How to Create Cheap Light During a Power Cut

Three Methods:Creating Light SourcesStarting a FirePreparing for a Power Cut

When the lights are out, all kinds of household objects suddenly gain new uses. Make MacGyver proud and use anything from oranges to steel wool to make a candle.

Method 1
Creating Light Sources

  1. 1
    Burn crayons as candles. Most crayons make fairly good candles, if you leave the paper wrapping on as a wick. A typical crayon burns for about half an hour.
    • It may help to break the tip off the candle before lighting it.
  2. 2
    Make a candle from petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) burns easily and for a long time. The most efficient way to use it is to rub it onto cotton balls or other flammable materials, placing them on aluminum foil or another fireproof material. For a long-term light source, light a candle or homemade wick stuck in a small container of petroleum jelly.
  3. 3
    Create an oil lamp. Pour vegetable oil into a container. Drop a cotton string into the oil to use as a wick. Light the tip of the string and add a new string each time the old one burns out.
    • If you do not have any cooking oil, look for goods packed in oil, such as canned fish. Pour out the oil into a fireproof container.
  4. 4
    Make your own wick. If you do not have a cotton string, search for any long, thin, flammable material you can use instead. Here are two options using household materials:
    • Rub a cotton ball between your palms to make a long strand.
    • Peel half of an orange and remove the fruit. You should be left with the white central "stem" attached to the bottom half of the peel. Pour oil into the "bowl" of the peel and light the stem to make a candle.
  5. 5
    Identify other flammable materials. Soak a cotton string or homemade wick with animal fat or alcohol to make a candle, or stick the string in a stick of butter. If none of these are available, you can even burn fat- or oil-rich foods such as Brazil nuts.
    • For a candle that can burn for weeks, stick a string in a can of shortening (Crisco).
    • In indoor areas with poor ventilation, stick to candle-sized fires only. Large fires in enclosed spaces can cause death by carbon monoxide poisoning.
  6. 6
    Make a torch. Wrap a rag around the tip of a sturdy stick or metal rod and cover it with gauze or wire mesh. Dip the tip in vegetable oil and light it for a long-lasting light source.
  7. 7
    Improvise a battery. You can make your own low-powered battery with two types of metal and any acid. Read this article for more detailed instructions. This is usually enough to power an LED light, connected to both ends of the battery.
    • You can even make a battery out of a potato or lemon. Link several of these organic batteries in a series to increase the power.
  8. 8
    Build your own simple generator. If you have a magnet and a length of wire, you can create your own hand-cranked generator. While not the easiest solution, it does give you something to do while your electronics are off!
  9. 9
    Ignite steel wool. Place clean steel wool in a heatproof bowl. Rub the terminals of a charged battery against the wool to ignite it. Blow gently on the wool if necessary to help it along. This won't burn for long, so it's mainly useful to light other items if you're out of matches.
    • The wool and bowl reach very high temperatures.[1] Take care not to burn your fingers, and do not touch the bowl for at least ten minutes.

Method 2
Starting a Fire

  1. 1
    Work in a fireproof, ventilated area. If you don't have a fireplace or wood stove, build your fire in a metal campfire bowl, or clear an outdoor area of all flammable materials. Always build a fire in a well-ventilated area, to avoid the risk of lethal carbon monoxide buildup.
  2. 2
    Lay down tinder. Begin with an easy-catching, quick-burning material such as balls of paper, cotton wool, or dried leaves.
  3. 3
    Add longer-burning material. Use longer-burning materials for the next layer of tinder, such as strips of cardboard or bark. These will catch easily but provide more heat than your first layer.
  4. 4
    Build up the fire. Add increasingly large sticks or other flammable items, spacing them out to get oxygen to the fire. Finish with a log or two if available.
  5. 5
    Light the tinder. If you do not have a source of flame, learn about other ways to start your fire. You may need to light the tinder several times in order to get the larger materials to light.

Method 3
Preparing for a Power Cut

  1. 1
    Get a hand-cranked flashlight. Any flashlight will come in handy, but a hand-cranked one will never run out of power. Many of them also include a radio for emergency situations.
  2. 2
    Buy a camping lantern. If you plan to light the lantern indoors, check the safety information to make sure you have adequate ventilation. Propane and white gas lanterns are particularly dangerous indoors, due to high levels of carbon monoxide. Lanterns powered by kerosene, vegetable oil, and especially alcohol are generally safer, but still require ventilation.[2]
  3. 3
    Light outdoor areas with solar lights. Illuminate outdoor walkways with solar-powered lights from a garden store.
  4. 4
    Consider purchasing a generator. If power cuts happen frequently in your location, be prepared with a generator powered by diesel or petrol. Although not the cheapest option, this can save you effort, and allow you to power appliances as well as lights.


  • Prioritize outdoor work while you still have sunlight. If the power doesn't return before you go to bed, set an early alarm so you can use the full day of light tomorrow.
  • Some gas stoves work without electricity. Others can still be lit with a match or lighter.
  • If the power is still out when your first fire dies down, try to keep one of the coals glowing. This will make starting the next fire much easier.


  • In cold climates, focus on heating first. Set up a communal sleeping area for warmth.

Things You'll Need

  • One fire starter:
    • Lighter
    • Matches
    • Gas stove with working pilot light
  • One fuel source:
    • Vegetable oil
    • Crayons
    • Petroleum jelly
    • Other fat, wax, or oil
  • Cotton wick or string (recommended)
  • Or alternate power source:
    • Homemade battery materials (see instructions)
    • Steel wool & a charged battery

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Categories: Disaster Preparedness | Hazard Survival Equipment