Introduction: Awesome Firestarters From Everyday Bathroom Objects

Picture of Awesome Firestarters From Everyday Bathroom Objects

        In this Instructable I intend to explain how to make some of the easiest to make, most portable, and overall awesome burning firestarters that you will find. All of these products in the fire starters are things that I found in my bathroom (or my sister's bathroom), and did not purchase just for my own pyro-esque uses.

Almost all of these creations are my own, or ones that I stumbled upon while looking at warning labels that "warned" that the product was very flammable, which is like warning a child that there is sugar in some food, as if that will stop him/her from eating it.

I have entered this in the Unusual Uses Bathroom Challenge, so if you like my 'ible, please vote for it in the contest. Thanks.


Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

All of the materials that I used are ones that I found around the house, but if you need to you can also buy some of the materials, as these fire starters are not to be missed.

To make these you only really need three things:

-Some sort of cotton : That includes cotton balls, cotton squares, and cotton rounds. You can buy these at a pharmacy, or presumably any place that sell nail polish, because that is what cotton balls are mainly used for. (I think?)

-Some sort of alcohol: That includes denatured isopropyl alcohol (or similar), and if nail polish if you are desperate. I suppose that if you have some moonshine sitting around you could also use that. you can buy this in the first aid section of a pharmacy or a Wal Mart-like store.

-Some sort of concentrated petroleum product : (and I don't mean gasoline) That include petroleum jelly A.K.A. Vaseline, and mineral oil. You can buy these at a pharmacy, or at a Walmart-like store, I don't know where to get the petroleum jelly specifically, but the mineral oil will be labeled as a laxative, and you don't need the food grade kind. (You're not eating it are you?)

Personally, I don't think it matters what kind of cotton you get, but the balls are more portable, yet I like the flat squares the best.

For alcohol, get the highest concentration of alcohol possible (90% or above), but if you are lazy, you can use nail polish, but it is not nearly as awesome. A bottle isn't that expensive, and it may not be a bad investment, as it is actually really got for cleaning cuts anyways.

For the petroleum, I think the jelly is the best as it is the most concentrated and hottest burning, but the mineral oil is still very good, and it is much less messy, and you don't have to worry about  spreading it.

If you are planning on storing the fire starters, you may also need some sort of sealed container/ baggie, and you may also want some sort of bowl for mixing the ingredients.

Step 2: Pull Apart the Cotton

Picture of Pull Apart the Cotton

The first step is to tearing up the cotton, or pulling it apart to increase its volume.
When you add the alcohol, it will shrink, but when I'm trying to make a one time use fire starter, I still think it's important to pull it apart, because it makes it easier to put the petroleum jelly/mineral oil in. It also helps it absorb a little bit more alcohol, although it doesn't make a huge difference.

Step 3: Add the Alcohol

Picture of Add the Alcohol

The next thing that you need to do is add the alcohol or nail polish. Don't add more than the cotton can absorb or you will just end up wasting the alcohol. You want to add almost as much as the cotton can absorb, so that when you work the petroleum jelly or mineral oil into them almost no alcohol will squeeze out.

Step 4: Work in the Petroleum Jelly/Mineral Oil

Picture of Work in the Petroleum Jelly/Mineral Oil

If you are using Petroleum Jelly
To finish making your fire starter(s), you need to mix the petroleum jelly into the alcohol soaked cotton ball. I like to use my hands, and I suggest that you do too, because it mixes the two together better, but if you prefer to stay clean, you can. Before and after you do this, you probably want to wash your hands, because they can get pretty nasty from handling messy petroleum jelly. This doesn't require any special sort of finesse, although you want to add enough, (at least a tablespoon's worth, but less if you are only making like one or two cotton ball's worth) so that it is completely covered in the petroleum jelly, and so that is mixed throughout the cotton. When you've mixed it in, give the cotton a little squeeze, unless it is pretty dry, to get out any excess alcohol.

If you are using Mineral Oil
To finish making your fire starter(s), you need to mix a small amount of mineral oil into your alcohol soaked cotton ball. Before and after you do this, you probably want to wash your hands, because they can get pretty oily from handling a lot mineral oil. To mix it in, put a small amount of the oil on you hands and knead it into the cotton mixture. Continue to do this until the cotton is pretty oily, but not dripping, as you want enough, but not too much. When you've mixed it in, give the cotton a little squeeze, unless it is pretty dry, to get out any excess oil/alcohol

Step 5: Storage (Optional)

Picture of Storage (Optional)

If you want to store your fire starters, I suggest putting them in a plastic baggie (preferably, one that zips shut), or some sort of container that you can reuse, such as an empty bottle of ibuprofen which doesn't take up much space in a pack, or a washed out jar of salsa for larger quantities.

Step 6: The Fun Step (Lighting Your Fire Starter)

Picture of The Fun Step (Lighting Your Fire Starter)
Now you get to use your awesome fire starters! In case you don't know how to set up wood for a fire, you can learn how to light a fire on this 'ible . They will burn for approximately ten minutes, so if you are super lazy (like me) you can probably get your tinder after you have already lit your fire starters. What makes them so effective is that they burn in 3 stages, first the alcohol burns, until it has heated the petroleum product to a gas, after which it lights, and then when those two run out, the cotton ball itself burns. These are also easily flammable enough to light with any sort of fire-lighter, not just matches or a lighter, so you can use your trusty flint and steel, or one of those old Native American techniques, and it should work quite easily. Also, these will light when wet, and you can literally have them burn on water (as you can see in my picture).

Note:   Also, these fire starters make good torches, that last from somewhere from 5-15 minutes depending on how big a fire-starter you use. All you have to do is tie a bundle of it to a green stick using some sort of non-flammable rope (or wet rope), and light it. 


Yonatan24 (author)2015-12-29

Listerine could be good, It has alcohol in it (I know you talked about other alcohol fire starters)

hjjusa (author)2011-10-02

Another good firestarter is to take a plastic straw, cut it into 1-1/2" lengths, Heatseal one end with a pair of cheapie knockoff leatherman style pliers you don't mind heating the tip on, stuffing it full of petroleum jelly saturated cotton, heat seal the other end. You then have a waterproof firestarter that will burn for about 1-1/2 minutes (timed one once).

pandadude (author)hjjusa2011-10-02

I don't know about using drinking straws... fire + plastic = toxic fumes that you don't want to breath in. But as long as you don't care, it's fine with me.

hjjusa (author)pandadude2011-10-02

Take the cotton out of the plastic and fluff it up. sorry for not including that.

vegascrist (author)2011-08-23

The vaseline and cotton by themselves lights very easily. You just have to fluff up the fibers before you add the spark. After you massage in the vaseline, fold the cotton ball into a small square of alluminum foil. When you need to use it, cut an "X" into the foil and fluff up the fibers. It will probably light on the first spark. The foil contains the jelly until you need it.

jrramos (author)2011-05-20

This looks more like a Fire Fuel then a Fire Starter. Looks like you used a match to start it

pandadude (author)jrramos2011-05-20

Well in America, the word fire starter refers to both the fuel, and the external source of heat with which you light it. It's kinda stupid and confusing, but that's the way the word is used, so that's the way I used it.

KevinAlien26 (author)pandadude2011-08-20

Weird. I live in America and have never heard it used like that. Fire starters seem to be things that start fires. And fuel is fuel. Maybe it's where u live because I have never heard it used that way :) nice to know

abranz (author)2011-06-15

also works great with dryer lint... i store mine in empty toilet paper rolls (the cardboard) great for storage and not messy. just cut off about an inch at a time, its all you need to start a fire pit

galen066 (author)abranz2011-07-23

I've done the drier lint bit, and while it works, it's not as reliable due to accumulated skin, oils, hair and other inert materials. the burn is not as even, and not as long lasting.

ammohoard (author)2011-06-16

I wash out and reuse little brown pill bottles. They're small, hold 12-15 saturated cotton balls, and don't break. Nice tutorial!

nhardy (author)2011-06-12

I posted a really neat and fun to way to make fire starters on my blog
I use these firestarters everytime I make a fire in our firepit and they never fail me!

lukeyj15 (author)2011-05-23

I thought of a similar but different fuel last year.
There's the link if you are interested. I think yours would be messier to make, but easier to store.

pandadude (author)lukeyj152011-05-23

Hey, I like getting messy. What am I gonna do about it. Nice job on your Instructable, though. If you have a video of you burning it, then it might attract more viewers.

lukeyj15 (author)pandadude2011-05-23

I intend to do that tomorrow and make it the intro photo. Fire attracts people.

doby162 (author)2011-04-25

Easy: check.
Flamey: check,

This is pretty awesome.

pandadude (author)doby1622011-04-25

Thanks! This was my first non-photo 'ible, so I'm happy to know you think it's cool.

katerlyn (author)pandadude2011-05-12

yes, nice job....good luck to you!

danny6114 (author)2011-04-29

Wouldn't melting the vaseline then mixing the alcohol into it be another way to accomplish this?

eddems (author)danny61142011-05-08

I tried lighting plain cotton balls and Vaselined cotton balls.The ones with Vaseline did not want to light at all. So the alcohol seems very important. Is that your experience that cotton balls and Vaseline wont light? I read that cotton ball thing on some survival web site or camping. The idea was to keep the cotton ball dry. But I never had any luck with it and the Vaseline. Cotton balls in a 35 mm film container for camping sure work out nicely

pandadude (author)eddems2011-05-09

Cotton balls and vaseline do light, but you just have to use the vaseline sparingly. If you completely drown out the cotton ball in vaseline, it won't light as easily, but it should light if you put a match under it for a few seconds.

thebeef2 (author)2011-05-06

I like this for two reasons: 1. it's about fire and 2. I can make it while i sit on the toilet. Thanks for a great 'ible

Johenix (author)2011-04-25

Speaking of fire from things found in the "Medicine Cabinet" Glycerine (think hand lotions or Glycerine Suppositories) and Potassium Permanginate (they used to use it as a disinfectant or water purifier- it is still used to clean swimming pool filters) when combined will produce fire. But use only the least trace of the Permanginate- it can be explosive.

pandadude (author)Johenix2011-04-26

I might try that. I have a pool at my house, and have some leftover glycerin from another project.

nigeltech (author)pandadude2011-05-04

Just be very careful when messing with these two materials, especially if there is some cotton around.
When I was younger, and could get away with such things, I discovered the reaction between glycerine and potassium permanganate could be catalysed with any organic fibre. Cotton wool is ideal (massive surface area). So, soak cotton wool in glycerine, then when ready add the condys crystals, about 30sec later it all goes up in flames.
This is bloody dangerous, especially when contained in a glass jar. The time to reaction depends on ambient temp, quality of glycerine, that sort of thing. Extremely unpredictable. Incrediibly dangerous if contained. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Only by luck do I still have two working eyes and a full house if fingers.

thelastonekills (author)Johenix2011-04-29

lucky people, who live in a place where glycirene is still normaly or non-decensitised or what ever its,

i have but one main point; what a way to kill a huge lead up to something in a science class

DiyProjects (author)2011-05-02

Did you make this in 5 min?

pandadude (author)DiyProjects2011-05-02

No, I spent approximately 4 hours making this 'ible. I'm not saying that your idea was bad, I'm just saying that you could have at least shown your effort in the simple execution aspects of making an instuctable. You might want to look at the guide to making a good instructable.

fullhouse (author)2011-04-30

old boy scout here...we used a small piece of sand paper a few wood matches ,dryer lint all wrapped in strips of newspaper tied with a string and dipped in wax several times...water proof and about the size of a roll of quarters...nice lil fire starter!

submark (author)2011-04-29

For backpacking or emergency kits cotton balls saturated with petroleum based antibiotic ointment (think neosporin and cortosione) would become a mult- purpose resource item. With low bulk, the ability to light easily, cleanse and protect wounds, and avoid leaks and mess from punctured ointment tubes. Packed in a plastic pill bottle they are very handy.
Do not use the 'cream' style products. They might burn, but they also contain ingredients that will evaporate and others that do not support flame.
Replace often, as the non-petroleum ingrediants will degrade.

thelastonekills (author)2011-04-29

hi, small question/comment, one thing that i found works well for something like this is; start with metho (got to b ethanole) then disolve as much sodium hydroxide as possible (aka lye, and serriously as much us possible and not in glass it cracks and disolves it) then with this super saturated solution mix it with about a 2;3 ratio of oil;it. normal cooking oil works well,

works well for any thing on a camping trip, soap and a fire

captain Jack (author)2011-04-28

FYI, if you want to be more re-usable-ly, (ie- save some dough) you could use dryer lint instead of the cotton balls. Maybe even some old socks!

Treknology (author)captain Jack2011-04-29

Actually, I collect up all the lint from the dryer and every year I send it to the manufacturer of the dryer and ask them if they will replace my shirt.

trogabird (author)captain Jack2011-04-28

Another good fire starter would be pine cones coated with wax.You might even try sweet gum balls coated with wax also. Thy are about golf ball size.

makermike (author)captain Jack2011-04-28

I was going to suggest the dryer lint. Works amazingly well for fire starting, even with a spark from a flint and steel. Standard issue boy scout firestarting kit is cotton balls or dryer lint with petroleum jelly as additional fuel as well as water proofing.

Hand sanitizer, being mostly alcohol, also is amazingly flammable, but the boy scouts frown upon more volatile fire starters.

pandadude (author)makermike2011-04-28

I have used dryer lint before, and it works almost as well, although it is't as good with absorbing the alcohol (or at least from my experience), and since I am submitting this to the bathroom challenge, I thought that I might use things that are found in the bathroom.

mslaynie (author)pandadude2011-04-28

What about toilet tissue or tissues? Seems like they might work well, especially if you were to roll them up fairly tightly. Then you could saturate them with whatever, and light them. :D

skeletalmonkey (author)2011-04-28

If you want to keep this easily, and also to add to their burn length, is to tie a little bit of string around it and dunk it into melted wax.
Do this a couple of times to build up a decent wax shell and then you can even shape them blockish for better storage. The wax keeps all the messy jelly on the inside and stops the alcohol from evaporating off. You could even use the string as a lighting wick. Or just split wax shell prior to lighting

mandersen (author)skeletalmonkey2011-04-28

now That's a good idea if the wax will set around the alcohol and jelly! it would make them AWESOME!

travcoman45 (author)2011-04-28

The alcohol isn't really needed. Just cover the cotton ball with the vaseline an it will burn just fine. Average burn time on what we call "PJ balls" is 5 to 7 minutes, more then long enough to start a fire. Just saves the hassel of using the alcohol.

pandadude (author)travcoman452011-04-28

Well actually it lights a lot better with the alcohol, and it makes it easy to go without matches, and only use a flint and steel. It also makes the flame bigger, although your right, without the alcohol, it will burn for only around 4-5 minutes less long, and it may be easier.

You can also just melt a candle, then coat the cotton ball in wax;

jas330 (author)2011-04-26

You can probably if you cant get a high enough level of alcohol you can bowl it down on low heat because water will evaporate but alcohol wont

jas330 (author)jas3302011-04-27

Sorry i meant a higher temp so the water evaporates. I was thinking about boiling vinegar which needs ato be boiled at a lower tempurture to get it more acidic

pandadude (author)jas3302011-04-28

Woops! Didn't mean to erase that. Why is the delete button right next to the reply button anyways? Anyways that comment was about distilling alcohol using a still (like they use with moonshine) to concentrate alcohol. Just in case anyone really cares.

snowluck2345 (author)jas3302011-04-26

most alcohols have ea higher vapor pressure than water and boil at lower tempatures

TheGeekFather (author)jas3302011-04-26

That is incorrect. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature (174.2 degrees Fahrenheit) than water does. (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

woodvale035 (author)2011-04-28

was going to say about dryer lint also but i see it has been mentioned a few times, the other thing that is a great addition is to drip candle wax onto a part of the cotton and this will keep it burning a bit longer if you are trying to really light a fire with these,

katehill2003 (author)2011-04-28

Or you could go the old Girl Scout Camp way...
Kotex coated liberally with hair spray or spray deodorant. Tuck one of those babies under a pile of tinder and look out!
We showed this trick to one of the dad's who was also a boy scout leader. He never knew of this trick... why would he? He was amazed at the old Girl Scout ingenuity!

Thoth (author)2011-04-28

Be careful if you are storing the mineral oil soaked cotton balls, as it may spontaneously combust because the oil will generate heat as it oxidizes. so if you are going to store it do so in an an air tight container.

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