Can You Use Vegetable Oil to Start a Fire?


There are many flammable liquids out there that can be highly flammable. Whether or not they should be used to start a fire is another story completely. Vegetable oil is a classic example of a liquid that can go up in flames, but can you start a fire with it? Should you?

Vegetable oil should not be tossed into an open flame ever. However, as a light coating on newspaper, a cup of sawdust, or other fire starter vegetable oil can be a great accelerant that helps with the quick lighting of a fire when done correctly (and safely).

There is a difference between vegetable oil that is used via aerosol spray onto bits of newspaper to create a great fire starter versus actual putting the oil directly into a fire, or using liquid oil.

Using liquid oil should just never be done period. While there is a very limited way that it can be used on a firestarter before lighting to help…that is a very bad, very unsafe idea.

This is the right type of vegetable oil to use on newspaper to create good fire starters:

vegetable cooking spray cans

And never on an open fire. Improvised flamethrowers are undeniably cool…until the lack of safety leads to the fire following the spray back into the can and blowing it up in your hand.

At that point it sucks more than just a little.

This is the wrong type of oil (especially to just dump on an open fire unless you’re trying to get 3rd degree burns all over your face and body).

The question isn’t whether or not you can use vegetable oil to start a fire. The question is should you.

You’re probably not surprised to know we have some thoughts on this!

Creating a Vegetable Oil Fire Starter

The only smart, safe way to use vegetable oil to start a fire is by using it to create an especially flammable fire starter. This can be useful if you know you might be facing challenging conditions, are lighting a bonfire, or otherwise have a situation where you need to make sure your fire starter is prepped to grab that initial match or lighter flame and grow it.

In theory any combination of shredded newspaper with dried vegetable oil can be a great fire starter. I’ve been lazy and used the bird’s nest method more than once.

However, I’ve found in my hundreds of nights camping, and thousands of fires lit, that there’s a specific style of a vegetable oil infused newspaper based fire starter that works better than the rest.

Here’s how you make it:

Step One: Get a Newspaper

Look – we finally have a use for that annoying Penny Saver newspaper! You will want a full excess newspaper or quite a bit of one. This isn’t a firestarter that’s made with just one or two pages.

But hey, you finally have some outdoor use for that junk mail newspaper of yours they won’t stop delivering no matter how many times you complain.

You know, hypothetically.

Step Two: Spray with Vegetable Oil/Cook Spray

You don’t need to soak this until the strips are clear. Truth be told, you shouldn’t. But whatever pieces you’re using to create your fire starter bouquet, make sure those get sprayed.

Even a light spray will do it. In fact, you don’t want to go too heavy.

Give a light once over and put in a place where it can dry.

Step Three: Let Them Dry

Simple enough. Let the oil soak through and then let the paper dry.

At that point you have paper that is not only set to receive a match flame but infused with that little extra flammable kick from vegetable oil.

This can create a really great base for starting a fire that will flame up fast and give the kindling every change to catch and flare up into a roaring fire.

Step Four: Create Newspaper “Flowers”

This starts with ripping individual pages. These need to be ripped 3-5 inches depending on the size of the newspaper “flowers” you’ll be making.

torn newspaper for fire starter

and another example:

torn newspaper fire starter

Cinch the newspaper together at the base of where these rips would all meet.

cinching newspaper

I like to give a few relatively loose twists to give a flower stem of sorts.

twisting newspaper

If that’s enough for the fire need at that point, then good enough.

If you think you might need more, make a couple more and tie them all together at the base.

Keep in mind that this was all from about 12 seconds of not caring with really cheap newspaper. You want scissors, use an actual newspaper that comes from a solid paper and you’ll have a much prettier looking bouquet that’s a bit more balanced.

But both will burn just fine!

An example of a 25 second effort for a finished one:

newspaper bouquet fire starter

Step Five (Optional): Wrap Them Together

Creates a large Bouquet (each tied together at bottom, that will light fast, burn hot, and make a great fire starter.

For most situations one is enough. But if you’re going for that big bonfire then tying 2-3 of these together will give you plenty to work on.

That’s the best (and safest) way to use vegetable oil to help with starting your next fire.

Step Six: Build a Smart Fire Around the Fire Starter

Then this is the fun part. Made sure you have plenty of small sticks, twigs, and any kindling prepped as needed.

Then light the fire!

bonfire burning

Why You Should Never Use on an Open Fire

You would hope this would be obvious, yet apparently it’s worth stating: vegetable oil should NEVER be exposed to an open fire. Tossing liquid oil into a fire or spraying right into it is a great way to get a fire out of control or cause an explosion.

Fire safety matters, and the right use of vegetable oil to start a fire is through creating the fire starter that this article gave step by step instructions for building.

Doing that allows you to start anything from a grill, to a small campfire, to a large bonfire. That’s the only time that vegetable oil should come close to fire.

Stay Safe with Fire

There are many flammable liquids and accelerants out there, but not all of them should be used with fire. In fact, very few of them should be. Vegetable oil spray from a can can be gently sprayed onto old shredded newspaper or even shredded bark and other natural fire starters.

After that, never add vegetable oil to a fire. And never use vegetable spray or a bowl of oil as a fire starter. It’s just a very bad idea.

However if you use the fire starters we’ve taught you how to make in this article, you’ll be all set to light up your next bonfire!

This is the one, and only way, you should safely use vegetable oil to start a fire.

Outdoor Shane

I've been in love with the great outdoors since I was a toddler. Grew up in many parts of rural America, spent my youth camping and in Scouts, and years adventuring in Alaska. I know, love, breathe, and live the great outdoors.

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