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.
- 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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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!
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.