will allow enough oxygen for the wick to work.
Creative Hobbies® Mason Jar Oil Lamp Burner Chimney Holders Turn Mason Jars Into Oil Lamps
What about a Coleman Propane Lantern, can it be used indoors? According to the Coleman website www.coleman.com, the answer is no, they are only safe outdoors. Carbon Monoxide exposure is the reason cited. They are still useful to have for camping and outdoor cooking without power, though.
Types of Oil for Lamps
You can purchase oil lamps and oil locally, at your local home improvement center, or online at Amazon. They are readily available for a reasonable price (small oil lamps start around $10 in my town) or you can get really elaborate.
An extremely popular choice of fuel for oil lamps K-1 kerosene is readily available and typically very cheap.
You can purchase kerosene from filling stations or in prepackaged containers from a local hardware store. It is stored in blue containers to distinguish it from gasoline.
K-1 contains sulfur and other impurities that make it smell unpleasant when it is burning. If you burn kerosene lamps outside, the odor may not bother you, but you will notice the smell if you burn it indoors.
If you are burning kerosene indoors you must allow for ventilation. That could be a problem if there is no power, it is freezing outside, and you’re trying to keep your house warm. That said, kerosene has been used for heat and light for hundreds of years, so it may be right for you.
The approved fuels for outdoor use only in lanterns and oil lamps are:
1. Kerosene purchases from a gas station
2. Coleman® Brand Kerosene Fuel – around $15 per 32 fl oz bottle (Check current price here)
3. Crown® 1-K Fuel Grade Kerosene – around $10 per gallon
4. Crown® Citronella Torch and Lamp Fuel
5. Tiki® Brand Citronella Torch Fuel – around $10 50 fl oz.
Many lamp fuels can be cut 50/50 with kerosene to extend the burn time. Read the package directions.
Important Note: Dyed kerosene will clog the wick of your oil lamp and prevent it from burning in the long run. If you’re looking to use kerosene, look for it at a gas station and make sure that it is from a “blocked pump. You’ll know that you’ve got the real deal if the kerosene is clear rather than red. Also, dyed kerosene may stain your oil lamp. So, for the sake of you roil lamp, steer clear of dyed kerosene.
Very Important Note: Never use kerosene with a flashpoint lower than 124 degrees F or higher than 150 degrees F, unless you want the flames to run uncontrollably and burn down your home maybe. So in oil lamps, use only kerosene with a minimum 124 degree flash point. Some manufacturers sell several types of kerosene but not all are created equal. For instance, W.M. Barr & Co.’s Klean-Strip® 1-K Kerosene has a flash point of just 101 degrees. Their Klean-Strip® Klean Heat® Kerosene Substitute, on the other hand, has a flash point of 145 degrees F, which makes it safe for indoor use in oil lamps.
Lamp oil is in the same family as kerosene, but it has been purified to make it burn cleaner, so the burning of lamp oil produces fewer pollutants than burning kerosene.
It does not produce the unpleasant odors of burning kerosene and can even be purchased in a variety of scents. Lamp oil can be purchased in most supermarkets, home improvement, and hardware stores, but it is more expensive than kerosene. It also does not burn as brightly as kerosene.
Lamp oil is always safe to burn indoors without venting to the outside. You should always use the specific kind of fuel recommended for your lamp.
The approved fuels for indoor or outdoor use in lanterns and oil lamps are:
1. Lamplight Farms® Clear Medallion Brand Lamp Oil
2. Lamplight Ultra-Pure Clear Lamp Oil
3. Firefly Candle and Lamp Oil Ultra Clean Burning – Liquid Paraffin
4. Firefly CLEAN Lamp Oil Clean Burning Paraffin Alternative
Propane for Lighting
The propane lamps that you use for camping are not safe in small, confined spaces. This includes the house and even in a closed tent. Don’t risk carbon monoxide poisoning. Safety should always come first.
If you have propane heating or a propane stove, there are lamps that can be wired into your home system. These will burn safely indoors if you have adequate ventilation.
Carbon Monoxide Indoors – What is Carbon monoxide?
If I’m concerned about the possibility of killing my family, I better understand carbon monoxide poisoning and how to recognize it.
The American Lung Association says:
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, but dangerous gas. It is produced when a fuel such as natural gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. Exposure to CO reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Fuel-burning appliances used indoors must be maintained, used properly and fully vented to the outdoors to prevent dangerous levels of CO. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances.”
Breathing high levels of CO can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, confusion, disorientation, vomiting and sleepiness.
Many of these symptoms are similar to the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses. So you may not suspect CO poisoning. It is important to have a carbon monoxide detector with an audible alarm installed in your home. If you are going to burn oil lamps in your home, this small investment can save a life.
Approximately 430 people die each year from CO exposure related to fuel-burning, residential appliances. Thousands more became ill or sought medical attention. CO poisoning is estimated to cause more than 50,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year.
After an emergency or power outage, be sure to use caution so you don’t risk your family’s health. Too many people are poisoned by carbon monoxide after bad weather emergencies, like snowstorms and hurricanes.
How to Use an Oil Lamp
The basic parts of an oil lamp are:
- Fuel chamber (holds the fuel)
- Burner (holds the wick)
- Wick knob (adjusts wick’s size and flame intensity)
- Lamp’s globe or “chimney” (from where exhaust fumes escape and where oxygen can get in to keep that flame going)
Using an oil lamp is quite straightforward:
-// Remove the chimney and unscrew the burner carefully not to break or displace any parts.
-// Pour the oil into chamber but don’t fill it to the brim – leave 1/2 to 1 inch between the oil and the chamber lid.
-// Let the wick absorb the liquid fuel for up to one hour or until the wick in the burner changes color and feels greasy to the touch
-// Light up the wick
-// Adjust the size of the flame from the knob (make sure that there’s no black smoke coming out of the wick).
-// Place the chimney back on top of the burner (if you’re using kerosene, the chimney may increase the intensity of the flame – adjust the wick down until the flame is stable)
-// To put out the flame, turn the wick way down, cup your hand above the chimney at a 45-degree angle and blow gently but swiftly.
If you don’t allow the wick to saturate with fuel, you will be burning the wick not the fuel. Oil lamp wicks act as pathways for the fuel by drawing it to the hot end of the wick – where the fuel vaporizes – through capillary action. The vapor is the one that gives you heat and light, not the wick.
Warning: Always fill kerosene lamps outside your home. Also, clean any spills immediately. Kerosene is highly flammable, so don’t let a kerosene lamp unattended and handle the fuel with care.
How to Service the Wick
The wick does get consumed in the process by slowly charring at the tip. You will need to clean or trim it from time to time to ensure that the flame stays clean. If the wick gets too short, replace it.
When trimming a flat wick make sure that you remove all the charred parts and that you give it a slight rounded shape. When trimming a round wick, just trim it straight across.
I’ve found a very handy Instructable on how to make an indestructible wick for an oil lamp at home to forget about the trimming. You will need a couple of fancy materials and a pair of crafty hands but I guess it is worth the shot.
– // Carbon felt (this one’s the secret ingredient that won’t let your DIY wick burn to its demise)
– // Multi-strand wire (aluminum or copper).
For a step-by-step guide, check the Instructable here.
Vary Your Lighting Options
While oil lamps are terrific it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. There are alternatives to using oil lamps that may work well for various situations.
You could choose to use regular candles, which are relatively inexpensive, although they may not burn as brightly as oil or kerosene and they may not last as long.
100+ hour Emergency Candles are safe to use indoors and have an exposed flame.
Two of these give off as much light as an oil lamp.
Inexpensive tea lights work well for lighting small areas and can even be used for cooking.
If you have small children at home candles are not the best option. Invest in quality lanterns that run on batteries.
You can purchase them any sporting goods or camping store. With a battery lantern, there’s little chance of fire accidents. My favorite is the Coleman rechargeable, which is very portable and gives off plenty of light, but that won’t do me much good if I can’t recharge it.
The Best Emergency Oil Lamps for the $$
LAMPLIGHT Chamber Oil Lamp
This oil lamp is built just like its older cousins and is what you need for when the power goes out or when you need a source of light for a romantic dinner but those scented candles are scary pricey and they aren’t bright enough. The Lamplight Chamber Oil Lamp works with both paraffin-based oil lamp and Kerosene, but if you want to save big on fuel, go on the high-quality K-1 route, such as JP4 (Jet Fuel).
K-1 kerosene is cheaper, (nearly) odorless, and gives off a brighter flame than your regular lamp oil does. Always use non-dyed kerosene to prevent clogging the wick and uncontrolled flareups or burning down the house. Yeah, I know… dyed kerosene is cheaper, but it is really not worth the risks.
Burn time: 25 hours.
VERMONT LANTERNS Mini Oil Lamp
This Mini Oil Lamp 6.5″ tall 3″ wide is made of quality brass and glass. It is a straightforward simple with very few movable parts to ensure long-term use and durability. It is a very well-made oil lamp but the small size (it fits in a girls’ palm) may be off putting. Get several of these for emergency lighting. It runs on a round wick and it burns beautifully.
Burn time: 10 hours
CRISA Clear Pedestal Style Oil Lamp
Here’s a table oil lamp that is bright enough for you to read or write during a power outage. It is an antique-style oil lamp that is well built and has a chamber large enough to fit enough fuel for 48 hours of continuous burn time (the wick should be serviced every 8 to 10 hours, though). The only drawback of this beautiful pedestal oil lamp is a security feature: the burner fastens counter clockwise, which might be confusing for many users.
Burn time: +24 hours
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I’m feeling confident about my oil lamp use. I’ve done my research, my oil lamps are filled, my wicks are trimmed, and the CO monitor is installed. Thanks for the Girl’s Guide to Oil Lamps I’m ready to go.
What kind of oil lamps do you use?