Long before there was kerosene (aka paraffin) lamp oil, people used vegetable oil lamps for lighting their homes.
These oil lamps are really easy to make and today a lot of people prefer them to kerosene lamps. They are natural, don’t produce toxic byproducts, and can be used in a pinch during power outages.
If you want to make your own vegetable oil lamp, here’s how to do it!
What Vegetable Oil Can I Use for Lamps?
You can use just about any cooking oil as a fuel for a lamp. Other types of fat – such as ghee or butter – will also work.
- Olive Oil: This is the best choice for your vegetable oil lamp. It won’t produce smoke while burning.
- Canola or Sunflower Oil: These are cheap and will burn. However, they will produce some smoke.
- Walnut, Almond, Sesame, Flax Oils: Nut and seed oils are great for lamps. They won’t produce smoke like canola will. However, these oils are pricey so you probably won’t want to use them for your lamp. Cheap olive oil is a better option.
- Ghee or Butter: Traditionally, animal fats (such as whale blubber or fish oil) were used for oil lamps, especially in cold areas where veggies weren’t available. You can actually just put a wick directly in a stick of butter and burn it. These thick fats don’t work as well in jars though.
Used Vegetable Oil for Lamps
After frying food, save the vegetable oil in a jar. You can use this oil for lamps.
Ideally you should filter the oil through a cloth first. Otherwise the chunks of food residue can start to smoke and smell!
Vegetable Oil Lamp Instructions:
There are a few different ways of making a lamp with vegetable oil.
Instead of giving you just one way, I’ll talk about the supplies so you can DIY in your own way.
Container for Holding the Oil
Almost any non-flammable container will do.
To save on oil, look for containers that are wider than they are tall.
For safety, you’ll ideally want a container which entraps the flame.
You’ll obviously want the container to be transparent though so you can actually see the flame inside.
Here are some options:
- Glass Jars
- Clay/Ceramic/Metal Dishes: Old Roman oil lamps were made from terracotta. They were shaped like gravy boats.
- Kerosene Lanterns: You know those antique-style lanterns with a glass globe inside? Even though they are designed for kerosene, you can use vegetable oil in them.
Wick (Soaked in Salt Water)
Anything made out of cotton will work as a wick. Ideally, the wick is made out of a braided material. Otherwise it will burn very quickly. Braided wicks also produce more light. However, in a pinch, you can use:
- Shoe laces
- Strips of old clothing
Here is where you need to get creative with your vegetable oil lamp.
You need the top of the wick (the part that will burn) to sit slightly above the vegetable oil. Otherwise, the oil will put out the flame.
If you are using a ceramic dish for your lamp, then you can just prop the wick on the edge. This is a bit of a fire hazard though.
Option 1: Wire Coil
For glass jar lamps, you’ll want to use wire to create a stand for the wick.
- Wrap wire around a pencil to create a coil. The coil should be long enough so your wick will stick out of the oil.
- Make a much bigger loop on the end of the coil. This will be your base.
- Thread the wick through the coil.
Option 2: Bottle Cap and Wire
One alternative solution is to use wire + a bottle cap to create a stand.
- Using a hammer and nail, poke a hole through a metal bottle cap.
- Twist the wire to make a holder for bottle cap.
- Put the wick through the hole in the bottle cap. Put the cap in place.
Option 3: Hole in a Jar Lid
If your glass jar has a lid, you can just poke a hole through the lid and thread your wick through it.
Note that you’ll have to poke air holes in the lid too.
Drape the Wick
If you use a ceramic or metal container for holding your oil, you can just drape the wick off to the side.
Of course, this means you have an open flame. It isn’t as safe as enclosing the flame inside the container.
How the Vegetable Oil Lamp Works
The vegetable oil will be drawn up into the wick.
The flame ignites it, causing the oil to vaporize. Even a small amount of oil can burn for a few hours.
Even if you are using olive oil (which is fairly expensive), it still ends up being cheaper than most candles.
Paraffin Lamp Oil vs. Vegetable Oil
Lamp oil that you buy online or from hobby stories is made from petroleum. Sometimes it is called kerosene. Other times it is called paraffin.
They are the same thing – just a highly-refined kerosene oil.
Paraffin lamp oil will not smoke or produce odor as some vegetable oils will.
Compared to vegetable oil, paraffin lamp oil has a much lower flash point. Flash point refers to the temperature at which it will ignite.
- Vegetable Oil Flash Point: Around 650 F
- Paraffin Oil Flash Point: Around 200F
The lower flash point of veggie oil means it takes longer to ignite. It will burn – but it is not exactly ideal for wicks. As it burns, it will consume the wick quickly.
By comparison, lamp oil will burn off the wick quickly. Very little of the wick will be consumed, meaning your wick will last a lot longer with paraffin lamp oil.
As a general rule: The thicker the oil, the faster the wick will be consumed and the more smoke will be produced.
Lamp Oil Is Still the Best Choice
In a disaster situation where you need some emergency lighting, vegetable oil is a great option for DIY oil lamps.
However, if you are making oil lamps for fun, then your best bet is to buy lamp oil.
It simply burns cleaner and won’t consume your wicks as quickly.
You can find lamp oil (called kerosene or paraffin lamp oil) online for fairly cheap. If you want to really save some money, then choose K-1 kerosene.
K-1 Kerosene Lamp Oil
You can find K-1 kerosene at some gas stations and at hardware stores. It is very cheap to buy and has numerous uses – such as for heating or jet fuel.
Recommended Reading: Best Kerosene Heater for Indoor Use
K-1 kerosene will still produce some odors (it contains sulfur), but the smell is minimal.
Compared to vegetable oil, the K-1 oil will burn cleanly in lamps and won’t eat up your wicks so quickly.
Recommended Reading: How to Make DIY Emergency Candles