Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Kerosene vs Lamp Oil January 1, 2013

I have received questions lately about the use of kerosene in oil lamps. When I was a kid, we always used kerosene. The idea of using lamp oil was unheard of in our home. As an adult, I have used lamp oil on occasion but was not happy about it. Here is my main reason why I find kerosene to be best for our use.

In our local area, a quart size bottle of lamp oil is sold for about $5.50 per bottle. Some places it is slightly less, some slightly more. The highest price I have found was at a grocery store for $6.49 per quart. The kerosene that we use is the type found at a gas station, sold at the pump just as gas & diesel fuel are. The kerosene has a red dye in it. For the kerosene, we currently are paying $5.29 per gallon. That is a very significant savings of $16.71 per gallon! This is based on 4 quarts at $5.50/each. Another words, I can buy 4 gallons for less than the cost of 4 quarts of the lamp oil.

Lamp oil has the advantage of being “smokeless and odorless” if that is important to you. I find that with the lamps set onto a shelf, rather than on a table, you don’t notice any odor. The smoke issue is controlled by taking care in the height of the wick or in using a smoke bell on the top of the chimney, like those sold through Lehman’s.

On the downside, lamp oil tends to not burn as brightly as kerosene. While the oil burns a bit slower, the lighting it provided for us was less than we receive from kerosene. Overall, the kerosene was a better choice for us.

I like to store extra kerosene for our lamps. When planning how much to store, I simply kept track one month in late autumn. By that time, the days were becoming shorter and we were having more overcast skies. Both of those situations are important to consider. If you gauge your use by what you need during the summer months, you will always end up running short in winter. While our home was built in about 1890-1900 time period, complete with the old style of tall windows to bring in as much natural lighting as possible, we still need lamps at time on a winter or story day.

We use 3 lamps at this time. On average, I fill the lamps every other day in the winter. This translates to about 3/4 gallon of kerosene per week.

I trim the wicks about once a week unless needed more often. A quick note about wick trimming: we have tried 3 types of cut patterns. A point cut with looks like a triangle with the high point in the middle will give you a pretty light, but not as much illumination. The flame will be more narrow, which means less light produced. The second cut was a blunt straight cut. This is simply cutting straight across the wick. This produces a very large flame and the most illumination. It also is the cut that you have to adjust the flame to prevent soot from developing on the chimney. The third cut, which is my favorite, is a combination of the two. I do a straight cut with only the tips of the corners nipped off. This gives a broad flame but causes less soot on the chimney. The soot is mostly controlled by flame height however.

Hope that this answers some of the questions. If not, feel free to ask. I will try to answer as best as I can.


7 Responses to “Kerosene vs Lamp Oil”

  1. Have you ever tried a dual fuel lamp? I believe they use unleaded gasoline as well as lamp oil. Obviously unleaded would be pretty inexpensive in comparison to the other fuel sources. I currently have an oil lamp, that is mostly for emergency purposes. Thanks for the info.

    • Yes, we have used the dual fuel lantern. The model we used was a Coleman and gave you the option of buying the tins of camp fuel or using unleaded gasoline. The camp fuel was far more costly, so we used the unleaded gas. Overall, we liked it. A single lantern lit up both the kitchen and front room. From the outside, it looked like we had electricity again. LOL

      We stopped using it after the regulator went out on it within a year. We were not able to find a new regulator, which was disappointing. As a lighting option though, it was a good one in terms of the amount of light you receive.

  2. I’ve been pouring over your blog tonight. Everything you’ve written about off-grid living has been incredibly helpful. Thank you for sharing all of the little tidbits of knowledge! I’ve never heard of different ways of trimming a wick, so this was very interesting to me.
    I’m trying to soak it all in Thank you!!

  3. Erica Says:

    I bought a bunch of antique lanterns that I plan to use for my wedding, some had a bit of kerosene in them and others had what smelled like citronella? My question is, will it ruin the lanterns switching them from kerosene to lamp oil? I’d prefer something less smelly, especially for our wedding. Any info would be greatly appreciated!!

    • You can empty and wash out the lanterns. I would recommend changing the wicks as well so that the old oil is no longer on the wick. This is not because of it causing problems with the lanterns, but to avoid any odors from the old fuel. Otherwise, it is fine. I burn kerosene on mine normally, but usually have a few bottles of lamp oil on hand in case I run out of kerosene in the winter.

  4. the lighter guy Says:

    Did u buy the kerosene in a bottle or pump it?

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