How to Light a Lantern?

How to Light a Lantern? A Must-Know for Campers
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Among the oldest inventions of man is the lantern. In fact, way before petroleum products were discovered, whales were hunted for their oil, which was used to fuel old-school lanterns. Over time though, other types of lanterns, such as battery- and solar-powered ones, have been introduced to the market.

For the sake of this article, we are primarily focusing on oil lanterns and what you need to know about them. After all, understanding how to light a lantern can come in handy one day—even if you aren’t a camper.

What Is an Oil Lantern?

An oil lantern is exactly what its name suggests; it’s a lamp that uses an oil-based source to produce light continuously. Oil lamps have been around since the Iron Age, and possibly even longer. While the appearance and the fuel-source of oil lanterns have changed, their purpose remains the same.

How to Light a Lantern?

Understanding how an oil lantern works is the most important aspect of knowing how to light one. Oil lanterns use a straightforward rule of physics—cloth easily absorbs oil. Paraffin oil is a very efficient way to light your oil lantern; however, it’s likely that you choose various other oils that are more accessible. Before you use any kind of oil, you need to ensure that what you’re using is safe.

Oil lanterns produce light via a wick that you ignite using a match. The wick on the lamp doesn’t burn away because it’s continually burning the oil instead of the cloth. The fuel that gets used is typically stored in a canister that you can find at the bottom of the lantern.

Here is a step-by-step guide to lighting it:

Step 1

As you start the process of lighting your oil lantern, you need to remove the glass covering to expose the wick. You can remove the cover by merely pulling at the top as you hold the base with your free hand.

If you find that the wick looks old, you need to replace it before using it. If you don’t replace the wick, the result may be a sooty and unstable flame.

Step 2

Your next step is to lift the wick holder from its position where a hole in the middle gets exposed. The gap is there for you to fill the lantern with oil; though, you need to be mindful of any markings. If your lamp has indicators that show oil capacity, it’s best that you never fill the lantern more than halfway.

Step 3

After you’ve finished with pouring in the oil, you need to examine the lamp for any noticeable leaks before you use it; if any are found, immediately stop. It’s also essential that you look at the edges of the wick. If they are uneven, merely trim them with a pair of scissors, and you’re good to go.

Step 4

Another step that you need to take before you can light your oil lantern is to take a good look at the glass cover. If you notice that it’s dirty, it needs to be wiped clean with a cloth or paper towels. Make sure that you keep in mind that you never use any type of glass cleaner or water to clean the glass; both can leave streaks and cause your flame to look dull.

Step 5

Once you have finished wiping down the glass, you can light your wick using a reliable, wooden matchstick. The lantern’s glass cover needs to get carefully put back into position, and it needs to be done relatively quickly. If you don’t move fast enough, you can cause the lid to get covered in soot once again.

The majority of lanterns have a knob located on their side that you can use to adjust it until a soot-free flame burns. If you are finding that even after you adjust the flame, it is still burning wildly, then that might be an indicator of an underlying problem.

Lantern Safety

Now that you understand how to light a lantern, it’s highly critical that you understand lantern safety. Here are some tips to ensure your safety when using an oil lantern:

  • Once you get your lantern burning, you need to ensure that it’s put in a place where it can’t tip over. Ideally, you must keep your oil lamp hanging in a place where it won’t be disturbed.
  • It’s very hazardous to keep lanterns and fabrics close together, so if you are using a lantern on a camping trip, you need to ensure that the lamp is kept away from all tents and other flammable supplies.
  • It’s also suggested that you keep your lantern out of reach of children. If your children are joining you on the camping trip, you need to instruct them that the lamp needs to be left alone.
  • If they are old enough, and they do need to go near it, make sure that you’ve given them a lesson on how to use it. As an example, you can tell them not to refill the lantern while the wick is still burning.
  • Another important safety tip to keep in mind is never to try refilling the lamp with oil immediately after turning it off. Doing so can cause you to burn your hands.
  • You also need to keep oil out of direct sunlight, and it’s an essential point that you don’t forget it. As an example, if you are on a hiking trip, you need to keep the oil you plan on using for your lantern in a shaded place.
  • If your oil spills, it needs to be immediately cleaned off as soon as you notice the spillage. If you don’t clean up the oil, an open flame from a matchstick can set an entire tent on fire—or worse.
  • Additionally, if oil spills on clothing, you need to place them outside to keep from breathing in the smell and to give them the chance to dry. If possible, wash the clothes before wearing them again.


Knowing how to light an oil lamp is extremely important for both practical and safety reasons. Before you even attempt to light an oil lantern, you need to ensure that you understand all safety tips. Anytime that you are dealing with an open flame, and dealing with flammable fuel, attempting to light the lamp can cause a disaster if done incorrectly.

Even after understanding how an oil lamp works and understanding the safety behind it, you can always opt for a battery- or solar-powered lamp if you don’t feel comfortable. There are other options available to you if you prefer to get your light from flameless sources.

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