Make Fire Starting Gel from Household Chemicals

May 24, 2013 by | 20 Comments

If you’ve read a few posts on this blog, you know the emphasis I place on the ability to start a fire. I believe it’s wise to master a variety of techniques and posses  several tools to start a fire. Regardless of how you chose to start your fire, I strongly recommend something to aid the process, which is why I’ve developed a powerful and inexpensive fire starting gel from basic household chemicals.

A knowledge of basic chemistry and a few experiments helped me perfect this handy fire starting gel that I’m about to share with you.

You’ll only need three simple ingredients, a digital scale, and a plastic bag.

  1. Potassium nitrate (KNO3) can be purchased online and at many hobby stores, but you can also find it in any hardware store or garden center packaged as stump remover. This acts as an oxidizer.
  2. Powdered sugar can be found in any grocery store. This acts as a fuel.
  3. Petroleum jelly, also known as Vaseline is available in grocery and drug stores. This acts both as a binder and as a fuel.

Combine 70% potassium nitrate and 30% powdered sugar by weight and mix well. Pour the mixture into a plastic bag and add a blob of petroleum jelly about half the size of a your powder mixture, and knead the bag until you achieve the consistency of paste. You want it to feel a little dry and gritty, but still stick together.

You have a few choices for storage. You could leave it in the plastic bag, squeeze it into a pill bottle, or even force it into an empty toothpaste tube.

Using it is easy; just form a ball about 1″ in diameter, surround it with your tinder and kindling, and then ignite it with your preferred method. A single spark from a strike fire starter works like a charm, but a magnifying lens, matches, or any other method will work nearly as well too. Just don’t get too close—it will burn hot and fast, and may spatter hot liquid.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • DearOldDad says:

    I usually add more petroleum jelly and work the paste into some cheap ($1 per bag) cotton balls and then store them away in heavy duty ziploks or medicine (Pill) bottles.

  • James P Jr Bettes says:

    A large ziploc back with this worked into old washclothes, rags, bits of towel, or just about any cotton material works quite well too. You wrap the cloth around a small dry twig/branch, and light it.

  • Lonny says:

    What is the mix ratio w potassium permanganate and sugar

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      It’s not potassium permanganate—it’s potassium nitrate, although either one *should* work. If you try it with potassium permanganate, test small batches first because it has one more oxygen molecule, so theoretically should produce a more violent reaction. In any case, as outlined in the article, it’s 70% KNO3 to 30% powdered sugar. I would use the same ratio for either oxidizer.

      • BCBrenek says:

        Potassium permanganate is used in conjunction with glycerin and the air we breathe. Formula sounds about right.

        BE VERY CAREFUL! Always store them separate from each other or any other oxidizer. Why I like this combo. No spark needed for hot flame to ignite.
        Also, potassium permanganate rapidly stains virtually any organic material such as skin, paper, and clothing…so be careful.

        The potassium permanganate in a light dilution can be used as an antiseptic. For example, dilute solutions are used to treat canker sores (ulcers), disinfectant for the hands and treatment for mild pompholyx, dermatitis, and fungal infections of the hands or feet.

        Heavier solution to wipe down and disinfect possible contaminated surfaces.

        Historically it was used to disinfect drinking water.

        As well it can be used for creating distress signals on snow.

        In all, a lot different uses…and of course what can’t glycerin help with…if you don’t know…one article on the many uses of glycerin will sell you why every BOB should have it included.

        They are both a must in my BOB

        I got my potassium permanganate at the local compounding pharmacy.

        Just my thoughts…

  • Pangea says:

    A bottle of hand sanitizer works well too. The high alcohol content makes it burn like Sterno.

  • R.C. says:

    Why couldn’t you substitute powdered non-dairy creamer instead of powdered sugar?

    The potassium nitrate is just a fuel kicker, because the vaseline will light on fire if you’re just looking for a fuel source. But the non-dairy creamer, and the potassium nitrate I see as adding a little jazz to your fire starting concoction.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      There are thousands of potential fuel sources.

      The Vaseline won’t ignite on its own without an extremely high temperature; it will simply melt away rather than ignite. The potassium nitrate is an oxidizer.

  • Douglas Tuttle says:

    Thank you for the knowledge

  • Neil says:

    I have had very good luck doing the following…

    Using an old soup can, I warm up white gas (coleman fuel) by floating the can in a bowl of boiled water (no flames)

    melt wax pieces into the gas until it stops melting.
    soak cotton balls or braided cotton dental rolls in the wax/gas mixture and lay them out on newspaper to cool off. Store them in old pill bottles, etc.

    break it open slightly before use and it will light off one spark and burn for at least five minutes.

  • Kellie says:

    Hi…the fact that it burns so easily is a bit scary for me. I live in south Louisiana where it can be brutally hot. how can I safely store these?

  • john says:

    Just use a mix of powdered and small (pea sized) pieces of charcoal mixed with rubbing alcohol, it’s stable, burns for a long time, burns clean with no smoke, and when the alcohol burns off the charcoal will burn like charcoal. It’s cheap and easy to make in small or large quantities.

  • Pop84 says:

    Gasoline + Soap Flakes (Tide)= “NAPALM” !!

  • RiverRat says:

    I have ignited plain Vaseline on a cotton ball with a spark from a fire starter rod. I can see how the other chemicals would help though. The supermarket sells potassium nitrate in small containers. used for pickling.

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