How to Make a Homemade Fire Starter (The Easy Way!)

Starting campfires can be a tricky business and plain expensive if you’re using store-bought briquettes or paraffin cubes. The solution? Learn how to make your own fire-starting materials at home! In this guide, we show you how it’s done.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Brian Conghalie
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Are you tired of struggling to get your campfire going? If so, then this post is for you!

Here at My Open Country, we know that lighting a campfire can often be one of the most time-consuming and frustrating parts of camping. That’s why we’ve compiled helpful tips on how to make your own DIY kits for starting a campfire that are not only easy to ignite but far more effective than any kindling you might find around camp.

With a few basic ingredients, you can create your own long-lasting starters at home, ready to take on your next adventure. Keep reading for simple instructions and quick tricks so that next time, starting a campfire will be easier than ever before!

What You’ll Need

There are many different ways to make fire starters, but the most effective, we’ve found, involve using an egg carton, toilet paper tube, or cotton balls. For each of these methods, we’ve made a short list of all the things you’ll need.

Egg Carton Method

  • Egg carton (12- or 6-egg)
  • Dryer lint and/or wood shavings and pine cones
  • Old candles for wax
  • An empty tin can to melt your candle wax in
  • Matches 

Toilet Paper Tubes Method

  • A few cardboard TP tubes
  • Dryer lint, wood shavings, and/or shredded paper
  • Petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
  • Matches
Toilet roll method materials for a fire starter
Everything needed for a DIY toilet tube fire starter. ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

Cotton Ball Method

  • A few cotton balls (aka “cotton wool”)
  • Petroleum jelly
  • A Ziploc baggie
  • Matches
  • A few sheets of paper and cotton string (optional)

Homemade Fire Starters: Step-by-Step Instructions

Got your supplies? Great! Then let’s get down to business and get making some fires!

Method 1: Egg Carton Fire Starters With Wax and Lint

If you’re trying to start a larger campfire in a fire pit, the egg carton, lint, and wax fire starter should be your go-to method. By using a whole 12-egg cardboard egg carton with other small pieces of tinder, you’ll have more combustible material making it easier to transfer the flame to your kindling and logs.

Here’s how to go about it:

1. Prep Your Materials

Start by emptying your egg cartons, grabbing some lint from the dryer, and collecting a few pine cones or taking small shavings from a piece of dry (not wet or green) wood using a sharp camping knife. Also make sure your tin can (an old soup can will do!) is clean.

2. Add Your Lint

Now it’s time to start making your own fire starters. Take your dryer lint or shavings and place a chunk in each of the cups of your empty egg carton. You’ll need a good amount of lint/shavings for this, so try to store a little after every time you use your dryer. 

If you don’t have a dryer, you can use cotton balls or scraps of newspaper. And if you’re short on lint, line the top of what you have with shavings of dry wood or pine needles.

Egg carton filled with lint
Finally, that dryer lint becomes a handy commodity! ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

3. Melt Your Wax

Grab your leftover candles and place them in your tin can. Place this in a small pan filled with roughly 1.5 inches of water and put it on your stove at a medium heat. Keep heating until the wax is melted (usually around 30 mins). 

To speed things up, chop your candles into smaller pieces and give the pot a good stir from time to time. When your wax melts, fish out the candle wicks and put them aside for later. 

Once your wax is melted, you’ll have to work quickly so you get it on your lint before it hardens. 

Don’t want to melt wax? If so, you can top off your lint with shavings of wood or a pine cone!

Egg carton filled with lint and wood shavings beside candles
Adding wood shavings and candle wax completes your fire starter. ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

4. Add Your Melted Wax

To top off your cups, we’re going to carefully pour melted wax over the top of the lint. Before doing so, you can cut up the candle wicks you put aside in Step 3, poke one end into the lint of each cup, and leave the other end hanging out to use as a “fuse” for your starters.

When you’re pouring your hot wax, we recommend wearing gloves and laying down a dish towel to prevent burning yourself or your kitchen top.

5. Cut!

Lastly, let all the wax harden and then cut each cup from your cardboard egg cartons. If you used one carton, this will give you twelve great fire starters! 

If you’re starting a larger fire, you might want to cut the carton into 2-cup, 4-cup, or even 6-cup sections.

Done! Now you’re ready to start your next batch!

Egg carton fire starter on fire
A simple yet effective fire starter. ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

Method 2: Toilet Paper Tube Fire Starter

This method is a great way to repurpose a common household item we typically have a lot of, which might not always be the case with egg cartons. 

1. Seal

Start by sealing off (loosely) one end of your tube with a ball of scrunched-up paper, parchment, or cupcake wrappers with a little duct tape to hold them in place.

Toilet roll blocked off with scrunched up paper sitting beside lint, wood shavings, and vaseline
Seal off one end of the tube with paper. ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

2. Add Combustibles

Now, place the sealed end down on a table and add the “fillings” of your choice. To get a good flame going, you’ll want things like lint, wood shavings, cotton balls, pine needles, birch bark, or tiny pieces of twig. 

To make things even more highly flammable, you can add corks soaked in rubbing alcohol or coat your ingredients in paraffin wax, cooking oil, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Just remember that these will quickly ignite when you light your tube with your match or lighter!

If you want your fires to give off a little fragrance, you can also squeeze in some cinnamon sticks, dried flowers, essential oil, dried orange peel, or dried rosemary. 

When you’re done, seal the other end in the same way as you sealed the first end.

Toilet roll filled with lint, wood shavings, and vaseline
Fill the tube with your kindling of choice. ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

3. Add Ventilation Slots

Fires need oxygen to burn. Because TP tubes enclose your combustible materials, you need to create perforations or slots through which air can penetrate the tube and fuel the flames.

To do this, you can either poke several holes into the walls of the tube or use a sharp knife to cut four or five two-inch slots.

Slits cut into toilet roll stuffed with fire starting material
Cut slits in the tube so oxygen can enter and assist with the combustion process. ©Kieran Cunningham/My Open Country®

Method 3: Cotton Ball Campfire Starters

This is by far the simplest method of the three. And because the materials are so lightweight, these starters are the ideal choice for making outdoor fires when backcountry camping and backpacking.

As with the above methods, this one can also be tweaked to add a little aroma or to give yourself a more substantial flame. 

For basic starters, just douse each ball in a petroleum jelly like Vaseline, place them in an airtight container or Ziploc baggie, and you’re good to go! When you get to camp, place the balls under your kindling, light them with a match, and let the blaze begin!

If you need a little longer burn time from your starters, there are a few things you can do. We recommend getting a sheet of paper (newspaper or parchment works best) and dropping the balls in the middle along with other flammable materials like a few pine cones, pine needles, wood shavings, and orange peels. 

When done, tightly wrap the paper so that it resembles a large tootsie roll, and light your fire! 

These bundles will start your fire quickly and burn a lot longer than cotton balls alone. 

For more tips to help you get a healthy campfire going, check out our guides on how to make a campfire and campfire safety.

camper preparing kindling for campfire intext
Add wood shavings and cotton balls inside a rolled-up tube of paper to light your fire more effectively.

Other Fire Starters

The methods described above are the ones that we’ve had the most success (and fun!) with over the years, but there are a few others you could use if you find yourself at camp without the necessary “ingredients”.

  • Dry Grass: Camping in a pine-tree-free zone? If so, worry not – there’s bound to be a little dry grass somewhere in your vicinity. Dried grass lights up super-quick, so it’s great for tinder. The only downside is that it burns quickly, too, so you’ll need a lot of it. 
    If you’re using dry grass to start your fires, take care to ensure it doesn’t blow out of your fire pit and start a wildfire!
  • Tree Bark: If there are any dead trees in your vicinity, you can use their “pelt” to power your fire. Not all tree types have bark that works well as a fire starter, however, so you’ll have to be selective. In our experience, the best tree types for this are birch, chestnut, and poplar.
  • Dead Leaves: Just like dry grass, dead leaves will get a blaze burning quickly. They’re also easy to find and easier to collect than grass. Again, these are prone to taking flight in the slightest breeze, so keep a close eye on them when burning!
  • Moss and Lichen: If you find yourself above the treeline without any tinder, you might be in luck if there are any rocks around you with a coating of moss or lichen. It’s time-consuming work collecting enough to light your fire, but it will work if the pieces you collect are dry enough.
  • Pine Cones: These have been used since time immemorial to start fires. They are easy to light, burn for a surprisingly long time, and smell great! If you’re struggling to get your cones burning, you can always add a little Vaseline, hand sanitizer, or rubbing alcohol from your first aid kit.
Dried out twigs and pine cones used as kindling for a fire
Pine cones and needles are easy to ignite and stay lit surprisingly long!

Enjoy That Fire!

Didn’t we tell you that creating your own homemade fire starter was easy? Whether you’re camping out in the wilds, starting up a barbecue in the yard, or just looking to toast some marshmallows at an established campground, by following the above instructions, lighting your next fire will be a breeze!

Did you enjoy this article? If you did, or if you have any questions, let us know in the comments box below. And if you’d like to share with your camping friends, please do!

Last update on 2023-06-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kieran Avatar

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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