Cotton Wool Ball and Petroleum Jelly Firestarters





Introduction: Cotton Wool Ball and Petroleum Jelly Firestarters

I've seen different ways to make firestarters from cotton wool and Vaseline (petroleum jelly). This is the quickest way I've found and makes excellent firestarters that keep for ages and burn for about 6-7 minutes.

You’ll need:
- Cotton wool or cotton wool balls
- Vaseline (petroleum jelly)
- Saucepan
- Paper towel
- Tongs
- Paddle pop stick

Step 1: Melt Some Petroleum Jelly

Roll up some cotton wool into balls about an inch wide. They don't need to be any bigger as they produce a good flame at this size.

Melt some petroleum jelly in a saucepan over a low heat until it’s liquid. A tablespoon of PJ will make about six firestarters.

Step 2: Dunk Each Cotton Ball

As soon as the PJ is completely melted, take it off the heat and dunk each cotton ball in the liquid PJ unti thoroughy saturated.

Step 3: Squeeze Out the Excess

Give it a good squeeze until no more PJ drips out, then set it aside on a piece of paper towel to drain.

Step 4: Set Aside to Dry

Let them dry for a couple of hours, then store in an airtight container.



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    Have you tried dryer lint? I remember the scout handbook had a fire starter that used lint and paraffin. Figure the PJ can be used.

    You may get increased performance by adding in paraffin wax.

    I've done this before. It does not work very well.

    The reason is because the petroleum jelly does not ignite as easily as the cotton does. If you soak the cotton completely in the jelly, your spark/flame has to heat the jelly to its liquid phase before it can ignite the fumes coming off of the liquid.

    The dry cotton ball will ignite much more easily. Rather than saturating the cotton ball through, smear the outside of it with the petroleum jelly. Leave the inside of it dry cotton. Having the outside smeared will keep the inside protected from moisture. When you are ready to ignite it, tear the cotton ball open, so the dry cotton can catch your sparks. The cotton will ignite, and that flame will then ignite the petroleum jelly. It will work like a candle at that point, with the cotton serving as a wick to the jelly.

    One way easy and less messy way to do this is to put the cotton balls and glob of petroleum jelly into a ziplock baggie, and knead them until the outsides of the balls are thoroughly coated.

    1 reply

    This is exactly the process I use and it has served me well for many years. I started using direct low heat with no mishap and no trouble cleaning up using that new stuff...I think they call it soap.

    I use an old double boiler now just for convenience.

    Unfortunately, you are completely wrong. I've been using these for years and as recently as last weekend, used a batch that were over two years old. They ALWAYS light and burn perfectly, and there is certainly no issue with them igniting easily at all. I've tried the way you suggested and it is far messier.

    Thanks for the clear easy directions. I noticed alot of people on here recommending PJ infused cotton balls for fire starters but no one bothered to say how to assemble them.

    I was thinking of just taking a small glob and working it into the cotton ball with your fingers .. but your method seems alot easier and will provide a more even saturation of the cotton.


    1 reply

    I concur! This method leaves one with much less of a "baby snot" on the fingers feeling!

    What if I was to go for an extended stay on the bush? Could I take a toothpaste tube full of PJ and apply it directly to dry bark or other burnable material?

    I think that may work also.

    I would not suggest the method of melting depicted here. 

    To be clear, melting petroleum jelly, paraffin wax, or other similar materials is very dangerous as they are fuels. When melting anything like these materials you should be using a double boiler. This will help control the amount of heat transfer to the material being melting, and can prevent some serious flash fires. If lower melting temperatures are needed, by partially submersing the second pot in the water and keeping the water at the desired temperature bellow 100 °C, they can be achieved safely.

    Know the properties of the materials you are melting! The melting point of petroleum jelly is approximately 37 °C

    2 replies

    This method of melting is perfectly safe and has a far lower risk than heating cooking oil. Low heat and common sense - don't leave it unattended.

    Ok the method is safe but why not putting the whole stuff in a glass jar a tin can or the like and just forget it in the sun a few hours until done and keep the saucepan ready clean for some more exquisite purpose

    I wonder how it would go if you dipped the cotton balls in melted wax after the PJ treatment, mabey that would water proof them and give them extra fuel.

    3 replies

    Vaseline is waterproof, that's one of the great things about this method. Drop a few in a film canister or used pill bottle.

    Also, if you can find some, white birch bark (WBB) burns like a big flat match. Put one of these firestarters on two square inches of WBB, you've got a good minute to get a fire going.

    Only gather downed WBB. You don't want to hurt one of these beauties by pulling bark off the tree. You can often find pretty large pieces as they slough bark in sheets. Cut 'em up and add them to your firestarter kit.

    That's great if you live where you can get white birch bark, unfortunatly I don't.

    Interesting suggestion. I'll mix up a batch and try it. Stay tuned..

    I've always used triple antibiotic ointment on cotton balls in place of the petroleum jelly. It's more expensive, but typically, the cotton balls are used as a last resort, as I have several other methods that are my first choice for fire starting. The ointment serves 2 purposes...
    -first aid without having to carry a separate tube
    -due to it being petroleum based it lights and burns as well as petroleum jelly
    There would be no need for wax, because if the cotton ball is saturated well enough,.it's already water proof. Great idea melting it, but I suggest NOT doing it with an open flame.

    1 reply

    Put a small mettle bowl in a pot about 1-3 of the way full to melt the jelly