Using Olive Oil as Fuel for Oil Lamps

October 14, 2005
oil lamp on white backgroundQ: 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 oillamps, 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.


By christi (Guest Post)
October 14, 20050 found this helpful

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.

December 28, 20050 found this helpful

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 (Guest Post)
April 24, 20060 found this helpful

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

November 14, 20142 found this helpful

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. (:

December 2, 20140 found this helpful

Olive oil has been used since ancient times. The temple lamps used this as fuel. With Chanukah approaching it's good to brush up on such topics!

December 3, 20140 found this helpful

Look on Lifehackers website for a DIY recycled kitchen fat-burning oil lamp. Interesting.

October 29, 20150 found this helpful

The problem isn't the kerosene or kerosene lamps. Its our own expectations. If you keep the flame small and efficient you wont get the fumes smell or smoke. The problem comes when modern householders turn the lamps up in the hope of getting a bright electric type light.


It is possible to burn veg oil in a kerosene lamp, you need to carefully blend it with Ethanol. the end product is similar to Bio-Diesel fuel.
Kerosene lamps with also burn heating oil, diesel, and aviation fuel. But proceed with caution on all non kerosene fuels and experiment outside and test till things get hot.
NEVER use low flash point fuels like gasoline or ethanol in a kerosene lamp though.

April 22, 20230 found this helpful

You can use medical vaseline oil in kerosine lamps, it's very clean and healthy, and don't need change wick.

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More Questions

Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community.

December 13, 2011

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


Gold Post Medal for All Time! 846 Posts
December 13, 20112 found this helpful

As long as you trim the wicks to about 1/4 inch before each use they will be fine. The reason to trim the wick is to alleviate smoke and soot which is what causes the pollution. Even olive oil will create smoke and soot if wicks aren't kept trimmed so you might as well save yourself some money by using lamp oil ;-)

The only thing I would worry about is keeping the lamps out of reach of the children. Oh, and always blow out the lamps; never try to turn the wick down to put the flame out!


Gold Feedback Medal for All Time! 509 Feedbacks
December 13, 20111 found this helpful

You should watch everyone in your house for any kind of reaction, such as respiratory symptoms or headaches when you burn oil lamps to be sure it's safe for your family.

I had oil lamps from the time I was just a young teenager. I loved them & burned them frequently in my bedroom & later my home with never any problems. Then in my late 20s or early 30s, I started getting these odd, sharp, overall chest pains & a headache when I would burn the lamps. I thought maybe I had bad oil,or it had something to do with the dye (I loved the colored stuff), so I replaced it with a different brand of clear oil - same reaction.

Thought maybe it was carbon monoxide, so I opened windows, didn't help. Eventually I began having the same reaction to some candles, so I can't burn even those!


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December 14, 20110 found this helpful

Olive oil works a treat in oil lamps but that is an expensive fuel!

Purpose made lamps and oil need to be watched for the country of origin as several countries manufacturing the oil are using lead in wicks, and to make the oil burn smoother and last longer-you don't want to be burning that in your house! You may want to avoid using the kerosene lamp oil as it does have some health concerns associated with its use indoors.

The same countries are putting lead into scented candles as well, the worst offenders being China and Mexico. Here is a link with several articles gathered on one page: (not that I'm endorsing soy candles, actually beeswax is the best imho)


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December 16, 20110 found this helpful

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.

August 14, 20180 found this helpful

average lifespan was quite low compared to now. They could easily have died of something else first. They easily could have been developing lung disease from the fumes but died from other more rapid killers.

March 7, 20190 found this helpful

people died of Tuberculosis at alarming rates in pioneer times, just as they do now in parts of the world where there's no electricity so kerosene lamps are the main form of lighting.
I'm from rural Scotland and people my mothers generation (now in their 40s and 50s) have weak lungs because they grew up using paraffin lamps.
as i understand it, modern super refined paraffin/ lamp oil is much safer than the old stuff but it still gives me a headache almost immediately, as do paraffin candles.

May 31, 20190 found this helpful

The people in earlier eras who burned kerosene didn't know any better. We do.

October 9, 20190 found this helpful

Modern houses are much more air tight than the old ones. So, you get higher concentrations faster.

October 20, 20191 found this helpful

What planet are you from!
Olive oil since time began to burn in lamps, millennia before kerosene.

October 22, 20190 found this helpful

years ago I found some glass containers that used oil and wicks. I replaced the wicks and the oil and it smokes really badly. I just used the madallion oil from Walmart so am wondering if with using the olive oil they would not smoke. I trimmed the wicks very good so thinking it is the oil. Opinions??

November 8, 20190 found this helpful

in pioneer times they didn't have the same quality of seals on windows and doors that we have now, so airflow was a lot better back then.

November 9, 20190 found this helpful

Define "pioneer days"... since kerosene (as such) dates from the 1850s.

March 12, 20200 found this helpful

Whale oil too was used as lamp oil... Olive oil is probably the healthiest, but also most expensive. Corn oil can be used, I find Corn oil makes the air heavier to breathe. If it's used for short term (1 DAY use) I'd go either way depending what you can Afford. Long term you don't want to use any oils.... Your breathing in garbage... As if you're a Cigarette smoker~ But if your freezing or in the dark use what you can... But remember Crack the window a tiny bit to allow oxygen in, 1/4" If your going to heat your house with it...

April 5, 20200 found this helpful

Olive oil is what is and was used in the Middle East, kerosene is a chemical

October 12, 20200 found this helpful

I have heard some countries r now making wicks with lead in them. That could explain your reaction to both oil lamps and candles. Try looking for cotton wicks.

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April 26, 2020

Why would an oil lamp filled with olive oil set off a smoke alarm after being lit for 4 hours when there's no visible smoke? How can I stop that from happening? This happened once before with safflower oil. It seems random - last week it was lit longer, until there was no more oil, and the alarm stayed silent.

I use a traditional butter lamp - basically a metal goblet and a piece of a cotton ball rolled into a 1/4" thick wick inserted in the center of the goblet with its tip about a 1/4" above the oil.


Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 196 Feedbacks
April 26, 20200 found this helpful

Ours goes off from the heat, not the smoke. You may just want to move the lamp around until you find a place where it doesn't trigger the device. Glad the device works! Leave it be!!


Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 140 Posts
April 27, 20200 found this helpful

The heat was to high for this area. Sometimes a better ventilated place helps. Make sure there are not a lot of items near it. Certain oils create higher heat and smoke. If you have a choice, try using oil that has less burn off!


Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 105 Posts
April 27, 20200 found this helpful

Olive oil is fine for your lamp. Where do you have it set? Is it near your smoke alarm. Normally smoke alarms go off from heat or smote. If the lamp is not smoking then it must be the heat. I would move this away from that area and place it in another area.


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April 28, 20200 found this helpful

I'm sure distance from the smoke alarm has a lot to do with this but if you are placing it in the same spot and the smoke alarm is going off at different times then most likely it has to do with the air movement of either a ceiling fan or your AC turning on more often as that will cool the air before it reaches the alarm.
These alarms are called 'smoke alarms' but they are really heat/smoke alarms and are definitely something to keep working properly in any home.


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April 29, 20200 found this helpful

It is possible that the olive oil is burning hotter and that's what's setting off the smoke alarm. Maybe go back to the safflower oil.

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December 15, 2014

I know there's a proper name for the poor quality, high-acid, non-food use olive oil that's preferred as lamp oil. It would not be sold in grocery stores.

By Pat M.


October 4, 20150 found this helpful


December 11, 20160 found this helpful

It's called pomace. Solvents are used to fully extract the oil from the dregs of the olives, making the oil the lowest-grade of the olive oils and unsuitable for consumption.

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November 16, 2013

I am curious to know the rate at which olive oil burns, specifically, how long will the 1/2 cup of olive oil I've just put into my first homemade olive oil-Mason jar lamp last? In my workplace we use numerous paraffin tea lights every night.

I am hoping to find an inexpensive, eco alternative that I can turn my bosses onto. I'm guessing they will want to know how long the olive oil will last so they can calculate costs for this lighting option.

By Katherine B.


January 21, 20140 found this helpful

Can't you just light one and time it? Also would probably vary on the quality of the oil and wick that you use.

December 11, 20170 found this helpful

So I used extra virgin olive oil in a tin gift box top from the dollar store and used a coffee filter paper that I just submerged in the extra virgin olive oil and lit on fire and burned for hours. My apartment filled with smoke but it was beautiful it did not make me cough or sting my eyes like other smoke does. I even mixed it with candle wax still good so that is my contribution

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6 Links

Gold Post Medal for All Time! 846 Posts
February 10, 2010

I just came across this great 'How to make your own Olive Oil Lamp' tutorial and I think you guys will like it a lot, too!


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