Fire Starter From Used Coffee Grounds





Introduction: Fire Starter From Used Coffee Grounds

Nothing’s a bigger bummer on a camping trip than to run out of kindling and still have no fire. Let’s face it, if you’re camping anywhere they’ll let you have a fire, chances are the wood you’ll find is so wet you’ll need magic fire starting skills, gasoline, or a little help from ingenuity to get things going. Fire skills take a long time to learn and aren’t particularly reliable. Gasoline is dangerous. Let’s focus on ingenuity.

This fire starter uses old egg cartons, used coffee grounds, used coffee filters, matches, and paraffin wax to make some long burning, energy dense fire starters sure to get any fire going without the fear of singing eyebrows. I suppose any sort of biomass would work in place of the coffee grounds so long as it's flammable. Dryer lint is a great option. I suppose one could try old tea leaves or even old tea bags, but I can't imagine those would smell as good on fire as coffee grounds.

When you want to use these, you just cut off as many as you think you'll need, light them up under your wood pile, and you'll be well upon your way to roasting marshmallows. 

These burn for about 15 minutes. Below is a video I took of one burning, but I cut it down to about 2 minutes for the sake of sanity.

Step 1: Collect and Dry Your Material

Coffee Grounds, as you’re probably well aware, come out of the coffee maker sopping wet, so obviously they’re not flammable quite yet. But you may not be aware that they are quite flammable when dry. Simply collect them on a piece of newspaper and lay them out to dry. Make sure you don’t store wet grounds in a clump somewhere as they will mold quite quickly if left moist.

After collecting a few days’ worth of grounds, spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake them either in full sunlight, an oven set for 250 degrees, or a food dehydrator. If you use an oven, make sure you open the door periodically to let moisture out. If you use sun, don’t do it on a humid day. The point is to get as much moisture out of the grounds as possible.

Make sure you save the filters and dry those out as well, you'll be using them later.

Step 2: Place Grounds in Egg Carton

After making sure the grounds are as dry as possible, roll op the newspaper and funnel the grounds into the egg carton. Pretty straightforward.

Step 3: Add Matches and Coffee Filters

You'll need a wicking surface to catch the flame and get the fire starter going, and that's where the coffee filters come in handy. Tear them into little pieces, twist, and stick 'em in the egg cups. I also put matches in just for good measure and added assurance.

Step 4: Melt the Wax, Pour It On

Be very, very careful when melting wax not to overheat the wax. Also, don't do this inside without a double boiler. I have seen what happens when paraffin boils, and it is not pretty! Suffice it to say that once boiling, the gaseous paraffin is quite flammable, and flames go spurting in all directions and you'll be too busy running away to figure out how to manage the conflagration. 

So, carefully melt the wax, making sure it doesn't smoke or boil! Small flames.

Next, pour the wax as evenly as possible into the egg cups. Try to focus on one at a time. Also, I discovered that coffee grounds soak up A LOT more wax than you'd think. It took three of those little rectangular blocks before those grounds got their fill. This is a good thing, it means these fire starters are storing a lot of BTU's in those grounds. This will ensure that fire gets going!

Step 5: Let It Cool, Cut One Out, Light on Fire

Let it cool down. If there are loose grounds after it cools, melt some more wax and pour it on to hold them in place. When you need to start a fire, cut these apart one egg cup at a time and use them as you see fit.



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    I suspect that it isn't the coffee grounds burning that makes this work, but rather that the grounds are providing wicking and surface area to give the wax a place to liquify, vaporize and burn with the heat just like any candle wax.

    Dryer lint is a good firestarter by itself, because, generally, the fibers are very thin, so the surrounding oxygen from the air can get to lots of surface area.

    If you look up the chemical structure of fibers, you'll find a predominance of hydrocarbons in long chains: paraffin is also. So these firestarters are much like my wife's grandparents used, mostly made of papertowel rolls or toilet paper rolls cut short (about 1") and soaked in melted parafin until they start to swell.

    This makes a good use for grounds, which, if well dried, help to fill the egg crate cups and provide storage of lots of paraffin and great wicking to get it all to the flame.

    I wonder, have you tried this with just the egg carton material?

    Looks like grounds for divorce.....

    I would never have thought coffee grounds would burn so well..

    What is the approximate burn time of one coffee-egg-cup? Have you ever observed the burn time or apparent heat of one of these in comparison to, say, a lint-based fire starter? I love the idea of using old coffee grounds, I'm just curious if it offers any other advantages/disadvantages.

    7 replies

    15 Minutes. I have not compared these to a lint based fire starter. You have a dryer; perhaps you could compare for me? I did just post a video, though.

    Stay away from Dryer Lint.  It is mixed with Nylon, Polyester & other man-made materials.  That's NOT what you want to inhale.  For around a dollar, you can buy a huge bag of Cotton Balls.  The coffee grounds is an interesting material.  Keep Thinking and Experimenting.

    I hadn't thought about that. Good thinking. As much as I like breathing carcinogenic chemicals deep into my lungs, I think I'll stick with coffee grounds and other organic materials.


    I tend not to worry about the man made materials in Dryer Lint. When you wash a load of cotton towels or denim jeans you get a lint trap full of lint. When you wash a load of nylon or polyester clothes you get very little to no lint. Which makes a bit of sense. . . one of the benefits of man made fibers is that they last longer - they're not always shedding fibers like cotton and linen and wool.

    That's a good point too. I suppose if you were really concerned, you could use only dryer lint from 100 percent cotton garments.

    I need to buy some wax, and finish my carton of eggs, but I do have plenty of lint. It would be more accurate, I suppose, if I gave the lint to you, and you made it as closely as possible to the coffee one. Let me know if you want me to get the lint to you.

    I just use candle stubs and broken crayons

    What a wonderful recycling idea

    You're right. I do! Coming soon!

    When you use them, do they smell coffee-ee? or like burnt coffee? or like nothing?

    2 replies

    They mostly just smell like candle wax until the wax runs out and they smolder. The smoldering grounds, sadly, don't smell like coffee at all!

    Too bad. But at least you get your fire lit, to make coffee on... so still pretty cool. :)