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What are the Different Types of Lamp Oil?

Lamp oil illuminates our spaces with a gentle glow, but it comes in various types, each with unique properties. Paraffin oil is popular for its clean burn, while citronella-infused oils keep pests at bay. For a more traditional feel, kerosene offers a classic ambiance. Which type best suits your needs for ambiance and function? Explore the nuances and find your perfect match.
B. Turner
B. Turner

People used oil lamps for centuries to light the home prior to the invention of electric lighting. Many still rely on these lamps to provide light during a power outage, or for outdoor events and camping trips. These lamps burn a special type of oil made from refined kerosene and designed to burn cleaner than traditional fuels. Buyers can choose from several types of lamp oil, including standard and ultra-clean varieties, as well as organic and specialty oils.

Traditional lamp oil consists of refined kerosene, or paraffin, and is made from hydrocarbon molecules produced during petroleum refining. This oil burns effectively, but produces several unwanted side effects as it lights a room. Like many kerosene-based products, it produces a large amount of soot and smoke as it burns. This creates an unpleasant mess and leaves a dark residue coating on the lamp and surrounding surface. Depending on the lamp design, this oil may reduce visible light because of the dark coating it creates.

Colorless lamp oil.
Colorless lamp oil.

Ultra-clean or ultra-pure lamp oils are made from standard kerosene, but are distilled multiple times to reduce pollutants. This results in a very clean-burning oil that serves as one of the most popular types in use today. This oil burns cleanly and leaves less sooty residue on the lamp and other surfaces. It also helps users maximize visible light by keeping the glass free of soot, and reduces the amount of pollutants that enter the air in the home.

Colored lamp oils can be used to create an ambiance and mood.
Colored lamp oils can be used to create an ambiance and mood.

Some eco-conscious consumers have also turned to organic oils made from vegetables and other plants. These oils tend to cost more, but burn very cleanly and help reduce the user's dependence on petroleum. Ancient people relied on castor oil, which comes from the castor plant. Modern users generally stick to products made from olive oil, vegetable oil, or any number of beans or seeds. These oils do not introduce harmful fumes into the air, and do not produce the soot associated with kerosene.

An oil lamp.
An oil lamp.

Throughout history, many people have used scented or colored oil as part of religious or cultural ceremonies. Today, these oils may still be used in this manner, or may simply be chosen for the ambiance they create. Colored products can be used to create a specific mood or tone within a room, and ones scented with essential oils or perfumes can add pleasant fragrances to the home.

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Discussion Comments


Has anyone tried spermaceti oil? Is the glow worth it?


Non toxic is important for our family. I really like the Firefly Safe and Green Fuel too!


Citronella as a pure essential oil is costly. Unless you are buying Citronella in 55-gallon quantities, there is no economical way to purchase and mix your own. Sorry.

As for an organic lamp oil, I can recommend Firefly Safe & Green Fuel.


We have decorative oil lamps that we burn to keep insects away. Does anyone know how to mix pure lamp oil and concentrated citronella and in what quantities? Buying already mixed citronella oil is expensive, I wondered if I could do it cheaper by adding concentrated citronella to cheap lamp oil.


Kerosene (and paraffin lamp oil which is the same thing), mineral spirits, alcohol and vegetable oil is all good to use in oil lamps. I've used pretty much all of these. Right now I mainly use alcohol because it's cheaper and doesn't smell or create smoke. Kerosene is pretty good in that way too, but it still smells like oil.

There is something called 'lamp oil' at some stores. I see these especially in hurricane areas where it's available for emergencies. But I'm not sure what it's made of exactly.

If you wanted to go real natural and wanted a lamp oil for free, you could use the wax of some trees as lamp oil. It will probably take some work to collect and melt the wax down though.


@alisha-- I prefer natural oils too. I generally use vegetable, canola or fragrance oil, but I don't burn oil lamps for very long. If I did, it would cost so much! I have a small oil lamp that I light sometimes at night.

I have a sleeping problem, so instead of having the lights on, I burn an oil lamp for a couple of hours before I sleep. It actually makes me sleepy and I fall asleep more easily. If I use a fragrance oil, that also has a great aromatherapy effect that is very relaxing.

When I do this though, I finish up the oil in the lamp in about two days. I get my oils in bulk too and that does save some money. But it's still much more expensive than kerosene. I don't like using petroleum products, but I may have to switch over eventually.


I like to use oil lamps and oil candles at home, both for the ambiance and the spiritual mood it creates when I'm praying.

In many religions, lighting a lamp or candles while praying symbolizes wisdom. It aims to keep away ignorance and it also makes it easier to concentrate and meditate with the divine in mind.

We thankfully have electricity, so we don't need oil lamps for lighting anymore. But the effect that an oil lamp has in a room is very different. I'm not quite sure what to call it, but it's very unique and inspiring. And I like to have lamps burning most of the time that I'm home.

I heard from a spiritual guru, that for meditative and spiritual purposes, sesame oil is best for lamps. I bought a huge bottle of it online and always use this oil.

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    • Colorless lamp oil.
      By: indigolotos
      Colorless lamp oil.
    • Colored lamp oils can be used to create an ambiance and mood.
      By: Diana Vyshniakova
      Colored lamp oils can be used to create an ambiance and mood.
    • An oil lamp.
      By: Aleksandar Mijatovic
      An oil lamp.
    • A kerosene lantern.
      By: Gino Santa Maria
      A kerosene lantern.