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Oil Lamp For Preparedness – Quality Matters, Safety, Tips

An oil lamp (hurricane lamp) is a unique low tech emergency preparedness asset for a power outage event. It will do two things for you. It will provide light, and some heat. Yes, heat. It’s surprising actually..

An oil lamp is a practical source of emergency lighting and will burn brighter than an ordinary candle. It will also provide some heat into the room.

Read on for more tips and recommendations, and an estimated cost-per-hour to operate one (did the math, just for fun…).

How Bright is an Oil Lamp

An oil lamp will burn brighter than a candle. Its brightness varies from lamp to lamp (due to design). It will produce several (or more) candlepower of light than a candle.

What is Candlepower

It’s an old standard of relative brightness. Candlepower, although mostly an obsolete measurement these days, was once used to express levels of light intensity in terms of the light emitted by a candle of specific size and constituents. Given that we’re talking about oil lamps, it seems appropriate.

For example the following Feuerhand lantern (though somewhat expensive given its quality) will output 7-8 candlepower with its 1/2 inch wick, according to their data:

Genuine Feuerhand Hurricane Lantern
(view on amzn)
Feuerhand Lantern

Why I like the Feuerhand Oil Lamp

1. Made in Germany (they design good stuff).

2. Moderately priced (some quality lamps are lots more expensive).

3. The Feuerhand is equipped with thermal heat-resistant ‘SUPRAX’ globes which will not crack even when touched by rain or snow.

4. Tank holds enough fuel for about 20 hours of light.

5. Burns K1 Kerosene, Lamp Oil, or vegetable oils.

A less expense alternative… I recommend the following oil lamp (Dietz) for a decent mid-grade model:

>> Dietz Original Oil Burning Lantern
(view on amzn)

Lamp Oil

Generally, an oil lamp will burn about 0.5 ounces of lamp oil per hour.

While a hurricane lamp will burn a variety of oils, there are quite a number of choices out there for purpose-made ‘smokeless’ lamp oil.

Cost per Hour

One cost-effective choice that I’ve found is the following ‘Firefly’ lamp oil, sold by the gallon (128 ounces). Its usage mathematically calculates to an operating cost of about $0.11 (11 cents) per hour, given its current price.

Firefly CLEAN Lamp Oil – Smokeless
(view on amzn)

One gallon of lamp oil will last about 256 hours. If you burned 6 hours a day, one gallon of lamp oil would last you about 42 days…

Maybe your rule-of-thumb for preparedness is 1 gallon per oil lamp per month of full time (night time) operation.

The nice thing about these lamps is the ability to burn all sorts of vegetable oils. Again, a factor is the wick itself. I’ve tried this a few times. Generally it seemed the vegetable oil was drawn up more slowly. My wick charred more. I didn’t get into experimenting with other wicks but I suspect that some wicks may more readily draw up those oils.

[ Read: Do-It-Yourself Olive Oil Lamp ]

Will Lamp Oil go Bad?

It’s fairly safe to say, No, it won’t go bad. Lamp oil has an indefinite shelf life. We’re not cooking with it – we’re burning it. Even if you’re using old olive oil which has gone rancid, it won’t matter to the lantern.

Lamp Oil Tips

1. OLD VEGETABLE OIL
If you have old (rancid) olive oil (for example), you can burn that too. Your results may vary depending on the properties of the wick.

2. FUEL LEVEL
Keep the tank at least half-full for most effective wicking.

3. CITRONELLA
Use Citronella oil during the summertime on the porch – bugs don’t like it…
Firefly Citronella Scented Lamp Oil
(view on amzn)

Cut and Trim The Wick

The wick itself doesn’t burn (the top edge chars). It’s the oil that burns as it’s drawn up the wick.

To get the brightest light and the least smoke, trim the wick to a point. Cut an angle on each side such that the middle is the point.

Some people like the flame to be curved and cut an arc into the wick, while others simply cut straight across.

A wick will last a long long time if it is properly drawing lamp oil.

Wick TipS

1. TRIM
Trim the charred edge of the wick before starting a new burn.

2. HEIGHT
If the flame height is adjusted too high, the flame may smoke.

Oil Lamp SAFETY

Fire Hazard

It produces flame. Take all logical and common sense precautions to ensure fire safety. Every home should be equipped with fire extinguishers regardless.

Safety Tips

1. PLACEMENT
Consider the location where the lamp is placed, such that it’s less likely to be bumped or knocked over. Obviously if you have children in the house, you need to be particularly concerned about that.

2. CHIMNEY
The chimney will get very hot – even after it’s ‘off’ for awhile, so be careful.

3. PROXIMITY
The heat radiating off the top of the chimney can catch fire to flammable materials too closely above it.

4. REFILLING
Don’t add oil to a flaming or hot lamp.

5. CLEANING
Regularly clean the chimney as soot builds up.

6. EXTINGUISHING
To put out the flame, blow a quick burst of air down the chimney (cupping your hand at the top edge of the chimney will help direct the air blast).

Does Oil Lamp Produce Carbon Monoxide

Combustion produces carbon monoxide. The question is, how much? Depends on fuel, burn efficiency, exhaust, etc. Some fuels produce very little (e.g butane stove).

[ Read: Single Burner Butane Stove Safer For Cooking Indoors ]

Yes, a oil lamp will give off some carbon monoxide. People have relied on these lamps for thousands of years, and we’re still here. With that said, I highly recommend having a carbon monoxide detector in your home. One with a battery backup.

[ Read: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Symptoms & Recommendations ]

Lets hear your own suggestions, tips, and experiences on this subject…

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38 Comments

  1. Good article Ken,,
    Reminds me to dig out my lamps and clean/check them,,
    Have a couple large Deitz hurricaine lanterns and a bunch of old school glass lamps, they do come in handy,
    One of the lamps has olive oil in it, is where i will burn any old olive oil or vegetable oil,
    One of the things on my to do list is to get a barrel of Kerosene, works good in the lamps, not as fancy and does have an odor but i grew up with that, everyone else will just have to get used to it.

  2. There is a lamp/attachment that allows you to use it as a small stove. I am getting extra wicks delivered today from amazon. 1/2 inch wick. 6 feet long for under 6 bucks.👍🔥

    1. Living in the woods, I ordered the same thing, also 3/4 inch wick roll, good price I thought. Added a gallon of fuel. Was looking at a couple more lanterns yesterday, up pops this article today, timing is everything.

  3. Kerosene lamps and lanterns were in everyone’s home when I was a kid. My grandparents were dependent on them. When I was a child, a group of my mother’s childhood friends took me under their wing a taught me to love coon hunting with hounds at night. Even though all carried flashlights, at least one would carry a kerosene lantern used to traverse the woods until we got to the tree where the hounds had run the coon to.

    Right now I have two full size oil table lamps, two kerosene lanterns, and one antique brass wall lamp with reflector. I wouldn’t trade them for any more modern emergency/shtf lighting.

    It’s amazing how the human body adjusts to it’s environment. Just like how, after prolonged expose to extreme heat or cold, your body adjusts so less extreme temperatures feel comfortable, the more moderate light from an oil lamp/lantern will gradually become more than sufficient as we adjust.

    We lose grid power on a fairly regular basis where I live. I keep an oil lantern hanging on our front porch, which I keep lit at night when the power is out, at least until we go to bed. A neighbor who lives close to a mile away on another ridge says she can see the light from her home.

    Ever been in a tourist cave where the guide turns off the lighting? Then you have experienced total darkness. Most of these guides will turn off the lighting, then after a minutes or so, flick a BIC lighter. Most folks are shocked how much light it puts out. Compared to total darkness, that is.

    Want to multiply the perceived lighting from a lamp or lantern? Take a cheap picture frame or even a dinner plate and cover it with aluminum foil. Place it behind the lamp/lantern to reflect the light out into the area you want the most light. We used to make wall mounts for table lamps and use foil or mirrors to reflect light and protect the wall from heat damage. FWIW.

  4. We have been pleased with W.T. Kirkman lanterns. We have some model #2 Champion cold blast units . They have a 27 hour burn time , put out 1400 BTU, 12-14 candlepower and cost about 6 cents per hour to operate . They cost about $ 49.00 each . Kerosene seems to be getting a little pricey in our area so we stock up when it is on sale .

  5. Personally I like the Feuerhand lanterns, I have 4 of them and really enjoy the “light” they give off. Extremely soothing, and a good compliment to a wood fire in the old Wood Stove.
    I burn K-1 only, never tried Veg-Oils, thinking the smell might be a little ‘different’.
    AND Kero is very cheap compared to the Lamp Oils out there. Here kero is right at $3 a gallon at the pump.
    But honestly one can buy really cheap lanterns for around $10 to have as a backup for “Lights Out”, and store a 5 gallon can of K-1 and your set for quite awhile.

    1. PS; remember that a stored drum of K-1 can also be used for Diesel if needed.
      BUT, I would not burn straight Diesel in a Lantern.

  6. As Ken mentions, it has a flame, so there is an inherent hazard. However, those scenes in movies where a fallen lamp bursts into flames like a Molotov cocktail is highly unlikely, maybe impossible. Try it! Just kidding.
    Lamp oil will evaporate, sometimes more in some lamps than others. I have one that has lost nearly all and others are maintaining levels. All of them use lamp oil of one type or another, might be some evaporate sooner. I’ll just keep closed containers in storage.

  7. I have at least 7 oil lamps of various size, and from old school, to fairly modern. I like them all. It seems each one has it’s own personality, so to speak, when they burn. They are soothing and warm to the eye. One thing I would suggest is to burn the best oil you can afford. Otherwise, whatever you can get your hands on. I have one lamp that has a night shade. It is a metal shade, imperforated with designs, that just slides over the chimney. It’s nice if you want to leave a lamp going all night, not to bright. I also have one of those that hang on the wall, with the reflector, like Dennis has. I looked up an article about olive oil lamps, and made myself a couple out of pint, wide mouth jars. I was surprised at how well they worked. Nice to have a couple of oil lamps around.

    1. Guess what? I just discovered the article I looked up for the olive oil lamp was on here. June 28, 2014. Silly me. See Kens note above. Was a good article.

  8. We have a couple of old table lamps and one small metal lamp. I think the metal one came out of a wooden base of some sort. It will only burn about 6 hours on a fill up. I have used it to thaw frozen pipes in a small pump house. The Feuerhand looks like a good idea. I wonder if city people realize how dark it is with no power or vehicles to make light?

  9. We have several oil lamps. When the wick is adjusted properly, they are brighter than candles but can also be adjusted so they put out very little light.
    They are great for prolonged power outages as they will provide light without burning through your batteries! This leaves your battery powered flashlights and headlights available for other, potentially more important tasks.

  10. I’ve got an old lamp that is great. I’ll have to check out these others because I want more.

  11. Got a question about this for y’all: does anyone have any experience with those cheap $9-12 ones from Walmart?
    I’ve often wondered bout them but just never got around to trying one out.

    1. Matt in Oklahoma;
      Yep, I have a couple of them…
      Some sort of plastic “glass” and cheap wick folder, but guess what…
      Tis better than sitting in the dark.

      1. @NRP that’s good to know. I’ve seriously thought about ordering a case lot and distributing them between the group and family.
        I still want a few more quality ones but as you said it’s better than sitting in the dark.
        I appreciate the input.

      2. I got a bunch of them. There about 6 bucks around here. Never noticed the plasti-glass tho. Never had any problems except on one the wick gear stripped out. I keep it around for spare parts. If you don’t over fill them they shouldn’t leak. They also have smaller 8 inch ones.
        Ups just dropped off my rolls of wicks from amazon.🔥👍

        1. @Joe C and @Livin in the Woods that’s good to know. Maybe this is doable without breaking the bank

        2. Matt,

          I bought two of them a few years back at Wally World. One works well, one had a stripped wick gear like Livin’ in the Woods mentioned. Wally World probably would have taken it back or exchanged it, but I didn’t even try it out until I had them for over a year. I would by them again, just test them when I get home just in case I got a bad one.

    2. Matt in OK
      I believe I bought my Dietz from TSC, good metal seams and real glass. They are small. About 10-12 inches tall. But do the job.
      Paid $10.?? ea. But that was umpteen yrs ago.

    3. We have two of them, but the globes are glass, not plastic. They work fine for us.

  12. We have a few Dietz lanterns. Mostly for decoration, but when the power goes out, off the wall they go to do their duty. We have cats and dogs so the lamps are closely watched or hung up. Wagging tails or couriosity is not a good thing.
    A few years back, GF came home with a dozen lamps from a yard sale and only paid a few bucks for all. Not sure of the make. A couple leakers, but everything else is salvageable.
    Plenty of wicks, oils, and stored kerosene.
    A lamp with extra Citronella oil is always in the camper.

  13. I have a couple of oil lamps we use when the power is out. I didn’t know you could use cooking oils in them. Would cooking oils work in a kerosene heater as well?

    1. car guy,

      I’ve had a kerosene heater, used it one season and gave it to neighbor. I highly doubt they would work on cooking oils, at least not efficiently, if at all. They are catalytic and I would bet the cooking oil would clog the wick/burner. The design is dependent on burning the fuel very efficiently to get a more complete combustion to keep down carbon monoxide. Manufacturers said to use only the purest kerosene in them. I remember at the time they designated No.1-Water Clear Kerosene only.

  14. Ha! This article made me get out my Dietz lamp and figure it out. It looks a lot like the picture in this article. I put it up on a six-foot cabinet. It seems dim because I’m staring into an iPad monitor, but it certainly improves the atmosphere! I have another one of those and two glass “coal oil” lamps that were my grandmother’s. She had electricity when I was a girl, but I remember visiting her at night, and the only light was from her oil lamps. Thanks for the memory!

  15. When shopping for a lantern look at tank capacity and burn time. Barn lanterns can burn long long time with huge tanks. A camping lantern doesn’t need to.

  16. One time I took a used tuna can that I had filled with bacon grease to throw out later. Later in the evening I took Q tips with the cardboard stem. Cut them down. Stuck them in the jelled grease and lit them up. They burned quite well, and after a while, a few of the q tips layed over, but still burned for hours. PLUS the whole cabin smelled like bacon!!!!! 😉
    I might try doing that with a piece of lantern wick.

    1. @Livin in the woods
      I’ve rendered deer antelope fat and done the same. It didn’t smell as good though lol

  17. Lehman’s has an assortment of lanterns listed. They used to have a much larger variety. Some of which were very nice and expensive. The prices listed now don’t look too bad.

    1. I stand corrected. When searching Lehman’s website, they have some pretty pricey oil lamps. But they sure sure look nice.

  18. I like the feeling of having an oil lamp, they give a warm comforting glow, are very off-grid, can sit for 20-years and be light up with a moments notice.

    I have a few of them and several gallons of lamp oil. I use them every so often as I like the glow they give off. I have one in the bedroom that gets a few hours of use each week.

    With that said I have pretty much converted to LED lights as they give more light and are less dangerous to use. And some of the LED lanterns I have have, have a built in solar panel.

    With these solar lights all I do is let them sit in a window and they are ready for use. They are always fully charged. And they are much more durable. I can drop one (and I do way too often) and pick it up and it continues to work and suffers not at all from the drop. Drop an oil lamp and it breaks and may burn your house down.

    And I also have a homemade solar charging setup (a 50-watt solar panel and a Maha C-9,000 charger) to charge AA & AAA batteries that I use in many other devices including lights. I also have a 12-volt charger for D, C & 9-volt batteries I can run from a solar panel.

    I have a LOT of Sanyo Eneloop batts (maybe 70 of them) that hold a charge for 5-years and I keep them charged and ready to go.

    And I also have again “A LOT” of D, C, 9-volt, AA & AAA alkaline batteries put up. Not as sustainable as the Eneloop’s but nothing the less they are nice to have.

    Oil lamps are great, but technology has passed them by. I don’t buy new-tech for the sake of having the latest thing, but at the same time I’m not tied to old ways for the sake of using old things.

    I take a look (cost vs. benefit annalists) at the pros and cons and for the most part LED lights with solar charging comes out way ahead.

    But like I said I still have a few oil lamps to play with, but they will never be more then a small part of my lighting.

    And if we were to get a bad ecnomic SHTF it may be a bit hard to find more fuel at reasonable prices.

    But the sun will continue to shine for a few billion more years so it will provide a way to power LED lights and do so for free.

    PS: I long ago quit using Duracell’s as they seem to leak a lot and make a mess of the inside of electronic things. I also don’t buy Energizer as I had some bad (and expensive) experiences with them. I refuse to give ” The Bunny” any of my money.

    What I do use as far as alkaline is Panasonic AA & AAA batts I buy from “The Dollar Tree” 7 or 8-years of use and I have not had a single Panasonic leak. You can buy 3 AA or AAA Panasonic Alkaline for $1.00. And again I have A LOT of these put up.

  19. I picked up a mini oil lamp yesterday from Goodwill for $2. Only holds about 3/4 cup of oil and has a round wick. The whole thing is 8 inches tall and 3 inches wide. Great buy!

  20. I have a question for the group. I have asthma and I have trouble using a kerosene heater. The same applies to using a oil lantern. My question is does burning cooking oil put off the same smell and or smoke as the kerosene and oil lamps? During power outages I have used the others but always end up having an asthma attack so just wondering if the cooking oil would make a difference.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Barbie, is different Bacon grease smells like bacon, and so can burning the cooking oil from a deep fryer.. smells like what you cooked in it.. try getting a can of crisco in generic and put in 3 of the emergency candles… hollow out a small well around each one, …candle can be used for cooking with a raised rack..(chaffing dish type) or will give light for up to 100 hours depending on how big the can of crisco is. It will blacken above it unless it is shielded in some manner…
      There are plans on internet .. go to you tube put in” Live Smarter” “flower pot heater.”. it gives specific instructions……to use clay flower pots, and tray for biggest pot..w/hole in center.. and threaded rods, washers and nuts.. to make a holder for small tea candles… to give off light and heat. Pots and threaded rods and nuts(12) absorb the heat and release it slowly…

  21. Oil Lamp Question:

    I use an oil lamp in the bedroom every so often and even with odorless oil (at least that what it says it is?) I still get a smell that is stronger then I like.

    Is there an additive that would give off a pleasant odor?

    I wonder if some essential oils could be mixed in to give it a nicer smell?

    Any suggestions?

    1. Cliffhanger,
      I mix scented lamp oil with kerosene. Some scented lamp oils are quite strong so would suggest start with 50/50 mix and experiment one way and the other until you get the right combination for your liking.

  22. I just bought my first lamp! an antique oil lamp, and it’s missing a chimney. Looks to be in great shape otherwise though. this article was very helpful, I completely forgot about carbon monoxide.

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