Lamp Light, Ultra Pure Lamp Oil
Article authored and edited by Eric Bagai, EJ “Tedward” LeCouteur and Carisa Hendrix
Paraffin, Lamp Oil or Mineral Oil are names for a liquid by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline and other petroleum based products from crude oil.
Fuel used in: Fire Breathing, Fire Poi, Fire Hoop, Fire Eating and Fire Buugeng.
Not recommended for: Vapor Tricks in Fire Eating
Flash Point: 184°C (363°F)
Gravity: 0.8 g/cm3 1
Boiling Point: 315°C (589°F)
Vapor Pressure: Negligible at ambient temperature and pressure
Color: A transparent, colorless oil
Insoluble in Water: Yes
Unlike the other common names for fuels, Paraffin is a moniker for a type of hydrocarbon rather than a generic size range. Technically, paraffins are fully saturated hydrocarbons without benzene rings, exotic atoms, or any other imputities. The paraffins are biologically neutral, tasteless, odourless, and colourless. However, the legal for trade-moniker Paraffin, allows for certain impurities, and outside the US, the percentage increases. Often, “pure” paraffin will contain up to 1% contaminants, enough to give it a distinctive gasoline smell and taste. In the UK and other Anglophone countries, Paraffin is often directly comparable to Kerosene or heating oil. However, in polar and near-polar regions, paraffins used for heating and stove oil often contain larger proportions of naphtha and benzene so that they will light more easily in sub-zero temperatures.2
Since, technically, a wide variety of chemicals from propane, to white gas, to lamp oil, to vasoline, can be called a paraffin, the properties are harder to pinpoint. For our purposes, we will stick to the more common forms: lamp oil and mineral oil. These liquid, long-chain hydrocarbons range from c10 to c18, have a very high flash point (200+ degrees f), and a very low vapor pressure. Lamp oil can often be left in the open, even in direct sunlight, without fear of it producing combustible vapors.
Because it is so stable at room temp, Lamp oil is very hard to light under most circumstances. It will only burn from a wick or other substance with a high surface area. It will often stain any surface it touches because of the difficulty it has migrating and evaporating. The notable exception to this stability is when in the presence of high surface area conditions. When lamp oil is applied to cotton balls, wood shavings, fur, or feathers it begins producing a cloud of vapors almost immediately. This cloud stays in a form that is readily ignitable from spark or intense heat.
From a performance standpoint, Lamp oil is one of the preferred fuels. It’s accepted by even the most restrictive fire departments. Though it burns smokily, it can be found in forms that burn without a lot of toxins (Lamplighter Farms Ultrapure), and all forms produce a very long show. Its very high flash point means that it usually won’t burn on your body, even if you smack yourself with a freshly lit wick. Highly purified forms can also be obtained (food-grade, medical, pharmaceutical) that are safe for consumption, making them the ideal fuel for fire breathing (unless inhaled). The biggest problem with lamp oil is in the eventual complacency of the performer.
Proximity to feathers and fur should be avoided at all costs as these materials make Lamp oil react like Naphtha.
Irritation of the eyes may occur with exposure to concentrated vapors or contact. Repeated or prolonged contact with the fuel can cause redness, irritation, and scaling of the skin (dermatitis). Normal care and personal hygiene should prevent skin effects. Exposure to high concentration of vapors may result in headache and stupor. Exposure of the lungs to this fuel during either prolonged breathing of a mist or by inducing vomiting following ingestion, can lead to serious lung injury and possibly death.
Note: If swallowed do not induce vomiting, get medical assistance.