7 Zippo Lighter Fluid Alternatives That Work (And 6 That Don’t)

A Zippo lighter is a useful addition to any EDC kit. Lightweight and versatile, it’s easy to light even in high winds, stays lit without you holding it, and it’s robust enough to withstand any survival experience. 

Keeping a Zippo full of fuel, however, is a challenge. Zippos burn a lighter fluid made up of a petroleum distillate or synthetic isoparaffinic hydrocarbon known as naphtha. This substance evaporates at temperatures of around 70℉, quickly rendering your lighter empty and ineffectual. 

A bulky tin of lighter fluid would help your lighter live longer, but it will also weigh you down and take up valuable space in your bug-out bag. 

If you want your Zippo to be versatile, you need to find an alternative fuel source.

Three features determine whether or not a fluid will work as an alternative to Zippo fuel. 

These are:

  • Flashpoint – the temperature at which the fluid gives off enough vapor to cause it to ignite
  • Flammability – the compound’s ability to support combustion. Any liquid with a flashpoint of less than 100°F is considered flammable.
  • Combustibility – the fluid’s ability to catch fire and burn. 

The key to finding an appropriate alternative is balance. While you want the fuel to be flammable, you don’t want it to explode. You also need some evaporation to make the lighter work, but too much would render the lighter useless in a matter of hours.

7 Zippo Fuel Alternatives That Actually Work

#1 Ronson Lighter Fuel

Containing the same compounds as Zippo lighter fuel, this will work just as well as the original. While the plastic bottle makes it easier to chuck into your bug-out bag, it doesn’t resolve the weight issue.  Readily available everywhere, see it on Amazon.

#2 Perfume or aftershave

While this produces a strange crackling sound, it burns consistently and safely. 

#3 WD40

wd40 can on workbench

There are many surprising facts about WD40 and a few myths besides.

One of these is that WD40 can be used to light a Zippo. Surprisingly enough, this is very much a fact.

While it won’t burn as cleanly as the original lighter fluid, it is flammable enough to produce a flame. Using it regularly may damage your lighter’s wick and cotton, reducing your Zippo’s life expectancy.

#4 Nail Varnish Remover 

Consisting mainly of acetone, nail varnish remover works surprisingly well as Zippo fuel. It can get a little smokey, but it ignites and burns well. You can combine it with vegetable oil to make your own WD40 substitute.

#5 Gasoline/Petrol

gasoline stockpile

Being very similar to lighter fuel, gasoline is one of the best alternatives. As with acetone, it does produce a larger and somewhat smokier flame but burns very effectively.

#6 White Gas

Coleman Fuel, or white gas, is very similar to Zippo lighter fuel. Both are petroleum naphtha products and are, therefore, virtually interchangeable.

Check it out on Amazon

#7 Paint Thinners

Paint thinners are made from various chemical compounds, including acetone and naphtha, which work well as Zippo lighter fuel alternatives.

While discovering the seven wonders of the world of alternative Zippo lighter fuels, I stumbled across several that sound promising but don’t live up to expectations:

6 Promising Fuels That Explode Or Fail To Light A Zippo 

#1 Charcoal Lighter Fluid 

This petroleum-based fluid is more commonly used to get a barbecue started so there’s no question about its flammability. With a flashpoint of around 105°F, however, it doesn’t cut the mustard as lighter fuel.

Fill your Zippo with this stuff, and you’ll get little more than a shower of sparks. You’d be better off lugging a bottle of Zippo lighter fuel around with you than this. 

#2 Methylated Spirits 

While this should work in theory, in practice, it doesn’t appear to be combustible enough, as this video demonstrates.

#3 Vodka

It wasn’t easy finding out whether or not vodka could work as an alternative to Zippo lighter fuel. It seems very few people have experimented, probably preferring to use vodka as fuel for themselves.

Those that have attempted it appear to have lived to tell the tale, but, looking at this video, there’s no guarantee! I think we can all agree that vodka’s perhaps just a little too flammable to make for a safe lighter fuel.

Having said that, others claim to have lit their Zippos safely and effectively using Jamaican rum and Bosnian brandy!

#4 Rubbing Alcohol

While it should be possible to convert a Zippo to use rubbing or 100% alcohol, it’s not easy to get it to ignite. 

#5 Kerosene

Although kerosene is a highly combustible hydrocarbon liquid, it doesn’t work in a Zippo. It won’t ignite on its own, so you would need to light the wick manually, but even then, you won’t get a sustainable flame. 

Despite that, some survivalists claim to have successfully used JP8, or jet fuel, in their Zippos (which is kerosene based). I’m not entirely convinced, however, and fear the fumes may have gone to their heads!

#6 Diesel 

Unlike gasoline, diesel is combustible but not flammable. The liquid doesn’t burn, only the vapor, so it needs to be heated to a much higher temperature than you can achieve with a flint spark. 



There are many alternative fuels to light your Zippo’s fire, some of which may prove easier to attain in a survival situation than the original Zippo lighter fuel.

Zippo doesn’t recommend using any of the alternatives listed above, saying, “Your windproof lighter is engineered to work best with Zippo Premium Lighter Fluid.”

Whatever fuel you put in your Zippo, you’ll still lose a lot to evaporation, which is why we recommend a Bic as the best survival lighter overall.

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  1. “Unlike gasoline, diesel is combustible but not flammable. The liquid doesn’t burn, only the vapor”

    Gasoline also doesn’t ignite, only its vapor burns.

    • Fair enough. The trick is diesel doesn’t evaporate at room temperature. You have to squash it in an engine that’s already heated with glow plugs. But when it IS vaporized, yowza.

  2. Interesting and informative article Nicky
    How come though, you did not include BENZINE among the practical lighter-fluid substitutes?! I would use it in my “Zippo”® back in the 1980s. Although it would evaporate faster than dedicated lighter fluid, the lighter DID work using benzine as fuel.

  3. Has anyone tried gas and diesel mixed 50/50 ? Or 75/25 maybe ? It shouldn’t be too hard to scrounge something flammable up .190proof moonshine possibly?practice experimentation.common sense these days is a superpower !

    • Gasoline already works, though fair I might go with kerosene as a mixer instead to make it weaker. Diesel is probably too heavy, though.

  4. The section about Charcoal lighter fluid here is false. It will NOT “explode” when ignited. That is a myth. Lighter fluid is just mineral spirits. People assume it will “explode” because they get a large flash when lighting their charcoal. That is because they put it on glowing embers. But to ignite, the fluid must be exposed to 1) a flame or 2) it must heat up above it’s auto-ignition temp (230-240°C/445-464°F). If no flame is applied, the fluid vaporizes and builds up in the grill until it heats up and auto-ignites. When using it in a Zippo, that doesn’t occur because you apply flint sparks to the fluid to ignite the fuel (21–30°C/(70–86°F).
    I tested this to see if it was true and after 20+ strikes and ignition attempts, not once did anything “explode”. It does sometimes take 2 strikes but burns clean. I recently ran into someone else who has been using it for years and he still has all his eyebrows and has never had an explosion.

  5. The chainsaw fuel sounds promising. I finally broke down and paid the price for a good echo chainsaw using the good echo oil. $10 a gallon to mix. It is of course 50:1. The value of the zippo lighter is that it can be ignited in colder temperatures when the butane lighters do not have enough pressure. It is the cold temperatures when the lighter is most needed.

  6. Soo glad I stumbled on this theme–lots of good info! My new ‘Elvis’-Zippo not working, b/c wheel over flint not turning. Also found no Zippo fuel/-flints at my fave box store. 🙁 At some point I tried kerosene (b/c I had it on hand for my EM lamps). It didn’t occur to me at the time, that flint could be critical…Sending it in, was all there was left to do, I thought…That was a few yrs. ago, I got sick > 2 BTK amp.s, and never followed through. Some insight anyone, PLZ?

    • wheel on zippo last a long time however sometimes the sides of metal holding the wheel gets bent, check that first . another would be the flint too long or problem with the flint spring. Remove flint and make sure an older piece is not stuck in there. chances are slim wheel is bad unless you have had it for 20 years. There are wheel kits and tool on Ebay to replace if all above has been checked. Make a note loosen spring on flint until screw is about to fall out or take it completely out see if wheel turns/I have had this problem as well in the past. Good Luck!

  7. I collect used Bics & tear the Bic Flint out 4 my Beloved Zippo. They are great flints! I use straight Naptha from any hardware store (cheap). But Zippo fluid & Flint does work best. Thanks 4 the evaporation tips! & The White wick is very important. In this Las Vegas desert summer my full Zippo lasts about 4 days (evaporation is rapid)! & Bless Zippo 4 continuing free Zippo repair! Thnx 4 article!

  8. I buy straight up VN&P Naptha, which has many many uses. Like 12 bucks a gallon.

    My dad, an Air Force Vet, Flight Engineer, would top his off with AvGas while draining the water out of the tanks before a mission.

  9. 40:1 Mixed gas (87 octane) used in chainsaws and most lawn equipment works better, the added oil keeps it from evaporating quickly, lamp oil, mineral spirits and even vasoline work better than quickly evaporating petroleum and alcohol products such as perfume, unleaded gas, acetone, paint thinner and paint stripper. Kerosene and diesel fuel are also better alternatives to lighter fluid though diesel of coarse has a strong odor.

  10. update on the tape lid seal:
    I notice that when I fire up the Zippo it now has a small gas cloud flameover before it burns normally – to me, it shows that the seal mod is trapping evaporating vapors.

  11. I love the humor, Nicky! 🙂

    I found that wrapping a strip of ‘scotch’ tape over the bottom of the insert helps to slow evaporation, one of the banes of Zippos.
    Another is the wick:

    Wick condition, and its heighth after time become crucial to proper deployment of the Zippo; an old, frayed, blackened wick will not work very well as will a clean, whitish one (pulled up with needle-nose or hemostat (tweezers a bit weak) and trimmed to the top of the wind-screen.

    I found my latest Zippo on a nearby freeway on-ramp…probably discarded because it only would light a couple three times after refilling before becoming a ‘no-go’ – due to the wick.

    …fittingly, the case has the inscription “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”
    That’s is true testament for pay attention to your wick! For now I have a well functioning lighter…filling it is more a pleasure now than the curse word laden disgust I spewed before resetting the wick.

    That’s my Zippostory™ and I am sticking to it!

    PS- It would be cool if Zippo developed an airtight seal for the lid to case mating to slow evap to a bare minimum….perhaps I ll try a thin strip of electrical tape around the lid and see if that helps.

    • Ok, I just tried a lid seal I made from 1/8″ of electrical tape, carefully wrapped arpund the edge 1/2 inside- 1/2 outside: with a lighted magnifier it appears to seal my very slightly loose lid to case body – I squeezed the whole lighter closed with max grip pressure….
      ..and a pinpoint whiff tells me less fuel vapor is escaping than before, without the mod.

  12. Walmart told me just yesterday they don’t carry Ronsonol or Zippo lighter fluid-? They used to? I have a large can of white gas!! Great write up! Even though I’m a diehard Zippo fan(A few Bic lighters go a long way!)

  13. I found Thinners very cheaper and usefull for me to refill my zippo lighter, now I dont have to stress too much about how far i must go for the zippo liquid #paint Thinners so making it happen

  14. I really enjoyed this article. However, the problem for me is that since it contained usable and unusable alternatives, if I’m in a survival situation any later than next week I won’t remember which was which. Lol


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