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Using Olive Oil as Fuel for Oil Lamps?

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Q: I have read somewhere that olive oil is a safe, inexpensive and non- toxic substitute for lamp oil. I tried to use it in one of my oil lamps, but it didn't work. The wick burnt, smoked and went out.

Does anyone know if a special lamp or wick is required to use olive oil?

Terry Lynn from Toronto, Ontario

A: Terry Lynn,

It's a safe, renewable alternative, but I'm not sure how inexpensive it is. It's safer to burn because olive oil has low volatility due to its high flash point (it won't burn until it reaches 550°F). Burning olive oil also generates less smoke and leaves behind less soot than most other oils. Older olive oil tends to burn the best, and even when rancid is practically odorless while burning.

The key to burning olive oil is to keep the wick saturated at all times. The thickness of the oil affects the capillary action so soaking the wick in oil before lighting it works best. Use wicks with a large weave or even tightly twisted strips of cotton cloth. You can also make a wick from a cotton swab. Dip the swab into the oil and then twist the oiled end off of the swab stick and shape it into a teardrop. Float the "teardrop" onto the oil and light. Use low-grade olive oil. It will burn just as well as any high-grade olive oil, but will be cheaper. A little will go along way because it burns quite slowly.

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Recent Answers

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By MamaJo11/14/2014

I seem to be more sensitive than most to environmental pollutants, so I consider myself the canary in the coal mine. I can tell you that when we used our (5) oil lamps when our power went out, I had a headache within 15 minutes. That tells me that liquid paraffin lamp oil is toxic. And why wouldn't it be? It's a petroleum product.

And yes, pioneers used kerosene all the time. But they also had drafty homes, not the well insulated tightly constructed homes that most of us have now. Despite that inadvertent ventilation, many still suffered from respiratory diseases like TB, known then as consumption. The fact that the kerosene-burning pioneers didn't all die of it, doesn't mean kerosene isn't toxic.

Some people can tolerate higher toxic loads than others, but I wouldn't be taking that chance with children who by virtue of their diminutive size, are typically less tolerant.

Firefly, a Canadian company, makes a non-paraffin clean burning lamp oil. It's available in quart size on Amazon with free shipping if you just want to try it, but it's more economical from Firefly by the gallon even with shipping added.

I plan to experiment with some old olive oil I have to see if I can make it work in our regular oil lamps. I expect it will take a bit of effort to get all the paraffin oil residue out of them, but I'm going for it. (:

By (Guest Post)04/24/2006

There are inexpensive lamps which burn olive oil quite nicely. Lehman' handles them. Regular lamps don't work. Jim

By Chuck R. [5]12/28/2005

Yes, the wick needs to be close to the fuel. You cannot use candle wicks, they are too thin. Use a flat wick for kerosene lamps, or a round 1/4" oil lamp wick. Olive oil makes a little soot and a little smell, but vegetable oil makes even more soot.

By christi (Guest Post)10/14/2005

The big secret here is that you need to design your lamp/wick system the opposite of how a lamp is built to burn kerosene. In the olive oil lamps, you need to have the wick as close to the fuel as possible, due to the not so great "drawing" capability of olive oil. It makes sense, but you cannot burn kerosene or other "lamp oils" in a olive oil lamp and vice versa; or Kaboom!

With the wick, you can wrap it with a flexible wire (solid core), like copper, and use the metal to bend the wick into a little coil with support. Try to expose 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of wick above the oil, and you are pretty much in business...

This is the information I could find on it.


Here are questions related to Using Olive Oil as Fuel for Oil Lamps?.

Question: Olive Oil Versus Lamp Oil

I just purchased several inexpensive oil lamps and I placed them around the house in case of power outage. I decided to do a trial run; I went ahead and lit them all, burning a cheaper Walmart product, Medallion lamp oil. After the fact I got a little worried and opened all the doors in my house to ventilate (we have 4 young children). Is lamp oil safe to burn inside? There was nothing about it on the packaging. Should I just abandon the cheap stuff and only burn olive oil? Does anyone out there know about lamp oil dangers? I'd be most grateful.

By noorly from Northwest

Most Recent Answer

By Louise B. [5]12/16/2011

I have never heard of using olive oil in lamps! All of the lamps that I have are supposed to use either the modern lamp oils from the stores, or kerosene. Kerosene, which of course is what everyone used in pioneer times, has a distinctive odor, so you may want to stick to the modern products.

In pioneer times, people burned lamps inside the home ALL the time. Why woulldn`t it be safe to do so now.

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