How to clean & maintain oil lamps is fairly easy with a bit of time & patience. With these tips, your oil lamps look good as new.
Over the years, I have acquired oil lamps, especially antique ones & recently found one at my latest thrift haul. They must be maintained to burn efficiently. We love to light oil lamps instead of candles. They are cleaner & cheaper to use, especially if you are looking for an ambiance setting. How to clean & maintain oil lamps is relatively straightforward, and I will share the best way to do so, even with antique oil lamps.
Oil lamps are great to have on hand for power outages and excellent for setting the mood and making beautiful table lamps. I wander over toward the oil lamps whenever I am thrifting or antiquing. There are so many styles of old lamps, and there is something to be said about the beauty of using oil lamps in your home. Relaxing in the evening and watching a movie or a quiet dinner with your significant other with a burning lamp is so peaceful. And they sure do look pretty when added to any decor style.
Parts of an Oil Lamp
- Chimney/Glass Globe
- Regulator/Wick Adjustment Knob
- Fuel Reservoir
- Base of the lamp
- Flat Wick
Be mindful that lamp oil is flammable. Therefore, any oil spill must be cleaned up as soon as possible to prevent fire & injury. By using these tips on how to clean & maintain oil lamps, you can safely use your oil lamp with confidence.
You do not need any fancy cleaner to clean oil lamps.
Fill your sink with hot soapy water. Mild soap, preferably. Remove all the soot and towel dry well with paper towels or a soft cloth. Make sure the burner is completely dry before attaching back to the lamp. For a streak-free hurricane lamp, make your own cleaning solution of white vinegar & water in a spray bottle and use a dry cloth or crumbled old newspaper to wipe clean. Another option to clean the oil reservoir is to add a few drops of dish soap & hot water and let it soak for a few minutes, then take a scrub brush & clean it until the full lamp reservoir is cleaned.
How to fill your lamp with oil
Remove the chimney from your oil lamp and unscrew the burner to remove the burner & wick. Then slowly pour lamp oil until it is a 1/2 inch from the base of the neck. Add the wick/burner back and tighten until it is snug. You want to allow the wick to absorb the oil for about 10-15 minutes before you light the wick. Once your wick has soaked up the oil, adjust the wick evenly to the height of the wick guide tube. Be sure not to add too much oil, or it could overflow.
Tip: Keep oil lamps filled at least 1 inch above the bottom of the wick for BEST performance.
How to light an oil lamp for the first time
- First, fill your lamp with the regular lamp oil of your choice.
- After you fill the lamp with oil, adjust the wick height and allow the wick to absorb oil for 10-15 minutes before the first lighting.
- Then light the new wick and attach the chimney, then turn the wick back down so it is even with the guide. If the top of the wick is already burned, trim the burned wick off before lighting it.
- Keep the flame low for a few minutes, and allow the lantern to warm up before making your final flame adjustments.
- You can adjust the wick up and down, allowing more or less oil to burn to achieve desired brightness. Then adjust the flame, so no smoke or soot is produced.
- Lately, make sure your lit lamp is always placed on flat surfaces.
*Note: Raising the wick too high will result in incomplete combustion and cause smoke, soot deposits, and expelling particulate matter into surroundings. Instead, lower the wick until it stops if you see smoke; if it doesn’t, you can also put the lamp out.
How to clean oil lamp chimney
Keeping the glass chimney of your oil lamp or vintage lantern clean is essential for good lighting, and it will greatly add significantly brighter light and improve the appearance. Unfortunately, the more you use the lamp, the more soot builds up on the glass chimney. Therefore, it’s essential to do a regular cleaning by using a soap solution such as dawn dish soap & hot water. Another option is to use a glass cleaner to remove the soot from the hurricane globe. Another option is to use a damp cloth to prevent a soot buildup after each use. Make sure the glass is completely cooled before cleaning.
Keep the wick low
If the chimney is dirty, it can cause uneven heating leading to the start of a fire or shattering the chimney. When chimneys are sooty, the light output is weakened and doesn’t allow oxygen input. Keeping the wick low is essential to prevent carbon monoxide buildup on the chimney.
How to put out an oil lamp
Extinguish the flame by slowly lowering the wick until the flame goes out. This method is more manageable than blowing out the flame. Or if you’re feeling nostalgic, when the time comes to extinguish the flame, cup your hand above the chimney and give a little burst of a breath. The air will go down the chimney and extinguish it just fine.
Allow the lamp to cool completely before refilling, removing the chimney, or storing it.
Most odor is produced when extinguishing the flame; if this is done outside, undesirable odors can be considerably reduced. For example, clear lamp oil creates little or no odor, while kerosene has a slight odor. (More information about lamp oil vs. kerosene.)
How does an oil lamp work?
An oil lamp burns fuel to produce light with a controlled flame, as seen in the illustration below. The fount or fuel tank attaches to a wick-holding lamp burner with four prongs to hold the oil lamp chimney. The fount is filled with fuel oil which is “wicked” through the burner-held cotton wick. The burner features a wick adjustment knob to optimize the oxygen/fuel ratio for complete combustion.
How to choose the correct glass globe/chimney size?
There have been times when the globe has broken, and I had to find replacements. It’s easier than you think. But you must remember to make sure you choose the correct size for a firm fitting. The easiest way to get the right size is to measure the diameter of the burner. If the oil lamp chimney is not fitted properly, it can lead to compromised combustion. Ensure the glass lamp globes sit snugged on the burner and between burner prongs.
Where can oil lamps be purchased?
Oil lamps can be purchased anywhere these days, including reproduction lamps at your local hardware store. If you are looking for an older oil lamp, check out the antique stores, but be prepared; you may pay a pretty penny for them. Also, the only problem you may run into is ensuring they are in good working order. The burner on the Antique lamps can be in poor shape, causing it not to work correctly. I have an old oil lamp I love but cannot use because the burner does not screw on snugly, causing it to move around. So I have it out for display.
How long do oil lamps last?
Oil lamps burn about a 1/2 ounce of oil per hour of use. A gallon of oil will last you 258 hours! This will also vary depending on the size of your wick and the type of oil.
What is the best oil to burn in an oil lamp?
I find the best option is Paraffin oil is easily the better choice for indoor use due to its transparent, odorless, and cleaner burn. However, Olive oil is another option to use in oil lamps, primarily because it does not produce smoke and odor while burning. Furthermore, the same cannot be said for other vegetable oils, such as canola or corn. You can find liquid paraffin anywhere, such as in your local hardware stores. You can also find them online.
Can you add drops of essential oil to the oil lamp?
Adding essential oils to lamp oil is an excellent way to make your home feel cozy. Add 5-10 drops of your favorite essential oil to your oil lamp to give it a delightful aroma.
Are oil lamps safer to use than candles?
Absolutely! Fragrance oil lamps do not produce any soot, which therefore makes them safe to use around children and pets with supervision.
Note: Never leave lit lamps unattended, and keep away from small children.
What is the recommended wick to use?
The size of the oil lamp determines the wick size. However, it is best to use a flat wick for the best results.
With these tips on how to clean & maintain oil lamps, you will continue to enjoy the nostalgic feeling that your oil lamps are properly working.
Stay warm y’all,
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Thank you, all I ever did was replace the wick. Going to try the sent thingy. Never thought of this. Again thank you for your posts, they are very interesting and informative. Have a merry Christmas.
Dusty Heschl says
Glad to help! Merry Christmas to you too!