Starting a fire is not always easy. When you're down to your final match, or trying to conserve the juice left in your Bic lighter, you can't afford failure. This is when you need to use an accelerant, to make sure the tinder ignites and burns long enough and hot enough to ignite the kindling.
There are accelerants in nature, such as pitchwood or fresh evergreen sap. But depending on your situation, those might not be available. In urban survival situations, you probably have several accelerants to choose from in your medicine cabinet, pantry, or first aid kit.
Here is an alphabetical list of excellent accelerants that I have personally tested. These items are normally disguised as common household products, but if you apply a small amount to a cotton ball or to a bit of wadded toilet paper or paper towel, you’ll have a powerful fire booster.
- Alcohol swab — Quickly takes a spark and turns it into an inferno. Only the alcohol burns, leaving the swab material untouched. This can be ignited from a spark without using any paper as a base.
- Carmex — A small amount smeared on paper ignites easily and turns the paper into a long-burning candle.
- Chapstick — This product, when applied to a piece of paper, extends the combustion time of the paper by a factor of about five. This is important because it multiplies the power of the flame to ignite tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.
- Deodorant — Smear deodorant on a patch of paper, and it will burn much longer than the untreated paper alone would.
- Hair oil — A few drops of hair oil on paper will burn like a wick dipped in lamp oil, consuming the oil rather than the wick, keeping the fire alive for an extended period of time.
- Hand sanitizer — If you have hand sanitizer that contains alcohol, it's almost as good as napalm. This stuff will burst into flame directly from a spark, and doesn’t even need a paper base for it to start burning.
- Insect repellant — A bit of liquid insect repellant on paper makes a very volatile accelerant that bursts into flame quickly after striking a spark on the paper base.
- Neosporin — Not all accelerants burst into flame quickly. Some act as a combustion extender. Neosporin is one of these. It takes a bit of effort to ignite, but when it does it burns steadily to sustain the flame for a long time.
- Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) – This is one of my favorites. It is cheap, easy to obtain, and is an excellent accelerant that burns long and hot.
- Snack chips — Here's a surprise for some people, and it might make you think twice about eating these things. I’ve used potato chips, Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, and white-label varieties of all of these. They all burn like an oil field on fire. The trick is to prop them up vertically over the toilet paper, strike your spark into the paper, and as the flame rises the chips will turn into a torch.
- Zinc oxide (the white stuff surfers put on their nose to prevent sunburn). This material burns slowly and steadily, extending the combustion period of the paper it is smeared on.