Kerosene lantern

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Figure 1. Modern kerosene lantern.[1]

Kerosene lanterns are simply lanterns that burn kerosene by pulling it up through a wick within the lantern, creating light. Worldwide, an estimated 1.6 billion people use kerosene or other similar oil as their primary source of fuel for lighting.[2] Although kerosene is a better fuel choice for cooking and lighting than solid fuels, there are many concerns - both environmentally and in terms of health - when kerosene is used as a household fuel.

Health Risks

The use of kerosene as an oil in heaters can be dangerous. When operating, kerosene heaters can cause degradation of air quality inside a home while producing toxic and carcinogenic gases. In developing countries, the widespread use of kerosene comes with numerous different issues. Hazards of kerosene use include poisoning, fires, and explosions. As well, some kerosene lamps emit fine particulates, carbon monoxide, nitric oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide when burned. These by-products may reduce lung function and increase risks of asthma and cancer.[3] In addition to this, handling the fuel can be dangerous as kerosene is irritating to eyes, skin, and the respiratory system.[4]

Taking into account the risks of using kerosene, cleaner alternatives to kerosene technologies for lighting and cooking should be investigated - although kerosene is still a safer option in many cases than using solid fuels.[3]

Climate Issues

Generally speaking, kerosene lamps are inefficient and produce harmful by-products of combustion when used. When kerosene is burned in wick lamps, about 7-9% of the kerosene consumed is converted to particulate matter that is almost entirely black carbon - a harmful emission. When wood is burned, less than half a percent is turned to black carbon. Reduction of black carbon emissions is marked as a potential way to reduce global warming, and since kerosene lamps are such a major sources of black carbon, limiting their use could be beneficial to the environment. Alternatives to this kerosene use involve more electrification or using cheap LED light bulbs.[5]


Generally, less developed countries with poorer access to electricity rely on kerosene lanterns. As explained above, these lanterns are harmful not only to the environment, but also people relying on this lighting. Thus attempts are being made to provide better lighting for those who may not have access to electricity. One alternative that has been proposed to replace the use of kerosene lanterns while still providing lighting to people in developing countries is the use of LED lamps. These lamps are beneficial as LED bulbs are extremely efficient and have a very long life, minimizing or eliminating the need to replace the bulbs frequently. Rechargable lamps have been proposed with community chargers available to people using these lights. This option is significantly safer than kerosene lamps, and they are not fossil fuel based lights - minimizing the environmental impact of providing light. LED lamps pose to fire risk and they do not reduce indoor air quality.[7]


  1. Wikimedia Commons. (May 25, 2015). Kerosene Lantern [Online]. Available:
  2. Lights for Life. (May 22, 2015). The Lighting Poverty Problem [Online]. Available:
  3. 3.0 3.1 M.Bates, A.Gauthier, N. Lam, K.Smith. (May 22, 2015). Kerosene: A Review of Household Uses and their Hazards in Low- and Middle-Income Countries [Online]. Available:
  4. Health Protection Agency. (May 20, 2015). Compendium of Chemical Hazards: Kerosene (Fuel Oil). [Online]. Available:
  5. Jeffrey Stumpf. (May 22, 2015). Climate impacts of kerosene lamps used in developing countries [Online]. Available:
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lighting Africa (World Bank Group). (May 27, 2015). Lighting [Online]. Available:
  7. Lights for Life. (May 22, 2015). The Solution [Online]. Available:

Authors and Editors

Jordan Hanania, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: August 29, 2017
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