What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel Alternatives

David Stillwell David Stillwell  |  Updated: February 16, 2021
What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel Alternatives

How much do you know about the nuts and bolts of lighters? And, perhaps equally important, how much do you know about fuel for your lighters?

Today I am going to delve into the world of lighters and provide you with what you need to know about lighters and lighter fuel for survival.

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

The Mystique of Zippo Lighters

What I am going to say in this article was inspired by this honest to goodness dialogue I had online:

“I’ve inherited an old Zippo cigarette lighter from my grandfather. Can I use charcoal lighter fluid in it?”

Well, why not? There’s Zippo brand lighter fluid, Ronson/Ronsonol brand lighter fluid, and even charcoal lighter fluid.

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

It’s like a discussion with my wife about cheese balls. To me, a cheese ball is made from semi-soft cheese, is the size of a baseball, and is rolled in crushed nutmeats. To her, cheese balls are the size of marbles, made of puffy cheese-curl stuff, and contain orange dye that sticks to your teeth. Both are popular at parties.

Turns out there are different things named cheese balls. Likewise, there are different things named lighter fluid.

Lighter Fluid: Bad Information

The Internet question “Can I use charcoal lighter fluid in my Zippo?” received an Internet answer (but not from me):

“If you fill a Zippo with charcoal lighter fluid, you can kiss your eyebrows and nose hairs goodbye. And any other part of your anatomy that’s close to the explosion when it occurs.”

That answer is 100% wrong. It was followed immediately by a second 100% wrong answer: “Charcoal lighter fluid in a Zippo? No way. You must use butane.”

And a response: “Well, I finally got my Zippo apart but I still can’t figure out how to put in the butane.”

My take? As Albert Einstein said, “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

Zippo Lighters and Butane

Let’s deal first with the Zippo/butane thing.

Zippo lighters were patented in 1936 and saw their heyday with the GI’s of World War II. Zippos used liquid fuel (white gas). The tiny fuel tank was stuffed with cotton fluff so that the liquid didn’t spill into your pocket. A wick brought the fuel to the flame by capillary action.

Zippo’s reign as king of the lighters ended in 1973 when Bic introduced disposable butane lighters that could provide 3,000 lights before wearing out. How do you spell, “Goodbye Zippo”? Answer. “Flick my Bic.”

Today, a new Zippo and a small can of fuel, you can buy a package of five butane lighters (Bic knock-offs, pre-filled with fuel) for one buck at the Dollar Store. One Zippo and a can of fuel equals 78 butane lighters.

Judging by the Internet, people born after 1970 may have never seen a Zippo-style lighter. They sincerely believe that butane is the one and only fuel ever used in cigarette lighters.

So we need to understand butane a little better . . .

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

ABOVE (L to R): (1) disposable butane lighter; (2) refillable butane lighter; (3) butane refill canister; (4) to fill, hold both canister and lighter upside down, mate the fittings, push until it feels good.

Water boils and turns from a liquid to a gas at 212 degrees F. Butane boils and turns from a liquid to a gas at 31 degrees F. Just about the time ice is melting, butane is boiling. That’s why it’s a gas at room temperature. In a refill canister, butane is a liquid only by merit of the fact that it’s been put under pressure, not unlike an aerosol spray can.

You can get the butane out of its canister by:

  1. turning it upside down,
  2. holding it at a slight angle, and
  3. pressing the injecting needle onto a hard surface.

The butane comes out as a liquid but you can actually see it bubbling as it boils away. It will volatilize into the atmosphere far too quickly to be of any use in your Zippo. And you won’t like the way it smells either.

And Then There Is Charcoal Lighter Fluid

Okay. We’re finally ready to talk about charcoal lighter fluid which is also known as mineral spirits. If you remember, that was the original question. Can you substitute charcoal lighter fluid for Zippo/Ronsonol lighter fluid? And the answer came back, “No! It will explode.”

WRONG! But where does the idea come from that charcoal lighter fluid is explosive?

IT STARTS HERE: In an effort to hurry things along, charcoal lighter fluid is sometimes sprayed on a charcoal grill that is already burning.

Note: Let us be clear here. We’re talking about a CHARCOAL grill, not a GAS grill!

The lighter fluid doesn’t break into open flame because the burning charcoal itself only glows; no FLAME exists to ignite the fluid. (And ignition does require a flame or a spark. Don’t you remember dowsing your cigarette in a cup of gasoline to impress the girls?)

But, although no ignition takes place, the fluid gets hot. It begins to vaporize and smoke. It goes above its “flash point” but there’s still no flame to set it off. When it reaches its “auto-ignition temperature” (i.e. 473 degrees F where a flame is no longer required) – POOF!

The flameless preheating vaporizes a large quantity of liquid before ignition occurs. And that’s the problem. Half a teaspoon is not a threat to your eyebrows. Half a cup is a threat to your house. Flameless preheating does not get proper credit for the results.

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

No “explosion” can occur as long as mineral spirits remains at room temperature. At room temperature, mineral spirits is a liquid. And a liquid must vaporize and turn to gas before it can OXIDIZE . . . that is, combine with oxygen . . . that is, BURN.

This is Ninth Grade science.

Side note: To those not familiar with the term, “mineral spirits”, it sounds like it’s plural. It’s not. Mineral spirits is singular. It does take some getting used to.

Zippo lighter fuel is highly volatile. Technically it is flammable. It readily evaporates. At room temperature, vapors are always present that can be ignited with a flame or even a spark.

For all practical purposes, charcoal lighter fluid does not evaporate at room temperature and is termed combustible. Vapors are too few and far between to catch fire. Like candle wax, it must be preheated to the point of forming a vapor before ignition can take place. A match performs the preheating function as well as the ignition-of-vapors function.

As fuel in a Zippo, charcoal lighter fluid, like motor oil, will not work. Spinning the striker wheel will create a shower of sparks but the sparks won’t produce enough heat to vaporize the fuel. The lighter will not light, much less explode. Your nose hairs are safe.

How To Fill A Zippo Lighter

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

ABOVE (L to R): Refilling a Zippo:

  1. First pull the innards out of the case.
  2. Then turn the inner assembly upside down and lift the felt retainer.
  3. Insert the spout of the fluid can and squeeze.
  4. The juice flows out of the can and into the cotton fluff inside the lighter. The fluid can is simply a can. It is not pressurized like a butane canister.

Zippo Lighter Fuel Alternatives and Substitutes

But this brings up an interesting possibility. Although we can’t use combustible liquids (diesel fuel, kerosene, mineral spirits) in a Zippo, can we substitute other flammable liquids (gasoline, Coleman fuel, acetone)? Will they work?

But first, let’s address flash point, flammability, and combustibility.

“Flash point” is the lowest temperature at which a liquid can form an ignitable mixture in air. OSHA defines a combustible liquid as “any liquid having a flash point at or above 100° F.” Kerosene and diesel fuel are both “combustible.”

A flammable liquid has a flash point below 100° F. Coleman fuel (a.k.a. white gas) and gasoline are both “flammable.”

· Let’s start at ground zero. Zippo and/or Ronsonol lighter fluid. Do they work in a Zippo-style cigarette lighter?


· Coleman fuel. Does it work in a Zippo lighter?

Yes. White gas with a dash of perfume equals cigarette lighter fluid.

· Other flammable liquids. Gasoline (petrol), lacquer thinner, acetone – do they work?

No. At least not the way I’d hoped.

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

The problem is the Zippo wick.

Perhaps it is too small in diameter. Or too big. Or too dense. Or too fluffy. Or the wrong material (Zippo wicks are asbestos). After all, it was engineered to lift one specific fuel, white gas, from the fuel tank to the flame. Acetone was not a consideration.

BUT if you put two drops of acetone (or other flammable liquid) directly on the wick of a Zippo and spin the striker wheel, the acetone will ignite and burn for 30 seconds. And thirty seconds of live flame is not bad. Plenty of time to light a twist of paper or splinter of wood which can then be used to light your candle or your campfire.

Some common flammable liquids:

· VM&P naphtha (i.e. varnish makers’ and painters’ naphtha; naphtha is an alternate name for white gas).

· Gasoline (petrol to the Brits).

· Acetone (nail polish remover).

· Lacquer thinner.

· Rubbing alcohol

· Denatured alcohol (used as shellac thinner and as fuel in marine stoves).

· Dry gas (methanol; a form of alcohol).

CAUTION: Alcohol flames are hard to see.

IMCO Lighters

There’s an English chap on eBay selling IMCO lighters. Developed in the 1930’s, they’re made in Austria and appear to be Europe’s answer to the Zippo. From the eBay sales pitch:

“These lighters are a great piece of kit, they are more user friendly than a Zippo, cheaper and double up as a candle . . . Runs on Lighter fluid or Petrol . . . IMCO has produced and sold over HALF A BILLION (yes half a billion!!) lighters . . .”

What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel | Backdoor Survival

In the interest of article completeness, I bought one. What intrigued me was the possibility of multi-fuel use. And, indeed, with its cotton wick, it operates on gasoline very nicely.

Unfortunately, someone might believe that “These lighters . . . double up as a candle.”

IMCO as candle

ABOVE Left: The set-up. I inserted the IMCO “candle” in a 5/8s diameter hole so it wouldn’t get knocked over. Center: All is well. Right: This happened suddenly at 15 minutes. Sorry the focus is poor; it caught me off guard.

So there you have it, everything you, as a prepper, needs to know about fuel for your Zippo lighters!

The Final Word

When it comes to lighters, I personally own a dozen genuine BICs, as well as a tray of 100 BIC knockoffs. The later are stored in my gear closet for use or barter down the road; I don’t trust them enough to carry them in my pack.

I also have a Zippo, plus a dozen or so of those butane BBQ wands. Yes, I can start a fire with my Swedish Fire Steel, but, as they say, it is a lot simpler to flick my BIC.

Helpful Links

Bargain Bin: Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article.

Zippo Street Chrome Pocket Lighter: Zippo has been creating virtually indestructible, windproof refillable lighters for more than 75 years. The Zippo Street Chrome pocket lighter is no exception. This windproof lighter features a classic textured chrome finish and carries the same lifetime guarantee–to either work or be fixed by Zippo free of charge–for life. All wearable parts including flints and wicks are replaceable. Every prepper should own at least one Zippo!

100 BIC-style Lighters Disposable Classic Lighter: These are great to have on hand for both survival and barter use.

10 Pack Refillable Wand Lighters: These wand-style lighters are typically sold for use with BBQs and fire pits. Me? I use then to light my gas stove and gas fireplace when the power goes out. I like that they are refillable.

The New 2000-Hour Flashlight: With a few simple tools and a lantern-type flashlight, you can easily build a flashlight that will give off useable light for 2000 hours.

Zippo Premium Lighter Fluid will keep your Zippo windproof lighter and Zippo Hand Warmer working at its best.

Zippo 6 Value Pack of Wicks and Flints: Like the components of Coleman Lanterns, the bits and pieces of a Zippo lighter are replaceable. If you have a premium Zippo lighter, be sure to stock up on wicks and flints.

Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel: This “Scout” is the one I own. Using this basic pocket fire-starter, you can get a nice fire going under almost any conditions. This is a small, compact version and is my personal favorite.

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56 Responses to “What You Need to Know About Zippos and Lighter Fuel Alternatives”

  1. The best thing I ever did with my original zippo, was to replace it with the bluebird butane insert. Never run out of fuel when you need it

  2. I always read your messages they help me prepare I want to think you from the bottom of my heart. DORIS

  3. Lighter fluid is NAPTHA, close to white gas but not quite. NAPTHA has (as with all hydrocarbons) a “vapor pressure” that causes it to evaporate. Keeping it in your pocket at body temp, just accelerates it. If you want to prevent evaporation of fluid there are several things you can do:
    1. cut a piece of bicycle inner tube and slip it over the lighter. That will help seal it off.

    2. Wrap some electrical tape or duct tape around it.

    3. Best way is do what I did, convert to butane: Link

    NO evaporation.

    • Can you make a video of how to put the piece of rubber inner tube on my Zippo lighter to prevent the fuel from evaporating? Please email me the link to the video if you do it but please reply so I know you at least read this question. Thak you The Rev pastorwilliambarhorst at yahoo dot c o m

  4. Love the Zippo brand lighters. I store the Ronsol lighter fluid (and used it to charge my first Zippo lighter so I know it’s the right kind.) 😉 I also store plenty of extra flints and wicks so hopefully I can keep them working for decades if necessary. Strangely enough the lighter fluid is now behind the counter at most stores around here. Seems the druggies have found a way to use it and now anyone with lots of lighter fluid is suspicious.

    • That should read, “and now everyone is suspicious” dmwalsh568.

      A Wal-Mart clerk wanted to see my ID in order to purchase a can of spray paint. I saw a 70-something year old man get asked for his ID while buying some groceries at a Target store because he was buying some alcohol. He left the store without the alcohol and without showing his ID. I wasn’t going to buy the spray paint if I had to show mine. It’s all gotten to be terrifyingly ridiculous, this war on freedom in the name of supposed safety.

  5. I’m one of the 10% that has more than 100 lighters stocked up. I stock full size real Bics. I used Zippos for years, but the fuel will dry out after a while. Cheap disposable butane lighters have the same problem. You grab one after several years and it’s empty. I’ve never had that problem with a Bic. I have several flint and steel sets, as well as dozens of boxes of wooden matches stashed away with all those Bics.

  6. Great blog post! Years ago when I got my first Zippo, I thought, “Now I have the ultimate firestarter”. A few months later when I went to use it, it was empty. I sure was disappointed. On average, how long does an unused Zippo last before it no longer lights up because it’s empty?

    Is there anything which can be done to prolong a Zippo’s lightability, i.e. keep it upright or put it in a tightly sealed jar? I’ve wondered the same thing about Bic’s. I wonder if putting Bic’s in plastic bags or tightly sealed jars might slow down the drying out of the seal which holds in the butane? Maybe slather them in grease? Would they still create a spark?

    I did not know charcoal lighter fluid is a white gas. At first, I was thinking it might be ok to use in center draft lamps, but upon reading the Wiki page it seems it might be too toxic to do that. However; it was good to learn I can use it in my Coleman outdoor cook stove.

    Does white gas go bad over time if it’s stored in its original container? I was wondering the same thing about kerosene. I’ve read that kerosene, ‘turns into water’ after five years or so, but then I got to wondering that if that were true, what do all the hardware stores do with their metal cans of kerosene, mineral spirits, and plastic bottles of charcoal lighter fluid after a few years if they don’t sell them? Do they dump them or sell them cheaply to someone who burns them in a furnace? If so, should I be looking for production dates on cans of fuel?

    I know, I know, buy the book(s). I really need and want to. It’s on my list.

    On another blog, I read a bit about fighting, they quoted Bruce Lee on how people need to (should?) keep advancing to the next level and not remain where they are. It occurred to me while thinking about white gas that this is true of learning in general. …I wonder how Bruce Lee kept himself from feeling lazy and not advancing to and working towards that next level?
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your knowledge and helping to decrease my level of ignorance a bit.

  7. I have a lot more lighters then I think are humanly needed. But, the were a bulk purchase and fairly inexpensive.

    I have various types of lighters also as well as matches in the BOB and 72 hour kit. You can never have too many means to start a fire.

  8. I bought a gallon of naphtha two (or was it three?) years ago. I refilled my Ronson and Zippo cans with naphtha using a small funnel. That’s all I have used in my zippo since. Still works great. Except, the hinge pin fell out a couple of weeks ago. I’ll dig out one of my other zippo’s and send this one in for repair!
    Note: – Zippo Lighters are USA made! And they will repair any of their lighters at no charge. You mail it to them and they will repair it plus replace the inner workings, at no charge. You do pay postage to them, but that is all. What other company will repair a product of theirs, that is 50+ years old, get it back to working condition, and not charge for it?
    They will repair the hinge, remove any dents in the case, and (like I said) replace the inner workings (with a NEW flint!), and it only costs you postage! They will not remove rust from the case or otherwise repair cosmetic damage, but it will work.
    In addition to all that, in a SHTF situation, I can salvage flints from all those empty BIC lighters! 🙂

    • I pick up every lighter i find on the streets taking out the flints and placing them under the felt of my Zippo so I always have free flints! I have never purchased a flint in over 40 years! I also make my own wicks using very fine wire and a blend of cotton that I get out of most prescriptions free, and pieces of wicks from old candles. I haven’t purchased a wick in over 40 years either!

  9. Being a smoker (yes, I know but I don’t drink, am single and really wouldn’t suit a halo) so lighters are something I’ve used a lot of.

    From my (admittedly limited and apocryphal) ‘research’ (ie. regularly finding one has run out just when I want to light up), both Zippo’s and butane lighters eventually run out if left unused for long periods (depending on the manufacturer, butane will last a lot longer though). Both fuels, in being volatile enough to produce that vapour pressure (thanks Texas) will eventually evaporate away (days for liquid, months for butane depending on the type).

    There are liquid fuelled lighters that can be stored for longer periods, but they are usually small and rely on O-ring sealed screw-tops. (So maybe ‘sealing’ a Zippo with tape might work – although I ended up carrying a small keyring sealed container of fuel myself for a while as well as a spare wick and flints which always seem to wear out when you least want them to – way too much of a hassle though).

    I considered a dedicated ‘survival’ type but decided against as for the same amount of money I could buy hundreds of disposables instead.

    I’ve basically standardised on the cheap, refillable, disposable piezoelectric ignition (you have to have experienced smokers thumb/blisters to know why) ‘wind-proof’ types. The ‘flame-thrower’ type flame allows you to light in those sideways (candles) and downwards (portable stoves) orientation issues that are difficult with normal lighters, as well as using them to ‘dry out’ tinder and even solder with. They don’t last as long, per fill, as normal, but certainly into the thousands of ignitions.

    And yes, Bic make them too.

    One issue not mentioned is that of the effect of cold on butane lighters. Even here in (wishy-washy never less than slightly cool – 32 F is a major disaster reported on the news here) Britain lighters regularly appear not to function if left on a table-top outside even for a few minutes in winter. Just keep them in your pocket to ensure they’re warm enough to function. (>8000 ft altitude is also an issue apparently).

    None are truly water-proof so I keep at least some in a standard water-tight match safe (mine is big enough for two lighters and some tinder/a packet of fire-gel) just to be on the safe side.

    • (1) How long does an unused Zippo last before it no longer lights up because it’s empty?
      ANSWER: It depends. How long would a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol last before the cotton was all dried out. It’s much the same thing. The cotton in the Zippo tank is shielded, somewhat, but the fuel still evaporates. I would estimate 2 weeks to 2 months before the Zippo would not light. Running your own experiment is the only way to get the answer that satisfies YOU

      (2) Rather than try to prolong the Zippo’s lightability, keep a can of fuel handy. Replenish as needed. Zippo’s came about in the days of cigarette smokers. A lighter would be used several times a day. When empty, you added more fuel. It was never designed to be filled it once, put in storage, and lit five years later. Also, if you slather your Zippo with grease you won’t get a spark. Once again, try it and see.

      (3) You say, “I did not know charcoal lighter fluid is a white gas.” Something big got lost in translation. Charcoal lighter fluid is NOT a white gas! Zippo brand CIGARETTE lighter fluid is the same as white gas. But cigarette lighter fluid is NOT the same as CHARCOAL lighter fluid. Don’t let the words “lighter fluid” trip you up. All “lighter fluids” are not created equal. Would you create an explosion hazard by putting charcoal lighter fluid in your cigarette lighter or in your Coleman stove? No. There would be no explosion. But it would be akin to using motor oil. It just wouldn’t work.

      (4) White gas does not go bad over time. I have had white gas given to me that was many years old. It worked fine. And kerosene does not turn into water. Think of soda pop. It may lose its fizz, but it does not turn into milk or whiskey or molasses. Water is different stuff than kerosene.

    • This post is intended as an answer Helot and not as an answer to Alec. Are we having fun yet?

    • RE: “Would you create an explosion hazard by putting charcoal lighter fluid in your cigarette lighter or in your Coleman stove? No. There would be no explosion. But it would be akin to using motor oil. It just wouldn’t work.”

      Perhaps I should have clarified. I meant using charcoal lighter fluid in a dual-fuel Coleman stove. It appears it might work ok as part of a blend, even in the old stoves:

      “I have been using a mix of gasoline, Gumout, and Charcoal Starter in the several stoves I recently purchased used at local yard sales and thrift stores. […] Avoid “Winter Blend” or “RFG” fuels unless you dilute with Coleman Fuel or charcoal starter”


      “mix your gasoline 50/50 with charcoal starter – easier to find than Coleman fuel, not as volatile, cuts alcohol content in half, burns fine.”


    • The only way to know for sure if something works is to try it. Anything except a first-hand experiment is armchair science. But PLEASE, when you go mixing fuels and experimenting, be careful! Do it outside. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. You are coloring outside the lines. There are no guarantees. And, with stoves and lanterns, just because something runs for 5 minutes doesn’t mean it will run for 5 hours. PLEASE exercise caution.

    • Yup. For sure. I’m always prepared to fall when I run with scissors.

      Unless some rainy Saturday goes long, I have very little intention of trying any of these ideas out. I just like to know that I might have options if there is need of one.

      Thanks again for your replies.

    • Excellent point on the temperature thing. (It was in the original draft but somehow got left out of the finished article.) Fuel must be in a gaseous state to combine with air and ignite. Just about the time water is freezing (turning from a liquid to a solid), butane is turning from a gas to a liquid (where it will not ignite). So butane lighters are tricky and/or useless in below-freezing temperatures. Good to know. Good to remember.

      Nice save. Thanks.

  10. There are three big advantages to Zippo’s not mentioned in the article that I think should have been, especially for survival.

    1) Being metal, they do not crack, become brittle and will not come apart in your pocket if hit.

    2) Lighting them when you fingers are cold is MUCH easier than a BIC or similar type. In fact you can light a ZIPPO without using your fingers at all. Not possible with BIC due to the child safety crap.

    3) And most important, try lighting a BIC or similar in rain or in wind. Good luck with that. My Zippos have never failed me in extreme conditions.

    The ONLY disadvantages to Zippos are the need to carry fuel and replacement flints. But in my eyes that is a small price to pay to make sure my family can start fires if need be in any conditions. I always keep three extra flints in the foam inside the lighter and in my kits I carry a couple small cans of fluid. In addition, in extreme need, the fluid can be used to help get damp items to burn as well.

    • RE: “Not possible with BIC due to the child safety crap.”

      …I hate those things.

      Just in case you didn’t know, and for posterity’s sake: you can slide a screwdriver or a pocket knife blade underneath the metal saftey strip and pry upwards (by pushing down) and the sucker will pop right off.
      It makes it Much easier to flick your Bic.

      Also, I kind of miss the adjustable flame height wheel. It had its uses.

  11. i read the article but still dont know if i can use these flammable gases in my zippo · VM&P naphtha (i.e. varnish makers’ and painters’ naphtha; naphtha is an alternate name for white gas).

    · Gasoline (petrol to the Brits).

    · Acetone (nail polish remover).

    · Lacquer thinner.

    · Denatured alcohol (used as shellac thinner and as fuel in marine stoves).

    · Dry gas (methanol; a form of alcohol). sorry but this article was a very long explanation without a simple answer to can you use other fuel in your zippo

    • As a direct replacement, gasoline, acetone, lacquer thinner, denatured alcohol, and dry gas do not work in place of Zippo lighter fluid. By “direct replacement” I mean filling up the tank of the Zippo lighter with one of these fluids and expecting it to perform just like Zippo lighter fluid. Nope. Won’t happen. The Zippo wick will not properly lift these fuels to the flame.

      However, in a pinch, these same fuels can be used to start a fire. Rather than expecting a Zippo wick to suck these fuels from the tank up to the flame, you can sidestep the normal process and (with a spoon) put a drop or two of fuel on the top of the wick (right where the flame will be). Spin the striker, get some sparks, and you’ll have 30 seconds worth of flame. There’s no reason to freeze to death with an empty Zippo lighter in your right hand and a bottle of dry gas in your left hand.

  12. i read the article but still dont know if i can use these flammable gases in my zippo · VM&P naphtha (i.e. varnish makers’ and painters’ naphtha; naphtha is an alternate name for white gas).

    · Gasoline (petrol to the Brits).

    · Acetone (nail polish remover).

    · Lacquer thinner.

    · Denatured alcohol (used as shellac thinner and as fuel in marine stoves).

    · Dry gas (methanol; a form of alcohol). sorry but this article was a very long explanation without a simple answer to can you use other fuel in your zippo


    But evaporation rates would be very high .

    • Sorry to disagree scout, but my father used to fill his Zippo with gasoline all the time. I will admit that was when gasoline was leaded. But, it worked! Gasohol may not work as well.

    • I should have said, you “shouldn’t” rather than NO. You can put any damn liquid you want in there as long as the spark wheel will light it. It just not “recommended” Example: Acetone wouldn’t last a couple of days. It’s evaporation coefficient is 1.00, it’s what other coefficients are compared to. Yes you can use White gas, but if you over fill it and then light it, you may have a pretty good fireball on your hands.

    • Chemically speaking, Zippo lighter fluid is White gas with a dash of perfume. If you overfill your Zippo cigarette lighter with Zippo lighter fluid and then light it, you may have a pretty good fireball on your hands. The operative word is “overfill.”

    • I have personally tried automobile gas in a Zippo and it did not work for me. Admittedly, it was today’s gasoline with 10% ethanol. (On the other hand, automobile gas DOES work in an IMCO lighter.)

      The only way you will ever know FOR SURE if something works is to try it yourself. It’s not what somebody on the Internet says, or what you remember Dad doing, or what you THINK Dad did. You must try it yourself. Anything less is brouhaha and guesswork. Don’t be lazy. When you desperately need that fire is not the time for “Oops!”

    • again a long respons to say what ?just use zippo fluid? coleman fluid? gee thanks

  13. Ie: Zippos. Many moons ago I dropped my Zippo into the ships bilges (bottom of boiler room with water, oil, fuel residue)and couldn’t find it. Months later, it was found by me; I shook the water off popped the top, spun the wheel, and, instant ignition. I have assumed, the cap sealed the air in, kept the water out. Have been a fan of Zippo all my life. Yes, the comments about keeping fluid, extra wicks, flints,etc., are all true. And don’t ‘overfill’ and put it in your pocket. The fluid WILL seep out, rub against your leg,and burn you. Also, I would never use anything but ‘white gas’ or lighter fuel except in emg. The heavier fuels will clog up the works. Food for thought.

  14. At first, I chuckled about the number of lighters you mentioned up front. Who really has 2 dozen lighters?? But after thinking about it, I figured I had about a dozen or so Bics and Mini Bics scattered through my kit. Plus the 3 Zippos I have plus the 6 or so UCO waterproof containers of stormproof matches plus the UCO container with the of their TITAN matches (huge match-burns for about 25 seconds), not including the 6 or so containers of petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls. I guess I would really hate not being able to start a fire.

  15. Bought my first Zippo right out of boot camp in 1958, and still have it. Haven’t smoked in over 50 years, but still keep it on hand. As noted by other commentors, they dry out quickly if not kept topped off. As a result, I also keep Bic disposables on hand. About 20 years ago, I sent mine back to Zippo to be refurbished. All they did was put new “innards” in the same case and send it back to me. So now I have the old case with new innards. Wish I had just kept the old one “as-is.”

  16. Don’t throw away empty Bic lighters. The flints Bic uses are superior to the ones sold for Zippo lighters. Pry off the tin windshield, then pry the roller out of the two ears holding it in. The flint is under spring pressure so watch as you take the wheel off. I carry a couple of spare slints stuffed under the cotton in the Zippo.

    • “The flints Bic uses are superior to the ones sold for Zippo lighters.”

      That’s really good to know, Dave. Thanks.

    • I always pick up any lighters I see on the ground whenever I’m walking anywhere. I haven’t purchased a flint since I got my Zippo in Boot camp Great Lakes Chicago Illinois 1975! I also make my own wicks using cotton out of my prescription bottles. Again never bought any wicks either! I also stuff flints under the felt bottom.

  17. you said you cannot use charcoal lighter fluid in you zippo that you must use butane, that is wrong unless your lighter is a butane lighter, when I was a kid oh so many years ago I worked at a gas station and would tip the gas hose and catch the leftover gas in my zippo, while it is quite harsh on the leg when it leaks I never had an explosion, I have also used charcoal lighter fluid in a pinch, now given today’s political correctness I cannot condone the use of anything but the proper fluids in your lighter unless I want to be held liable, so for all you unadventurous political mammas boys out there use only what you buy in a store for your lighters so you don’t burn off your facial hair

  18. Personally I cannot recommend this legally ..but I exclusively use denatured alcohol in my fluid lighters as a tobacco pipe lighter since youth .only cause I hate the mothball like smell of both Robson and zipo brand fuel .. ..the denatured flame is small blueish and hard to see and not as hot as zipo fuel..but its very clean…and I use Vasline on my fuel screw to prevent any possible sticking due to its degreasing nature

    I find as long as the outdoor climate isn’t extremely hot. It works well and doesn’t “sneak out ” any worse than zippo fuel will depending on lighter design..

    …and this stuff cares about how well your lighter “seals up ” better sealing lighters like it better …. and shake it after filling …..I prefer an old school lift arm lighter or secondhand Robson myself ..to each his own

    PS ..using unleaded automotive gasoline in any wick lighter is very dangerous !! .. Because Gasoline works by exploding vapors inside of a car engine cylinder so it ignites far too violently for lighters.. ..and so will your lighter too I bet.. once its warm with that substance in it ..

  19. “The problem is the Zippo wick…are asbestos…engineered to lift one specific fuel, white gas…a dash of perfume equals cigarette lighter fluid…Coleman fuel sells for $10 per gallon whereas Zippo lighter fluid sells for $88 per gallon when purchased in 4 oz. cans.”

    Thank you very much for saving me tons of money in fuel, I begin to suspect Zippo sold lighter “cheap” but make huge profit on selling fuel! For those who insisted on using “other” fuel, you may have to change your Zippo wick to cotton! Hell, I waved my own wick using 4 cotton and 4 striped wire strands, it works! (How to make rope > YouTube //www.youtube.com/results?q=how+to+make+4+strand+rope )

    • I filled up an old Zippo that I had picked up off the street that had been run over a few times. After re shaping it I tried some cookstove fuel that had been in my shed for several years. It lighted up just fine but did not seem to last very long. Filled it again a week or so ago and worked, but today it does not want to. Does it evaporate faster? Taking it backpacking in Wyoming but not depending on it for the soul fire source. When lighting a back pack stove with a Bic I have seen people remark that they are burning their fingers.

  20. I put charcoal fluid in my zippo and it works. I took your advice and preheated the copper filament in the wick but rolling my palm against the striker 2-3 times and was then able to strike as normal. Able to also restrike normally for about 5 minutes before needing to “preheat” again. Coming in at $1 for 32 ounces at my local gas station charcoal fuel, while it may be hell on you flint, does work in a pinch if you have a zippo and some charcoal lighter fluid laying around.

  21. I dunno? While I’m typing this I’m watching one of my Zippo lighters with nothing in it but odorless charcoal lighter fluid (The cheap stuff from a big box store that starts with a ‘W’ and I think a ‘mart’ in it…?) and it burns fine. Same for VM&P Naphtha, which at one quart will cost about eight dollars more. It might take a few flicks to start, but once it does, it’s totally fine! No problems. I have Zippo lighters in which I’ve put nothing in them but premium Zippo lighter fluid, and some of them even take a few flicks on the first try! Usually if they have been sitting around for longer than a day, or two. If they aren’t totally dried out that is. Also, both aforementioned fuels even work in my Zippo hand warmers. Though I will admit the charcoal lighter fluid takes a bit more to start up, possibly because you are putting it into direct flame, Idk… But once it does light up, look out. It’s on! And it’s hot!

  22. when I was in the navy we would use jet fuel in the lighters. it is but a high grade of diesel fuel. to address the advantages of propane is that its fuel is used for other things. such as a soldering iron that is an indispensable tool to repair a multitude of items. small torches to solder copper pipes ( to make and repair stills.) knowing what we may substitute and get you by in an emergency but not plan on there use as permanent use. just as it would be foolish to use a multifunction handy dandy do all knife as your primary survival tool. anything used for survival is posable to use in multiple ways. fire and the elements it uses are flexible only so far and maintain safety. in my 76 years, I still have all my digits. while some may not be functional they are all there. Why? I maintain safety first in everything I do. more than once it has proved to save me and others from disaster. so as a word of experience coming from decades of close proximity to danger the smallest must be looked upon as no less than the greatest. in civilization, a small cut is of little consequence unable to attend to it can cost you a hand or your life. don’t try anything you are not sure of. and try it when you are not in a hurry or emergency. knowledge weighs nothing. the lessons by backdoor survival are our primary reading every day and much more desirable than my small contribution. thanks for your excellent posts——–Grampa

    • Hay Grandpa the last time I looked jet fuel is highly filtered kerosene. Not to say your not right but a friend who works on jets saved me from getting a foolish kid from trying to purchase 5 gallons of jet fuel and putting it in my race car. Although he thought he was trying to do me a favor, trying to get what he thought was (jet fuel) his thinking if a jet could run on it my race car would run like like all get out as well. To his dismay my friend at the small airport saved the day for me and draining the tank as well.

  23. Goof Off, the sticky residue remover used to come in a little can almost identical to Zippo Lighter fluid. In ’98, right before I left active duty, I absentmindedly reached into a kitchen cabinet and filled up my lighter with some. It lit and burned perfectly, but smoked seriously black. Don’t know if the stuff is the same today, but it did ignite and burn well.

  24. Zippo used to make a plastic container to fill the lighter one time. If interested, I can send you a photo. You can use a small eye dropper bottle to carry enough fuel to refill the Zippo.

  25. Hey, just FYI, that Einstein quote is misattributed. It apparently may have come from Alexandre Dumas jr (son of the author of The Three Musketeers). In any case, it predated Einstein.

    Einstein is often claimed to have said “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

    This, too, appears to be contrived, the earliest source seeming to be around 1990 (which makes it more likely influenced by the commonly misattributed quote you used).

    Anyway, this is a very helpful article. I remember using charcoal lighter fluid in a zippo, and it burning just splendidly, but only after touched with another flame. This is a great explanation why.

    I did get gasoline to light once in a zippo, and the flames were about a foot high. Pretty sure I lost some portion of hair. Don’t remember if it lit directly, but I thought it had. Certainly, it is not a good choice for a Zippo-style lighter. Will stick with the real thing.


  26. I used to use charcoal fluid in the 90’s and it always worked fine, other than some black smoke that burns with it. Do they not make it like they used to?

  27. I bought a Zippo shortly after Marine boot camp with a small Eagle Globe, and Anchor on one side. Carried it through my whole active Marine Corps career (six years) including Vietnam. Replaced the wick once. Still have it and it still works if I load it up correctly. I carried Bics since about 1980, including after I quit smoking. I had one minor issue occur while in Vietnam. Evidently I over filled it and my pocket was soaked with fluid and I got a nasty chemical burn (a corpsman figured out what happened. Very useful fellows to have around). Washed out the trousers, my leg, and carefully refilled the Zippo ever after. As a prepper, I believe a good supply of Bic lighters as well as a good supply of waterproof, strike-anywhere matches are better than a Zippo. Not to mention some ferro rods and steels). The Zippo had it’s time and was good during that time. but progress marches on.

  28. I stupidly filled a Zippo with butane, has this ruined the lighter or will it still work okay when I fill with Zippo fuel?

    • Elaine, if it was a “regular” wick Zippo filled with cotton, and you used a can of pressurized butane gas that made a hissing sound upon depressing the nozzle, the only possible damage to the lighter I can imagine is if you bent something by force, or used enough butane to freeze and break something, both of which you’d likely notice. The butane is long gone from the Zippo and other than the aforementioned rarities, did zero damage.

      As mentioned in an above comment, when filling your Zippo with lighter fluid, make sure to not overfill it to the point that excess fluid is dripping out. If that ever happens, go outside and vigorously shake off the excess until you see zero drops, give it a wipe down with a rag or paper towel, wash your hands, and only then reinsert the “works,” always with the flippy bit on the case hinge side in the open (horizontal) position back in the case. The case lid won’t close if the flippy bit is in the closed (vertical) position, so don’t force it. As to why overfilling is bad, lighter fluid after a while on skin produces a rash, so if it’s in a pants pocket, you’ll get a case of Zippo leg if in a front pocket, and it is a solvent that probably won’t play nice with some items in a bag, given time, not to mention the smell of lighter fluid will linger a bit. Hey, some people actually like it.

  29. Thorough article, thanks a bunch. A precision though, for the sake of correct information: the Austrian IMCO is not the “European answer to the Zippo”, but on the contrary, the Zippo was inspired by the IMCO. From the wikipedia article:

    “American inventor George G. Blaisdell founded Zippo Manufacturing Company in 1932 and produced the first Zippo lighter in early 1933, being inspired by an Austrian cigarette lighter of similar design made by IMCO.”

    Thanks for sharing all the information and God bless.

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