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Oil Lamp Safety

Kay Penster

Oil lamps have provided light for centuries and are still in use today. According to Willamette University, “Oil lamps were essential objects of daily life in ancient and medieval times, and every household would have owned several.”


Oil lamps can be a beautiful, and safe, lighting choice.

A standard oil lamp has four basic components: the lamp base which holds the fuel, the oil used as fuel, the wick which draws the fuel out of the base and a clear glass chimney to protect the flame from drafts. The lamp base is usually ceramic, metal or glass, although seashells, hollowed rocks and other non-flammable objects are creative alternatives.

Fuel Types

Lamp oil is a safe fuel for indoor use and can be found in many retail stores. It burns evenly and slowly without soot or smoke. Kerosene is another common fuel but should not be used in the same base as lamp oil. Never use gasoline in an oil lamp.


Oil lamps can be easily knocked over, so keep them on level surfaces away from pets and children. Adjust the wick until it is barely visible so the flame will stay low inside the chimney.


The National Capital Poison Center warns that inhaling lamp oil can lead to breathing problems and even pneumonia. This usually happens when the oil is poured into a cup. If someone thinks the liquid is a beverage and starts to drink it, the oil can slide into the lungs. To avoid this mix-up, keep the oil in the original container.