Do Oil Lamps Give Off Carbon Monoxide? (The Truth!)


Oil lamps can help us a lot when there is a power outage or if we need them for any emergency purpose. But are they safe to be used mainly indoors? You may have heard or read somewhere about them releasing poisonous carbon monoxide. But is it true? Let’s see!

Oil lamps do give off carbon monoxide, although in small amounts depending on the fuel, burning efficiency, exhaust, etc. All combustion sources emit carbon monoxide. Hence, you should install a carbon monoxide detector for precaution and safety in your home.

Now, let’s jump in deeper and discuss more on why oil lamps give off carbon monoxide and other related questions.

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Why Do Oil Lamps Give Off Carbon Monoxide?

In oil lamps, mainly refined kerosene or paraffin oil is used that is made from hydrocarbon molecules produced from the petroleum refining process.

This oil can burn efficiently, but still, it also produces other side effects. For instance, like other kerosene-based products, it releases a large amount of smoke and soot as it burns.

Fossil fuel contains carbon (C) and hydrogen (H). When we burn these fossil fuels, and complete combustion happens, the carbon and oxygen combine with oxygen for producing carbon dioxide and water. 

Complete Combustion In Brief:

For complete combustion to occur, enough plentiful air supply is needed so that the elements present inside the fuel can react completely with oxygen. 

The fuels such as petrol, natural gas have hydrocarbons. Which means they are the compounds of hydrogen and carbon only. When they burn fully, here’s what happens:

  • Carbon oxidizes to carbon dioxide
  • Hydrogen oxides to water

So the complete combustion can be represented as:

Hydrocarbon + Oxygen → Carbon Dioxide + Water

Incomplete Combustion In Brief:

Incomplete combustion basically happens when the air supply or oxygen is poor. Remember, water is still produced, but instead, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and carbon are produced.

Usually, the incomplete combustion can be represented as follows:

Hydrocarbon + Oxygen → Carbon monoxide + Carbon + Water

The carbon that is released is what we call soot. In case of incomplete combustion, the fuel is used inefficiently, and hence the carbon monoxide is produced, which is hazardous to health.

As per www.abe.iastate.edu, incomplete combustion occurs mainly when there is insufficient mixing of air and fuel, insufficient air supply to the flame, insufficient time to burn, and when cooling of the flame temperature occurs before combustion is complete.

In residential heating appliances, incomplete combustion can occur because of some of the following reasons:

  • The vent system is blocked
  • Physical disturbance of the flame, like for example, strong air currents blowing on the flame
  • Insufficient combustion air to the appliance
  • Rust, soot, or scale on the burner
  • The burner is installed incorrectly

And there are also other such reasons. To decrease the risk of CO poisoning, you should carefully follow all the recommendations of the manufacturer regarding maintenance and inspection.

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Are Oil Lamp Fumes Toxic?

Well, yes, because oil lamps release carbon monoxide, and that can be harmful to humans. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that is produced when incomplete burning of common fuels like natural or LP-Gas, oil, wood, or coal.

The problem is when you inhale CO, it reaches your bloodstream and decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to vital organs like the brain and heart.

Now the effect of carbon monoxide can depend on various factors depending on factors like overall health and the level of activity.

For instance, pregnant women, infants, and those who have illnesses that limit their ability t utilize oxygen, for example, heart disease, asthma, etc., can be heavily affected by lower carbon monoxide concentrations compared to healthy adults.

If you breathe high CO levels, then it can cause issues like

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Disorientation

Since many of these symptoms are similar to that in food poisoning, flu, or other illness and so you may not suspect CO poisoning.

Hence, as a safety precaution, you should install a carbon monoxide detector with an audible alarm in your home. Always remember, even a small investment can help you save the life of your and your family members.

Kerosene is used as a fuel in oil lamps. But the problem is burning kerosene releases black carbon. The Kerosene oil wick lamps give a very bright flame; however, as an incomplete combustion by-product of burning kerosene, they also give black carbon.

It is advised that this carbon should be trimmed off the wick before you use it each time. You know what, this is actually the same sooty black material that is produced by the coal powerplants.

Since black carbon comprises a significant portion of particulate matter, it is considered an air pollutant.

If you inhale black carbon, you can suffer from health problems such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and also birth defects.

So there can be health issues for burning kerosene, but if you use oil lamps and lanterns only infrequently, you shouldn’t worry much.

It is important to note that if you want to burn oil lamps indoors, you should use fuel like kleenheat, which is refined kerosene sold for complete combustion and no black emissions.

Are Oil Lamps Safe Inside?

As a general rule, yes, oil lamps are safe inside as long as they are used appropriately. Remember, oil lamps produce flames, and so it always makes sense to take all the fire safety measures.

Oil Lamp Safety Tips:

  • I know you might already have a fire extinguisher in your home but make sure to have it, especially if you have an oil lamp.
  • Also, you should consider the location where you place the oil lamp. Obviously, you should not choose a location for your oil lamp where it can get knocked or bumped off.
  • Moreover, if you have children in your home, then you should be careful about them. And note that the chimney of the oil lamp can be very hot even if it goes off for a while, so you should be careful about it.
  • In addition to that, you need to make sure no flammable material is near the oil lamp as the heat that radiates off the chimney can cause flammable items to catch fire.
  • You should not add oil to a flaming or a hot lamp and make sure to clean the chimney regularly as soot build-ups.
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Conclusion

In short, oil lamps do give off carbon monoxide. However, if you have a proper ventilation system, then the carbon monoxide concentration should most probably remain low enough that it won’t be that much harmful too. 

As a precautionary measure, it is recommended to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. So that’s it, thanks!

If you use oil lamps and notice their wick burning fast, then check out this article where I explain why oil lamp wicks burn fast along with the solution.

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