How to Light a Portable Kerosene Heater

Rachel Lovejoy

Used with proper ventilation and with safety always in mind, a portable kerosene heater can get you through a power outage or other heating emergency safely, comfortably and economically.

Today’s heaters have a variety of safety features, including instant shut-off if the unit is bumped or tipped over, an attached overspill tray and a battery-operated start-up function that eliminates the need to use an open flame when lighting the unit.


Refer to the owner’s manual that came with the heater to learn all the particular details of your type of heater. Also consult the manual to know how often to replace the heater’s wick, what type to buy and how to install it. It’s not unusual for some heaters to give off a puff of smoke when they are turned off.


Never move a lighted heater. Turn it off and wait for it to cool completely before moving it.

Never refill a lighted heater. Make sure it's off and completely cool before adding more kerosene.

Keep children away from the heater at all times. Be sure kerosene, funnels and lighters are all stored safely out of their reach.

Monitor the heater at all times.

  1. Place the kerosene heater on several thicknesses of newspaper and away from all combustibles, preferably outside. Remove the fuel tank cover, which on some models is attached by a chain. Place the funnel firmly into the opening and pour kerosene in slowly, allowing the funnel to drain completely before adding more.

  2. Watch the fuel gauge, and do not overfill the unit. Stop filling when the needle barely reaches the fill line. Replace the fuel tank cap, and completely wipe off any kerosene that dripped or leaked from the funnel or the kerosene can. Dispose of the newspapers and rags that soaked up any fuel.

  3. Open an outside window about an inch before lighting the heater. This will allow for an adequate exchange of air and will vent any fumes out of the room. Leave the window open while the heater is on.

  4. Turn the heater’s control knob all the way to the right, and open the access door on the front. Lift the front of the wick ring up, then wiggle it from side to side a few times to allow the kerosene to saturate the wick. Click the electric ignition, and watch until you see a small flame below the wick. On models with no electric start, lift the wick ring up and insert either a long, lighted match against the wick, or insert the end of a butane lighter. Click the lighter on, and watch for a small flame under the wick.

  5. Close the access door and wait while the flame spreads throughout the wick. A small amount of black smoke escaping from the top of the heater is normal and should subside quickly once it heats enough to burn off the gases.

  6. Adjust the control knob to a setting that feels comfortable once you feel heat radiating from the heater. To turn off the heater, click the instant shut-off lever, then turn the heat control knob all the way to the left.