A kerosene bottle, containing blue dyed kerosene. In the U.S., kerosene is typically in a blue (or blue labeled) container.

Kerosene is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros (κηρός wax). The word "Kerosene" was registered as a trademark by Abraham Gesner in 1854, and for several years, only the North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company (to which Gesner had granted the right) were allowed to call their lamp oil "Kerosene" in the United States of America.[1] It eventually became a genericized trademark. It is sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage.[2] The term "kerosene" is usual in much of Canada, the United States, Australia (where it can be referred to colloquially as "kero") and New Zealand.[3]

Kerosene is usually called paraffin in the UK, Southeast Asia and South Africa. A more viscous paraffin oil is used as a laxative. A waxy solid extracted from petroleum is also called paraffin. Kerosene is widely used to power jet engines of aircraft (jet fuel) and some rocket engines, but is also commonly used as a cooking and lighting fuel and for fire toys such as poi. In parts of Asia, where the price of kerosene is subsidized, it fuels outboard motors on small fishing boats.[4]

Kerosene lamps are widely used for lighting in rural areas of Asia and Africa where electrical distribution is not available or too costly for widespread use. Kerosene lamps consume an estimated 77 billion litres per year, equivalent to 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.[5]

Kerosene in some jurisdictions such as the U.S. is legally required to be stored in a blue container to avoid it being confused with the much more flammable gasoline, which is typically kept in a red container. In other jurisdictions, such as Europe, there are no specific requirements for the storage of kerosene other than the container has to be closed and marked with its contents.


Kerosene, a thin, clear liquid formed from hydrocarbons, with a density of 0.78–0.81 g/cm3, is obtained from the fractional distillation of petroleum between 150 °C and 275 °C, resulting in a mixture of carbon chains that typically contain between six and 16 carbon atoms per molecule.[6] Major constituents of Kerosene include n-dodecane, alkyl benzenes, and naphthalene and its derivatives.

The flash point of kerosene is between 37 and 65 °C (100 and 150 °F), and its autoignition temperature is 220 °C (428 °F).[7]

Heat of combustion of kerosene is similar to that of diesel; its lower heating value is 43.1 MJ/kg (around 18,500 Btu/lb), and its higher heating value is 46.2 MJ/kg.[8]

Kerosene is immiscible in water (cold or hot), but miscible in petroleum solvents.

In the United Kingdom, two grades of heating oil are defined. BS2869 Class C1 is the lightest grade used for lanterns, camping stoves, wick heaters, and mixed with gasoline in some vintage combustion engines. BS2869 Class C2 is a heavier distillate, which is used as domestic heating oil. Premium kerosene is usually sold in 5 or 20 liter containers from hardware, camping and garden stores and is often dyed purple. Standard kerosene is usually dispensed in bulk by a tanker and is undyed.

National and international standards define the properties of several grades of kerosene used for jet fuel. Flash point and freezing point properties are of particular interest for operation and safety; the standards also define additives for control of static electricity and other purposes.


Persian scholar Rāzi (or Rhazes) was the first to distill kerosene in the 9th century.

The process of distilling crude oil/petroleum into kerosene, as well as other hydrocarbon compounds, was first written about in the 9th century by the Persian scholar Rāzi (or Rhazes). In his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets), the physician and chemist Razi described two methods for the production of kerosene, termed naft abyad ("white naphtha"), using an apparatus called an alembic. One method involved using clay as an absorbent, whereas the other method involved using ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac). The distillation process was to be repeated until the final product was perfectly clear and "safe to light", i.e. volatile hydrocarbon fractions had been mostly removed. Kerosene was also produced during the same period from oil shale and bitumen by heating the rock to extract the oil, which was then distilled.[9]

Abraham Gesner first distilled kerosene from bituminous coal and oil shale experimentally in 1846. Commercial production was achieved in 1854.

In 1846, Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner gave a public demonstration in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island of a new process he had discovered. He heated coal in a retort and distilled from it a clear, thin fluid which he showed made an excellent lamp fuel. He coined the name "Kerosene" for his fuel, a contraction of keroselaion, meaning wax-oil.[10] The cost of extracting kerosene from coal was high. Fortunately, Gesner recalled from his extensive knowledge of New Brunswick's geology a naturally occurring asphaltum called albertite. He was blocked from using it by the New Brunswick coal conglomerate because they had coal extraction rights for the province, and he lost a court case when their experts claimed albertite was a form of coal.[11] Gesner subsequently moved to Newtown Creek, Long Island, New York, in 1854, where he secured the backing of a group of businessmen. They formed the North American Gas Light Company, to which he assigned his patents. Despite clear priority of discovery, Gesner did not obtain his first kerosene patent until 1854, two years after James Young's US patent. Gesner's method of purifying the distillation products appears to have been superior to Young's, resulting in a cleaner and better-smelling fuel. Manufacture of kerosene under the Gesner patents began in New York in 1854, and later in Boston, being distilled from bituminous coal and oil shale.[10]

In 1848, Scottish chemist James Young experimented with oil discovered seeping in a coal mine as a source of lubricating oil and illuminating fuel. When the seep became exhausted, he experimented with the dry distillation of coal, especially the resinous "boghead coal" (torbanite). He extracted a number of useful liquids from it, one of which he named "paraffine oil", because at low temperatures, it congealed into a substance resembling paraffin wax. Young took out a patent on his process and the resulting products in 1850, and built the first truly commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851, using oil extracted from locally mined torbanite, shale, and bituminous coal. In 1852, he took out a US patent for the same invention. These patents were subsequently upheld in both countries in a series of lawsuits, and other producers were obliged to pay him royalties.[10] See also coal oil.

In 1851, Samuel Martin Kier began selling kerosene to local miners, under the name "Carbon Oil". He distilled this by a process of his own invention from crude oil. He also invented a new lamp to burn his product.[12] He has been dubbed the Grandfather of the American Oil Industry by historians.[13] Since the 1840s, Kier's salt wells were becoming fouled with petroleum. At first, Kier simply dumped the useless oil into the nearby Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, but later he began experimenting with several distillates of the crude oil, along with a chemist from eastern Pennsylvania.[14]

Ignacy Łukasiewicz, a Polish pharmacist residing in Lvov, had been experimenting with different kerosene distillation techniques, trying to improve on Gesner's process, using local seep oil. Many people knew of his work, but paid little attention to it. On the night of July 31, 1853, doctors at the local hospital needed to perform an emergency operation, virtually impossible by candlelight. They therefore sent a messenger for Łukasiewicz and his new lamps. The lamp burned so brightly and cleanly that the hospital officials ordered several lamps plus a large supply of fuel. Łukasiewicz realized the potential of his work and quit the pharmacy to find a business partner, and then travelled to Vienna to register his technique with the government. Łukasiewicz moved to the Gorlice region of Poland in 1854, and sank several wells across southern Poland over the following decade, setting up a refinery near Jasło in 1859.[15]

The widespread availability of cheaper kerosene was the principal factor in the precipitous decline in the whaling industry in the mid-to-late 19th century, as the leading product of whaling was oil for lamps.

Fuel uses

Heating and lighting

Fuels for heating

At one time, the fuel was widely used in kerosene lamps and lanterns. Although it replaced whale oil, the 1873 edition of Elements of Chemistry said, "The vapor of this substance [kerosene] mixed with air is as explosive as gunpowder."[16] This may have been due to the common practice of adulterating kerosene with other, more volatile hydrocarbons, such as the cheaper benzene.[17] Kerosene was also a fire risk; in 1880, nearly two of every five New York City fires were caused by defective kerosene lamps.[18]

These were superseded by the electric light bulb and flashlights powered by dry cell batteries, which are still used to this day.

Its use as a cooking fuel is mostly restricted to some portable stoves for backpackers and to less-developed countries, where it is usually less refined and contains impurities and even debris.

As a heating fuel, it is often used in portable stoves, and is sold in some filling stations. It is sometimes used as a heat source during power failures. The use of portable kerosene heaters is not recommended for closed indoor areas without a chimney due to the danger of buildup of carbon monoxide gas.[citation needed]

A truck delivering kerosene in Japan

Kerosene is widely used in Japan as a home heating fuel for portable and installed kerosene heaters. In Japan, kerosene can be readily bought at any filling station or be delivered to homes.[citation needed]

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, kerosene is often used as a heating fuel in areas not connected to a gas pipeline network. It is used less for cooking where LPG is preferred owing to its (LPG's) easier lighting. Kerosene is still often the fuel of choice for range cookers such as Rayburn.

The Amish, who abstain from the use of electricity, rely on kerosene for lighting at night.

More ubiquitous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, kerosene space heaters were often built into kitchen ranges, and kept many farm and fishing families warm and dry through the winter. At one time, citrus growers used a smudge pot fueled by kerosene to create a pall of thick smoke over a grove in an effort to prevent freezing temperatures from damaging crops. "Salamanders" are kerosene space heaters used on construction sites to dry out building materials and to warm workers. Before the days of blinking electrically lighted road barriers, highway construction zones were marked at night by kerosene fired, pot-bellied torches. Most of these uses of kerosene created thick black smoke because of the low temperature of combustion.

A notable exception, discovered in the early 19th century, is the use of a gas mantle above the wick on a kerosene lamp. Looking like a delicate woven bag above the woven cotton wick, the mantle is a residue of mineral materials (mostly thorium dioxide) which is heated to incandescence by the flame produced by the wick. The thorium and cerium oxide combination produces both a whiter light and a greater fraction of the energy in the form of visible light than a black body at the same temperature would. These types of lamps are still in use today in areas of the world without electricity, because they give a much better light than a simple wick-type lamp does.[citation needed]. Recently a multipurpose lantern which also doubles as cooking stove has been introduced in India in areas which do not have electricity.[19]


In the mid-20th century, kerosene or tractor vaporising oil (TVO) was used as a cheap fuel for tractors. The engine would start on gasoline, then switch over to kerosene once the engine warmed up. A heat valve on the manifold would route the exhaust gases around the intake pipe, heating the kerosene to the point where it was vaporized and could be ignited by an electric spark.

In Europe following the Second World War, automobiles were modified similarly to turn to run on kerosene from the gasoline which would have to be imported and was heavily taxed. Besides additional piping and the switch between fuels, the head gasket was replaced by a much thicker one to diminish the compression ratio (making the engine less powerful and less efficient, but able to run on kerosene). The necessary equipment was sold under the trademark "Econom".[20]

During the fuel crisis of the 1970s, Saab-Valmet developed and series-produced the Saab 99 Petro that ran on kerosene, turpentine or gasoline. The project, codenamed "Project Lapponia", was headed by Simo Vuorio, and towards the end of the 1970s, a working prototype was produced based on the Saab 99 GL. The car was designed to run on two fuels. Gasoline was used for cold starts and when extra power was needed, but normally it ran on kerosene or turpentine. The idea was that the gasoline could be made from peat using the Fischer-Tropsch process. Between 1980 and 1984, 3756 Saab 99 Petros and 2385 Talbot Horizons (a version of the Chrysler Horizon that integrated many Saab components) were made. One reason to manufacture kerosene-fueled cars was that in Finland kerosene was less heavily taxated than petrol. [21]

Kerosene is used to fuel smaller-horsepower outboard motors built by Yamaha Motors, Suzuki Marine, and Tohatsu. Primarily used on small fishing craft, these are dual-fuel engines that start on gasoline and then transition to kerosene once the engine reaches optimum operating temperature. Multiple fuel Evinrude and Mercury Racing engines also burn kerosene, as well as jet fuel.[22]

Today, kerosene is mainly used in fuel for jet engines in several grades. One form of the fuel known as RP-1 is burned with liquid oxygen as rocket fuel. These fuel grade kerosenes meet specifications for smoke points and freeze points. The combustion reaction can be approximated as follows, with the molecular formula C12H26 (dodecane):

C12H26(l) + 37/2 O2(g) → 12 CO2(g) + 13 H2O(g); H˚ = -7513 kJ

In the initial phase of liftoff, the Saturn V launch vehicle was powered by the reaction of liquid oxygen with RP-1.[23] For the five 6.4 meganewton sea-level thrust F-1 rocket engines of the Saturn V, burning together, the reaction generated roughly 1.62 × 1011 watts (J/s) (162 gigawatt) or 217 million horsepower.[23]

Kerosene is sometimes used as an additive in diesel fuel to prevent gelling or waxing in cold temperatures.[24]

Ultra-low sulfur kerosene is a custom-blended fuel used by the New York City Transit to power its bus fleet. The transit agency started using this fuel in 2004, prior to the widespread adoption of ultra-low sulfur diesel, which has since become the standard. In 2008, the suppliers of the custom fuel failed to tender for a renewal of the transit agency's contract, leading to a negotiated contract at a significantly increased cost.[25]


Advert for an oil stove, from the Albion Lamp Company, Birmingham, England, circa 1900

In countries such as India, kerosene is the main fuel used for cooking, especially by the poor, and kerosene stoves have replaced traditional wood-based cooking appliances. As such, increase in the price of kerosene can have a major political and environmental consequence. The Indian government subsidizes the fuel to keep the price very low, to around 15 cents per liter as of February 2007, as lower prices discourage dismantling of forests for cooking fuel.[26]

Kerosene is used as a fuel in portable stoves, especially in Primus stoves invented in 1892. Portable kerosene stoves earn a reputation of reliable and durable stove in everyday use, and perform especially well under adverse conditions. In outdoor activities and mountainering, a decisive advantage of pressurized kerosene stoves over gas cartridge stoves is their particularly high thermal output and their ability to operate at very low temperature in winter or at high altitude.


Kerosene is often used in the entertainment industry for fire performances, such as fire breathing, fire juggling or poi, and fire dancing. Because of its low flame temperature when burnt in free air, the risk is lower should the performer come in contact with the flame. Kerosene is not usually used as fuel for indoor fire dancing, as it produces an unpleasant odor, which becomes poisonous in sufficient concentration. Methanol was sometimes used instead, but the flames it produces look less impressive, and its lower flash point poses a high risk. Moreover, the catabolic products of methanol are highly toxic for the optic nerves, and can cause blindness when small amounts of methanol are swallowed. Swallowing larger amounts of methanol is lethal.

Other uses


Kerosene has been found to be an effective pesticide. It is effective at killing a large number of insects, notably bed bugs and head lice (but note toxicity to humans, see below). It can also be applied to standing pools of water in order to kill mosquito larvae.


As a petroleum product miscible with many industrial liquids, kerosene can be used as both a solvent, able to remove other petroleum products, such as chain grease, and as a lubricant, with less risk of combustion when compared to using gasoline.


In X-ray crystallography, kerosene can be used to store crystals. When a hydrated crystal is left in air, dehydration may occur slowly. This makes the colour of the crystal become dull. Kerosene can keep air from the crystal.


Ingestion of kerosene is harmful or fatal. Kerosene should never be used to get rid of hair lice as it can cause burns and serious illness. A kerosene shampoo can even be fatal if fumes are inhaled.[27][28]

Retail cost

United States

In 2008, the cost of kerosene was $39.92 per million BTUs ($37.84/GJ) for heating.[29]

See also


  1. Script error
  2. Webster's New World College Dictionary, kerosene.
  3. Oxford English Dictionary, "kerosene".
  4. "Kerosene Outboard Motors". http://www.marineenginedigest.com/specialreports/kerosene-outboards.htm. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  5. Jean-Claude Bolay, Alexandre Schmid, Gabriela Tejada Technologies and Innovations for Development: Scientific Cooperation for a Sustainable Future, Springer, 2012 ISBN 2-8178-0267-5 page 308
  6. Chris Collins (2007), “Implementing Phytoremediation of Petroleum Hydrocarbons, Methods in Biotechnology 23:99-108. Humana Press. ISBN 1-58829-541-9.
  7. "Kerosene". http://www.inchem.org/documents/icsc/icsc/eics0663.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  8. Script error
  9. Script error
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Script error
  11. Script error
  12. Script error
  13. McInnis, Karen. "Kier, Samuel Martin- Bio". biography. The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Kier__Samuel_Martin.html. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  14. Script error
  15. Script error
  16. Script error
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  19. Lanstove:A lamp that's also a stove.[1]
  20. Popular Science December 1951 page 193
  21. Bakrutan: "Saab 99 Petro" by Petri Tyrkös, nr 4, 2008
  22. Banse, Timothy (7 July 2010). "Kerosene Outboards: An Alternative Fuel?". Marine Engine Digest. http://marineenginedigest.com/specialreports/kerosene-outboards.htm.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Script error
  24. Kerosene blending, (pdf from EPA)
  25. How a Plan for Bus Fuel Grew Expensive, The New York Times, 2008-09-25.
  26. Bradsher, Keith (28 July 2008). "Fuel Subsidies Overseas Take a Toll on U.S.". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/28/business/worldbusiness/28subsidy.html.
  27. Levine, Michael D; Gresham, Chip, III (30 April 2009). "Toxicity, Hydrocarbons". emedicine. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/821143-overview. Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  28. Script error
  29. Script error

External links

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