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Safe to burn crisco candles and breathe the fumes? - and other ideas for oil lamp sources  RSS feed

 
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What do you think, if you had a bunch of crisco laying around, would you melt it down, add essential oils,.pour it in a jar, add a wick and burn it as a candle?

The DNA would be destroyed by the heat so the fact that it's a GMO shouldn't matter in theory. But that doesn't address what sort of contaminants it might contain and what happens to them when burned. Would enough be inhaled to matter anyways?

And what about those high-end soy candles you see at markets, are they essentially made out of crisco? Soybean oil is naturally a liquid so it must be hydrogenated right?

Also, "vegetable" oil seems to burn well in homemade oil lamps, and it's cheaper than lamp oil everywhere I've ever looked. Could be a frugal solution for off-grid lighting if someone didn't want to bother with solar panels and LEDs. Oil lamps look nicer and provide some residual heat too. And they're better for your eyes and sleep patterns/circadian rhythm.

Yeah you're putting some money in the pockets of some shady companies and the shady people who run them, but petroleum is the same way so what does it matter really. This is putting less money in their pockets since it's cheaper.

Someone please tell me if it's safe to do on a regular basis.
 
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One of the paths I took to get into permaculture was through the survival community, and I hit this question too, looking at it from an emergency type situation point of view. I came up with several answers, and you might find some of them interesting.

Looking this from a Wheaton Eco Scale point of view, there are many levels of answers to the question of using oils to light your home. The question "how safe is it to burn crisco in the house" is not a zero level question, because you obviously have thought about the potential toxins, and the problems with the petroleum companies and all that. The really interesting answers are what are the answers to the question that are a few levels above this? Permaculture and Permies.com are focused on finding positive solutions to a problem by looking at it from a different perspective, and coming up with long term answers that just sidestep the toxic answers altogether. When you know what the answers might be a few levels up, you can move toward that solution. So starting from the lower levels, going up toward higher level solutions, my answers to your question::  

I'm going to ignore the GMO part of it, since that is classified as Cider Press territory here, and not up for discussion in the main forums. The part that I don't like about Crisco and cheap veg oils is all the chemicals they are grown with. What do they do when burned? No one can really answer that one, as far as I can tell. Best answer is "nothing good for you to breathe." How much is too much? No one can answer that one either, as a lot of the body damage is long term cumulative damage, and there are few good studies on it, due to the complexity. Is it safe? My first level of answer is no. An unknown dose of a cumulative toxin can't be a good thing. All the essential oils in the world can't detox it. But there are ways to make it safer, if you absolutely must do it, if you have a bunch of Crisco around already, or it's an emergency.

My next level of answer is vent it safely. In an emergency or very low budget solution, an oil lamp chimney that is lifted up slightly on something to let air get under it (like chopsticks, maybe?)  that has a tinfoil chimney pipe made that vents out a window or crack. So the light comes out, but the fumes are removed from the house. If it's being done long term, and the heat is wanted too, a better pipe and some thermal mass around it, kind of a low end rocket mass heater. There is a thing that runs around the net, using terracotta pots as thermal mass around a candle, like that, only with the glass chimney involved to let the light out. And I hear you say "this is getting silly, too much work for this" and you are right. Duct tape solutions on a badly designed system will just get more complex.

My next level of answer is related to the soy candles comment. What I did when I was asking this question was buy organic soy wax and pour a bunch of candles into mason jars. The lids keep the candles dry, so they can be stored and used in an emergency.

My next level of answer is related to the vegetable oils comment. Ah, this is where it gets interesting! Yes, vegetable oil burns well, has been used for millennia for light. If you are looking at the cheap stuff from the grocery store, I class it with the Crisco: toxic fumes, vent it if you absolutely must burn it. Organic oils are nontoxic and will burn nicely. And this is where we start looking into permaculture oriented solutions. Why give any money to people whose business practices you call shady? Lots of plants make oils that can burn, something oily will grow in any climate, a lot of them perennials. Look up "oil seeds" on the forums for more info on what might grow in your climate. (I see you are north, or plan to be north, I am not up on what you can grow there, I'm up on southern crops.)

And bees make wax. I see you have posted on a bee thread, so you are looking at them, and know the long term usefulness of bees. If you don't have bees yet, buying bee wax is more effective price-wise than cheap oils, as it burns slower. Buy it unrefined, and melt and clean it yourself and it's not extremely expensive. If you buy beeswax candles at a health food store, yeah, they won't be cheap. They will burn longer than the same volume of vegetable oil though.

How can you get beeswax cheap? By having your own hives. But if you have no land yet? How about finding places someone will let you (or even pay you!) to put hives on it and maintain the bees? Plus honey to eat and sell! Now we are function stacking, turning a problem into profit!

How's that for weird answers to your question? :) Things to think on, ideas to work toward, that are nontoxic long term solutions. That is what permaculture is about, sidestepping the toxic gick by reframing the question and looking for different solutions than the shady companies are offering us.

Looks like you have been on this forum for a month, Welcome to Permies! Come down the rabbit holes with us and learn stuff, it's great fun!  :)
 
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Vegetable oil lamps have been used for centuries for lighting and as an additional source of heat.  These are very easy to make as they just require a non-flammable container (pottery works best because it doesn't conduct the heat and damage the surface the lamp is on), a wick (usually a scrap of cloth) and some oil.

Different oils create different amounts and quality of light.  More importantly, they produce different amount of smoke.  Some oil produces a lot of smoke and fumes and soot in the air.  Others, like flaxseed oil, produce a much cleaner flame.  

One way to save money on lamp oil is to clean used cooking oil.  It's free either from your own cooking or from restaurants that have to pay for disposing of this.  Most people just strain it, but to remove a lot of the cooking smell, you can clean it by heating the oil, add cold water to it, then heat some more, add more cold water.  Skim off anything that floats to the top.  Leave it to cool overnight, then carefully pour off the oil.  Mrs Beaton's book of household management has more details on this method - you can find it free on Gutenberg press.  

Experiment with different oils.  Place the lamp in front and a bit below a mirror (or a mirror behind and a bit above the flame) and after a few days, have a look at the soot that gathers on the mirror.  Clean the mirror and try a few days with a different oil.  This is a simple way to test for how the oil performs.  
 
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I think the most direct answer to your question is no it's not safe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisco  GMO aside, ask yourself if you truly want to burn or eat that goop. Or do anything else with it except avoid it completely. The lesser of two evils is still evil. There are better ways.

I noticed in the thread about overwintering bees that you already have some bee knowledge & interest. So you're apparently already on a good permie track. I much prefer beeswax candles. From wikipedia...

Candle-making has long involved the use of beeswax, which is highly flammable, and this material traditionally was prescribed for the making of the Paschal candle or "Easter candle". This may be because beeswax candles are often purported to be superior to other wax candles, because they are meant to burn brighter and longer, do not bend, and burn "cleaner"



Pearl offered some good suggestions for obtaining wax. You could also just find a beekeeper near you & ask for some. Good chance they will give you some for free & also help you get started keeping bees if you haven't already done so. I give away mounds of wax every year to people who want to be crafty with it. All I ask in return is a small percentage of whatever they make with it. Soap, candles, lotions, leather conditioners, encaustic artwork, etc. They are excellent products & make great gifts too. Another perfect example of stacked functions!

Sunflowers are easy to grow in many places. That makes high quality oil.

Bees are more fun:)
 
L. Tims
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I've looked into the permaculture candle solutions like beeswax, oilseed sunflowers and bayberry trees. The beeswax is a definite NO WAY. It takes bees more energy to make beeswax than it does to make honey. So for every pound of beeswax burnt it would be like burning over a pound of honey. I've even read way higher ratios like one to eight. There's a reason that even industrial beeswax is so expensive.  Nope, that beeswax is going straight back to the bees for them to reuse with any hive I ever manage. Raw organic wildflower honey is worth a lot more to me than candles.

I've grown sunflowers before, they are actually up there with winter squash for my favorite plants. And they do grow just about anywhere, I've done that research already. I don't really deep-fry things though so any used cooking oil will be a minimum. Burning it fresh strikes me as wasteful but still way better than beeswax.

Bayberry trees I've never even seen in real life. My gut instinct is that gathering enough berries to make candles isn't practical. I'll grow a few at some point and find out for sure. I hope I'm wrong here.

Finding a restaurant that uses organic oil, getting their used oil for free and cleaning it is smart, if you can pull it off. Seems like more of a lucky find than something that can be relied on, unless you live in Vermont.

"Vent it well and pray you don't get cancer" isn't very reassuring, lol. Probably the best answer for me is hunting for candles at thrift stores, trading for them, and burning sunflower oil in my oil lamps.  Thanks peeps.

 
Mike Barkley
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It takes bees more energy to make beeswax than it does to make honey. So for every pound of beeswax burnt it would be like burning over a pound of honey.



Actually, it's more like one pound of wax = EIGHT pounds of honey in bee energy. You're definitely on the right track with that thinking. Older wax does need to be removed every now & then though. Once you get a certain amount of bees & honey it's almost a moot point. You can then comfortably sustain & appreciate a few candles too.
 
r ranson
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Animal fats also work well for lighting.  Tallow was often used as candles but I find is better when used as a rushlight or in the same way as the vegetable oil lamps.  

If you don't home process your meat, you can find free fat at any butchers.

 
L. Tims
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Hey Raven, you seem to be the resident flax/linen expert- everything I've read says that flax is no good for fabric once it's gone to seed. Do you perhaps know of a way around this? Is it just a matter of being okay with coarser fabrics? I'd feel much better about burning oil from something I'd already gotten a primary usage out of. Flax seeds don't much agree with me as a food anyways. Thanks.
 
r ranson
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L. Tims wrote:Hey Raven, you seem to be the resident flax/linen expert- everything I've read says that flax is no good for fabric once it's gone to seed. Do you perhaps know of a way around this? Is it just a matter of being okay with coarser fabrics? I'd feel much better about burning oil from something I'd already gotten a primary usage out of. Flax seeds don't much agree with me as a food anyways. Thanks.



Like so many things in this world, it's not an either-or situation.


Harvesting the seeds early:  The seeds are fully formed when we harvest the plants for cloth and are fine for extracting oil or eating.  The only thing about the seeds that they aren't great for is growing.  But they can still do that - they just have a lower germination rate when harvested immature.  My observation is the germination rate can be as low as 20% when harvested for fibre, opposed to the 99-100% germination in seeds that are left to mature.

Harvesting the fibre late: If you are producing next to the skin cloth for royalty to wear and you have twenty years or more experience processing flax fibre and are a master spinner (another 7 years training) and a master weaver (another 7 to 8 years training), then harvesting the flax plant at the correct time is absolutely vital.  If you miss that time by one day, then you might get fibres that are a quarter of a micron (really small measurement for fibre) too thick.

The ideal time to harvest flax for fibre is when the seeds are fully formed but immature.  But determining when that moment is, is difficult and unnecessary.  We can get fibre from flax anytime after the seed bolls start to form, to long after the seed heads are fully mature. It's about a six to eight-week time frame.  Even still, there are a lot of other factors that affect fibre quality more than harvest time.

What I do is harvest most of the plot for fibre.  The seeds from this I use for eating and other uses around the house.  a home oil press makes it easy to extract the oil from flax and it gives a decent amount - but goes off quickly.

The plants I left to mature for seed, I use this seed for growing next year's crop.  However, I still process the fibre from these stems.  I've done a few experiments (for the story of the experiments you'll have to buy the book) and feel that the difference for home processed linen is negligible.  


 
r ranson
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Sunflowers - stacking functions

I grow Mongolian Giant sunflowers (similar to the Mammoth Russian Sunflowers, only a bit taller and less consistent within the variety).  These grow 10 to 14 feet tall and have a stem that is between 4 to 10 inches wide.  The story goes they were grown for cooking fuel - not the oil, the stems.  When dried, the stems do make great fire starter and if I had a little rocket cookstove, I could see using this as a high-temperature cooking fuel.  The stems also make great bio-mass or whatever the catchphrase is these days for adding organic matter into the soil.  I make a semi-hugelkulture bed with these as the logs.  I build it this time of year, grow squash on it over the summer, then distribute the composted matter the next spring.  

The leaves and stems are also very popular with the sheep and goats as they have a high mineral content and seem very good for parasite control.

The heads are 12 to 18 inches across - more if I water - and loaded with seeds that are great for oil extractions.  The seedcake is dried and fed to the livestock for a high protein supplement.  


Winter Squash - another source of oil in the seeds, and food from the flesh.  Carol Deppe talks about this in her book The Resilient Gardener.
 
r ranson
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L. Tims wrote:...
Finding a restaurant that uses organic oil, getting their used oil for free and cleaning it is smart, if you can pull it off. Seems like more of a lucky find than something that can be relied on...



If the choice is between spending money on crisco and getting less than perfect oil for free... I suspect my frugal nature would win out every time.  

That said, most places have a posh restaurant.  These tend to be more picky about their frying fat but they still have to dispose of it after the fact.  Even if it's not organic, it's probably changed a lot more often than some of the deep fry joints.  I know one fish and chip shop in town that changes their oil every 2 to 4 weeks.  Another changes their oil every second day.

But I'm within easy driving distance of a town.  A town where restaurants pay exorbitant fees to dispose of organic matter like oil.  They are eager to save money by giving excess food waste to farmers - plus they get bragging rights.  Every place is different, but I wonder... there are a lot of resources available for free that I never imagined possible before I started asking around and looking for them.
 
L. Tims
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So I can get seeds and still make good kilts, awesome. Thanks Raven. I'll check out your book.
 
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About the hydrogenated nature of the vegetable oil, it only causes problems when you eat it. It is still just an arrangement of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen. The hydrogenation process attaches more hydrogen to the unsaturated fat to make it saturated. The reason artificially hydrogenated oils are "bad", is that the resulting fat molecule is too rigid and not as pliable as real saturated fat when it gets used in cell walls. When burned, there is no problem. In fact, using vegetable shortening(like Crisco) as an emergency lighting source is a pretty good idea. In the old days, they used to use tallow, and vegetable shortening took the place of tallow for lots of things.
Safe to burn crisco candles and breathe the fumes? - and other ideas for oil lamp sources
 
Mike Barkley
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Interesting article for sure. I'm still sticking with beeswax.
 
Pearl Sutton
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I'm sticking with anything that hasn't been made toxic.
I prefer beeswax, but don't often end up with it, I stock organic oils for emergency use, and will be growing seed oils soon. And possibly bees.
 
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