No camper, hunting kit, or cabin in the woods is complete without an oil lamp. Oil lamps are favorites of the outdoor explorer because of their versatility: they are safe to burn inside and outdoors. But lamp oil isn’t exactly cheap, so many outdoor enthusiasts wonder, is there another fuel source for oil lamps?
While kerosene and refined lamp oil are the traditional fuel of choice for oil lamp users, there are other options. Vegetable oils like olive oil, canola, or seed-based oils (sesame, flax, etc.) burn safely and efficiently in oil lamps, lasting upwards of 100 hours.
Best Vegetable Oils for Oil Lamps
One of the main benefits of oil lamps is their ability to burn cleanly, meaning they don’t need ventilating when used indoors. It’s important to use fuel that will burn cleanly to prevent dangerous fumes from entering the living space.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that some vegetable oils will burn better than others. Popular oils to burn in lamps include:
Olive oil is the favorite retro-fitting oil for oil lamps. It burns cleanly, is inexpensive, and produces little smoke. There’s no need to buy extra-virgin, either. Cheap, pure olive oil will do.
Another inexpensive option, peanut oil, burns reasonably well as a fuel source. However, it can produce more smoke than olive oil.
Coconut oil has a low smoke point of 350-degrees. While this means it isn’t the best oil for deep frying, it has more than enough tolerance as a long-lasting oil lamp fuel. Keep in mind that coconut oil has a light scent of coconut when burned.
Sunflower or Canola Oil
Sunflower and canola oils both serve as fuel sources for oil lamps with relative success. However, both oils can produce smoke, so it’s best to burn them near a window just in case.
General Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil like Crisco will burn in an oil lamp and are great for a dirt-cheap fuel option. However, because most generic vegetable oil products contain a mixture of oils, smoke production will vary and definitely be more significant than olive oil.
Will Vegetable Oils Last As Long As Kerosene?
Kerosene, paraffin, and other traditional fuel sources will last longer than vegetable oil because of their design – their only function is to burn well. Paraffin, for example, will burn the wick slower than vegetable oils, offering a longer burning duration.
Thus, when it comes to achieving the longest burn time possible, kerosene remains the recommended source. However, if you need inexpensive oil or have an emergency, vegetable oils will last for several days in a lamp.
Best Practices For Burning Vegetable Oil In Oil Lamps
While using an oil lamp is pretty self-explanatory, there are specific practices you should follow to ensure the safe and most efficient use of the lamp.
Antique Oil Lamps
Suppose you happen to have an antique oil lamp hanging in the cabin or decorating the house’s entryway. In that case, it’s best to treat the antique to the manufacturer’s oil of choice – usually, lamp oil, paraffin, or kerosene. Unfortunately, vegetable oils can damage antique lamps, ruining the artifact.
Occasionally, vegetable oils like Canola oil can clog an oil lamp’s wick. Unsaturated compounds in the oil can trigger the development of a resin in the lamp. The thicker material will clog the wick and prevent the lamp from holding a flame.
If wick clumps do develop, you have a few options to fix the problem.
Option 1: If you need to avoid replacing the wick, try cleaning the wick by soaking it in rubbing alcohol to break down the compounds. Let it dry completely before returning the wick to the lamp. Additionally, swap out the resin-contaminated oil with a fresh batch.
Option 2: Replace the wick and the batch of oil in the lamp. Do not over-fill the lamp (more on oil levels below.)
Oil lamps can burn for up to 150 hours, but more oil in the lamp does not necessarily improve its function. Too-much vegetable oil can contribute to resin build-up and wick clogging. Keep your lams half-filled for optimal burning and to reduce the chance of excess smoke, resin, and clogs.
Many oils evaporate over time, so you must keep your lamp tightly sealed to prevent loss of oil.
Additionally, you should store lamps not in use away from electrical outlets, heat sources, and out of reach of children.
Lamp Oil and Freezing Temperatures
Many adventurers take oil lamps ice fishing or on a snowshoeing trip. While oil lamps work great in most outdoor conditions, keep in mind that lamp oil can freeze when temperatures hit 20 to 15-degrees Fahrenheit.
If lamp oil does freeze, you can thaw it over the fire and continue to use it. If the wick burns continuously, the lamp is less likely to freeze.
When it comes to fueling your oil lamp for the next outdoor adventure, vegetable oil is a cost-effective and efficient solution. The wide variety of oils available provides ample selection for the lamp-loving outdoorsman.
Just keep in mind that many oils burn at different rates, and some may produce more smoke than others. When in doubt, test out your selected oil in the lamp before your next adventure. Finally, always keep a backup of kerosene in the pack.