Repurpose An Old Toilet Paper Tube Into The Perfect Fire Starter

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Ever tried to start a fire with a scrunched-up bit of paper or a bundle of foraged twigs? While these materials work, the flame is often short-lived and produces lots of ash. Instead of heading to the store for ready-made fire starters, how about crafting some yourself using stuff you probably already have at home? It's an easy project that any outdoor enthusiast worth their map and compass — or suburban fire pit owner worth their toasted marshmallows — can manage. Here's the gist: Soak some cotton balls in rubbing alcohol, stuff them into a toilet paper roll, wrap twine around the chunky bundle, and then dip it all in liquid wax.

Commercial gel or liquid fire starters contain toxic or harmful substances like menthol and hydrocarbons, and they're a swallowing risk for children and pets. Plus, they make fire-cooked food taste terrible! Poison and fire safety experts recommend only using all-natural commercial and homemade fire starter ideas to keep you warm or to cook with, though store-bought versions tends to be more expensive. 

Other benefits of taking the time to make these fire starters is that they create a long-lasting flame — one burned for 10 minutes in a test by long-time travel YouTuber and blogger Someday I'll Learn. They're virtually ash-less and waterproof too (thanks to the wax coating), making them perfect for camping packs or emergency kits. The science behind why this DIY works lies predominantly in the isopropyl, or rubbing, alcohol the cotton balls are soaked in.

Gathering everything you need to make toilet paper tube fire starters

Isopropyl alcohol comes in concentrations of 70% and 91% alcohol with water. It ignites easily at low temperatures — the higher the alcohol percentage, the faster it burns. However, it also evaporates quickly when exposed to air, losing its fire-starting attributes. That's why you dip the fire starter in wax, which has been used for centuries to form an airtight seal on everything from pottery vessels to canning jars. CVS sells bottles of 91% isopropyl alcohol for about $4. You'll probably want more than one fire starter, and you'll need a bunch of toilet paper tubes to make them, so start saving tubes from the trash or recycling bin well in advance of doing this project.

If you don't already have cotton balls in your bathroom cabinet, you can get a three-pack of Simply Soft 100% pure cotton balls (each pack contains 200 balls) for just under $11 at Walmart. Each fire starter uses just a few cotton balls, so that should last you a while! You'll also need some twine — Dollar Tree sells 256-foot rolls of Crafter's Square natural jute cord. For your wax you can use old wax melts, which can be a handy starter for bonfires, or a tiny DIY fire pit using a terra-cotta pot by themselves, but leftover wax candles melted down will also work. Or, of course, simply buy a 1-pound pack of fresh Meyer's beeswax pellets for about $25 on Amazon.

Ready to stuff those toilet paper rolls and coat them in wax?

After deciding how many fire starters you want to make, cut the toilet paper tubes in half and seal off one end by folding the edges inwards. Count out the number of cotton balls you require — two for each half-tube — and cut the twine pieces. The latter should be long enough to tie around the toilet paper tube, with some left over to hold when dipping. Next, melt the wax in a water bath (it's safer), and keep it warm so it stays liquid. Pour rubbing alcohol over the cotton balls (alternatively, if you have time, soak them overnight in the solution — just make sure the container is sealed completely to reduce evaporation). Then, stuff them inside the tubes, sealing off the open end and wrapping the twine around. 

Be forewarned that you have to act fast during this part of the process. As mentioned, rubbing alcohol evaporates extremely quickly once it's left the bottle, so don't give the solution a chance to disappear between stuffing and dipping the closed-up tube in the wax. Dip each little fire-starting bundle in and then leave them on a pre-prepared tray lined with a silicone baking sheet or baking paper. Another word of warning: Don't use these fire starters indoors or in enclosed spaces. The isopropyl alcohol that the cotton balls are soaked in releases carbon monoxide and VOCs when burned. While the amount is small, it's not worth the health risk.