Sure-fire Fire Starter: Vaseline Cotton

(As featured in the December 2010 issue of Practically Seeking)

Vaseline Cotton fire structure

I've been practicing skills and survival a long time now, and am confident of being able to create fire under pretty much any circumstances. But, if you look in my GO Bag you will find no less than 5 different ways to create fire.

Vaseline Cotton is one of my favorites to have on hand, since it is water proof, always lights incredibly easily, is an infallible additive for a tinder bundle (especially a damp one) and easily takes a spark directly from a ferro striker or metal match.

Not only that, it can be used as an occlusive wound dressing, smokeless fuel for a hobo stove, to ease chapped lips and dozens of other things as well.

Simple to make and easy to store, this is a sure-fire fire-starter that should be a part of everyone's kit.

NOTE: When using Vaseline Cotton always be careful, as the melting gel can drop flame onto unintended surfaces!


Step-by-step Instructions on 2 Different ways to make Vaseline Cotton:

Method #1: Using in an Emergency Survival situation:

  1. Fluff open your cotton ball, then take a pea sized dab of any petroleum gel based product (i.e., Vaseline) and rub it thoroughly into the cotton.
  2. Pea-sized dob of petroleum jelly Fluff open cotton Work petroleum jelly into cotton

  3. In an emergency situation, use alternatives to petroleum gel that you may have easy to hand, including (but not limited to) such things as lip balms (many of which may also contain wax), antibiotic ointments and lip stick. Use them in exactly the same way you would petroleum jelly.
  4. Emergency alternatives

  5. Ignite when ready!
  6. Ignite your cotton Quickly takes flame Creates a large flame


    Method #2:  Pre-prepared for your GO Bag or Fire Kit

  1. Melt about a quarter- to half-teaspoon of petroleum jelly per cotton ball in a small metal container, using ONLY enough heat to melt the gel.
  2. About 1 tsp petroleum jelly per 3-4 cotton balls Melt in metal pan or tin Melt completely

  3. Place your cotton balls in the melted liquid and stir them until they are well saturated but not too sticky to the touch. You CAN over-saturate, which make them harder to light, not easier!
  4. Add cottong balls to melted gel Stir well Ensure each cotton ball is well covered

  5. Allow the cotton to cool, and store in an old pill bottle or tin to keep in your GO Bag and/or Fire Kit. If, as you are stuffing the cotton into it's container, you discover you have over-saturated your cotton (lots of liquid is oozing out) you can add a dry cotton ball into the mix to soak up the extra petroleum jelly.
  6. Allow to cool Stuff cotton into old pill bottle or metal tin Add dry cotton to soak up any extra

  7. To use, place one of the cotton balls in the center of your fire structure and ignite. Each cotton ball will burn for about 5-10 minutes.
  8. Place cotton at center of fire structure Ignite with match Immediate ignition Cotton will burn for 5-10 minutes

  9. To use as an additive for a tinder bundle you plan to light with a ferro striker (metal match), fluff out the cotton into the center of your tinder and strike directly on to the cotton. This can be a great help with damp or sub-standard tinder.
  10. Place fluffed out cotton in center of tinder bundle Light directly on tinder bundle Immediate ignition


    Additional tips and ways to use Vaseline Cotton:

  1. When using a ferrocerium rod, fluff out the cotton ball to increase surface area as much as possible. (Remember, PULL the rod, don't push the striker.)
  2. Fluff out the cotton to increase surface area Pull the rod, don't push the striker

  3. The saturated cotton ball (or a piece of one) can be wrapped just below the head of a wooden or paper match to assist with lighting. Don't wrap too tightly and don't let the cotton touch the match head or it will saturate the chemicals and/or smother the flame, and won't light. (This is especially true with paper matches.)
  4. Adjust cord to spindle Wrapped wooden match Wrapping paper match Wrapped matches

  5. Wrap a cotton ball around the end of a small stick to use as an extension for lighting your fire structure and protect those fingers!
  6. Wrap cotton around stick Light with metal match Use to light cotton ball in fire structure

Until next time, keep practicing that Fire-making, and Have Fun!

Want more good tips on Fire and other Emergency Equipment?
Come on out to January's GO Bag workshop -- there's no excuse not to Be Prepared!