Kerosene is a common fuel particularly for use in jet engines and that, of course, means that it can be burned. It is also known as paraffin and to some extent, you may hear it called lamp oil too. They estimate that there are nearly 200,000 cubic meters of kerosene consumed around the world each day, but does that mean kerosene is flammable?
Yes, kerosene generates flammable vapors with a flashpoint of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). This makes kerosene easier to use and store than gasoline, which has a flashpoint of -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius).
Let’s take a closer look at kerosene and what you need to know about it.
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Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
- What Is Kerosene?
- Is Kerosene Flammable?
- Is Kerosene Explosive?
- Can You Light It On Fire?
- Is Kerosene Safe To Start A Fire With?
- Does Kerosene Ignite With Matches?
- How Long Will A Kerosene Heater Burn?
- Which Burns Faster Gasoline or Kerosene?
- Will Spilled Kerosene Evaporate?
- Is Kerosene Cleaner Than Diesel?
- Why Is Kerosene So Expensive?
- Can Humans Drink Kerosene?
What Is Kerosene?
Kerosene is a fuel oil that is derived from petroleum. The name “kerosene” is derived from Greek and the word “keros” which meant “wax”.
Its main use is as aviation fuel, but it is also used around the world in rocket engines, outboard motors, and even motorbikes.
It is also considered to be a polluting fuel by the World Health Organization which encourages governments globally to discourage its use. The smoke produced by burning kerosene contains a lot of harmful pollutants which are carcinogenic.
Kerosene is a fraction of petroleum and it’s also a trademark that was once the property of a Canadian geologist, Abraham Gesner, but has long since fallen into common use and thus, becomes a “generic trademark”. (That is a word that has come to mean the whole class of something – such as “Hoover” for all vacuum cleaners).
In some countries, they use the word paraffin or lamp oil instead of kerosene.
How Is Kerosene Used?
Kerosene is no longer used as a fuel for lamps in the developed world but there are places in the developing world that will still use it that way.
It is also used in Japan and Chile as a form of heating oil, and you can buy it in a gas station or get it delivered to your home.
In the UK, they use it as a heating oil if there is no LPG pipeline available for the customer.
In America, the Amish still use kerosene as lamp oil and also for heating as it requires no electricity or modern inventions to use it.
Most commonly of all, it’s used a jet fuel.
In some parts of the developing world, they also use kerosene as a fuel for burners for cooking on.
Some people use kerosene in entertainment and it’s the most popular choice of fuel for fire breathing and fire dancing.
It is also used in both chemistry laboratories and industry for preparing other chemicals.
Finally, it can be used to clean glass of adhesives and wax, bike chains of grease, and thin oil paints!
Is Kerosene Flammable?
Yes, kerosene is flammable. It gives off a vapor that has a flashpoint (that is it will ignite in the presence of a flame or a spark) at 38 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is higher than the flashpoint of gasoline and one of the reasons for kerosene’s enduring popularity is that it is easier to store safely than gasoline.
What Temperature Does Kerosene Burn At?
Once you’ve ignited kerosene, it burns at around 1814 degrees Fahrenheit (that is 990 degrees Celsius) in air. This is, of course, the typical temperature that you would expect to find in a kerosene flame if it were used for cooking or being burned in a motorbike.
However, if it is burned with the right blend of oxygen in a laboratory, a kerosene flame can be much, much hotter and burn at 3801 degrees Fahrenheit or 2393 degrees Celsius! This wide range of burning temperatures can be exploited when using kerosene as an industrial fuel.
Is Kerosene Explosive?
It’s not as volatile as petrol (gasoline), for example, which makes it safer to use in certain circumstances.
However, it requires safe storage in fully sealed cans in well-ventilated spaces and should be kept away from sources of naked flame.
Kerosene is also not, in standard conditions, an explosion hazard.
Can You Light It On Fire?
Kerosene will, obviously, burn because it’s a fuel oil – if it didn’t burn, it wouldn’t release the heat and light that its various uses require.
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However, it won’t catch fire very easily when compared to flammable liquids.
Is Kerosene Safe To Start A Fire With?
Kerosene is a very tempting material to use as a fire starter when say burning brush or getting a campfire going.
However, despite the fact that it will get your fire started fast and produce a ton of heat (more than the wood you want to burn), it’s a bad idea to use kerosene to start a fire.
It’s very easy for a kerosene fire to get out of control and harm you, others, or their property and there’s also a risk of the fire being drawn into the kerosene container which might result in an explosion.
Seriously, it’s best to use kindling to start a fire, even if it takes a little longer.
What Happens If You Throw It On A Fire?
Throwing kerosene on a fire will cause the kerosene to catch fire and thus, increase the scale of the fire which it has been thrown onto.
We would note, however, that it would be a bad idea to do this and that there’s a real risk of the fire being drawn into the kerosene container.
If this happens, the kerosene inside the container will expand rapidly and cause the container to explode. This will, in turn, spray the person holding the container with burning kerosene.
This will not end well for that person.
Can You Ever Put Kerosene In A Fireplace?
You should never, ever use kerosene to start a fire in an indoor or outdoor fireplace. (In fact, you should never use gasoline or any other flammable liquid either).
There is a serious risk of the fluid going somewhere that you did not intend for it to do and for that to cause a fire that quickly spreads to the house and things within it.
There is also a risk of the flame being drawn into the liquid’s container which will cause an explosion.
We’d also like to point out that you shouldn’t burn trash in your fireplace either as it may result in a release of toxic fumes that could harm you and your family.
Does Kerosene Ignite With Matches?
Kerosene can be set on fire with a match but not by putting the match into the liquid kerosene. It is the vapor on kerosene, which is flammable, liquid kerosene is not flammable, it’s combustible.
If you were to push a lit match into liquid kerosene, the actual outcome would be to extinguish your match rather than to light the kerosene.
Can You Ignite It With A Lighter?
Lighter fluid has a lower flashpoint than kerosene, which means that while you can light kerosene vapors with a lighter (though not kerosene liquid) you will need to wait for the flame to warm up, to do so.
Again, this is one of the reasons that kerosene is so popular, because it’s harder to set alight than say gasoline or ethanol, it’s easier to store it safely and under more challenging conditions.
Can It Burn Without A Wick?
Kerosene at temperatures below 100 degrees Fahrenheit simply won’t burn without a wick, in fact, if you take a lit match and fling it into liquid kerosene at under this temperature, the match will be extinguished. (Though, please don’t try this at home).
A wick changes this property by allowing the alteration of the surface area to volume ratio of the kerosene and thus when you touch a flame to the wick – the kerosene lights at a temperature under 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another way to change this ratio would be to place kerosene in a squirty bottle and aerosolize it, in this state, kerosene is both flammable and a potential explosion hazard.
Does Kerosene Burn Underwater?
No, kerosene doesn’t burn underwater. In order for a fire to burn, it needs a supply of oxygen anything when placed underwater will be separated from the oxygen in the air and be extinguished.
However, while kerosene won’t burn underwater, it will burn on top of the water. Assuming it’s been lit, the kerosene will float on water and continue to burn in oxygen.
It’s also worth noting that because of this property, it’s a bad idea to try and extinguish a kerosene blaze using water.
The water is far more likely to break up the kerosene into small pools of burning liquid and spread these around to start other fires than it is to extinguish the fire.
How Long Will A Kerosene Heater Burn?
If you are running a kerosene heater indoors, please note that the World Health Organization doesn’t recommend this and the fumes that it gives off may be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
However, there’s no doubt that due to the low cost of kerosene combined with its high heat output when lit, that some folks are going to continue using kerosene heaters until they’re banned outright.
If that’s you, then your kerosene heater should burn for around 6-8 hours before going out. If you do use a kerosene heater, make sure to let it cool completely before refilling it or you risk a very serious fire and personal harm.
Which Burns Faster Gasoline or Kerosene?
Technically, pure gasoline in an aerosolized state would burn at roughly the same rate as kerosene, though it might finish a very small fraction of a second faster.
In practice, if you’re talking about setting the two alight at room temperature? Gasoline might explode rather than burn, due to its low ignition point.
That would mean that the kerosene would burn more slowly.
Which Is More Flammable Kerosene or Diesel?
Diesel is more combustible than kerosene (it too is not, technically speaking, flammable) as it has a higher flash point than kerosene.
Will Spilled Kerosene Evaporate?
No, the boiling point of kerosene is far in excess of room temperature. If you spill kerosene, you’ll need to clean it up or get used to the unpleasant smell of kerosene hanging around for a long time to come.
Is Kerosene Cleaner Than Diesel?
Yes, kerosene will burn more cleanly than diesel though it’s worth noting that the World Health Organization considers kerosene flames to be polluting and strongly encourages that governments and other organizations stop promoting its use.
Why Is Kerosene Not Used As A Car Fuel?
When diesel is placed under compression in a car engine, it burns more easily than kerosene. Thus, it’s a preferable choice for engine fuel.
Why Is Kerosene So Expensive?
Kerosene has been losing popularity for many years and that means the market demand for kerosene has been dwindling.
When demand for something goes down, you might expect it to get cheaper but as kerosene is a made product rather than a natural one – the supply of kerosene has been reduced in turn.
So, the price of kerosene has gone up, instead of falling.
Can Humans Drink Kerosene?
No, humans cannot drink kerosene and in small quantities, it’s toxic and can cause harm to the digestive and respiratory systems as well as burning and irritating the skin and eyes.
In larger quantities, it can cause coma, drowsiness, convulsions, irritability, and restlessness.
It is not known if kerosene is a carcinogen and at this moment in time, it’s not classified by anybody as a carcinogen.
And it’s also not known to have any effect on the human reproductive system.
Can Kerosene Kill You?
The bad news, however, is that, yes, if you were to consume or inhale enough kerosene after the coma had set in, death would be on its way fairly shortly afterward.
For this reason, it’s recommended that those who work with kerosene use respirators and other protective equipment.