Your one-stop lighter review shop—review from decades of testing, experience, and experimentation.
If I led an affluent life, I would be reviewing the finest lighters that have ever existed, including the Dunhills, Cartiers and S.T. Duponts of this world. However, I do not lead such a life, so the only lighters I will be reviewing are the cheapest and most widely used. I will review lighters of different types, including butane, petrol, electric arc/coil, torch/turbo and flame lighters.
I also include some words of advice for anyone with OCD, physical disabilities and the perfectionists who are extremely fussy or particular about their lighters. This article will discuss the following:
- Top 10 Lighter Reviews
- What Is the Best Lighter?
- Things to Consider Before Buying a Lighter
- Final Tips
I've been planning to write this article for some time. It was a television crime documentary that finally persuaded me to do so. In it, an investigator was searching for these tiny particles. He said, "every time you strike a flint lighter, thousands of tiny (flint) particles are released into the air". It was that evidence which helped convict a killer, and the final piece of information I needed to write this. I had all the other evidence, reviews and answers I needed. (Find more information about the "flint particles" in review #2, Clipper.)
Zippo was invented by the American inventor George G. Blaisdell in 1932. Zippo is one of the most famous lighters in the world. The Zippo lighter's 'click' is protected by a sound trademark. Its durable design made it a favourite choice among soldiers, particularly in the second world war. Zippo lighters are sold in more than 160 countries around the world.
A Zippo is more cool to light than your regular lighters and less likely to go out during film scenes. Zippo lighters have appeared in over 2,000 films, as seen in the film Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle when Drew Barrymore threw a lighted Clipper onto a petrol soaked floor to repel the bad guy. Later in the film, Barrymore was hanging on the edge of a building by her fingertips and the bad guy used the Zippo to burn her hands. And In the 2009 supernatural film Hellboy, Hellboy was just about to light a cigar with his petrol lighter until he was stopped and told, "You don't want to ruin the taste". He then used matches to light the cigar.
- Lighter fluid
- It works well in the wind.
- Due to its large wheel, it can be easily used with thick gloves on.
- You can buy replacement wicks, flints, tinder sticks, wadding and felt pads/packs.
- It has a lifetime guarantee; Zippo guarantees their lighters will continue working for 50 years.
- A Zippo can be lighted by using many different cool techniques.
- There's no need to hold onto it while it's alight, as it can stand up on its own.
- Zippos are not waterproof.
- Because the lid does close air-tight to the case, fuel can evaporate quite quickly. Not ideal for survival purposes or camping!
- If dropped while alight, it has the potential to set anything flammable on fire.
- If left alight for too long, the flame will get bigger, causing the casing to get so hot that it will evaporate more fuel, causing it to catch fire.
- The "wheel" gets very hot when left alight for too long.
- They stink of petrol.
Zippo Hacks, Tips and Tricks
- When buying, make sure the lighter closes flush and firm.
- Keep it in a cool place to ensure it has less chance of evaporating.
- To refill in emergencies (at your own risk) you can use alcohol, lantern fuel, gasoline or diesel.
- To make the flame green, mix boric acid with alcohol to produce a chemical called triethyl borate (at your own risk).
- To minimise any evaporation, wrap a piece of sticky tape around the seal.
The Clipper was the first refillable lighter in the world. It was designed in 1971 by the architect Enric Sarda. In 2016, they launched their own filters and smoking papers. The clipper was one of the most popular lighters before the introduction of the common disposable lighter varieties we now have. Their new hexagon-shaped wheel makes them easier to strike. Clipper also sells "torch" and regular flame "electronic" lighters. "Clipper" is also the word for a merchant sailing ship.
- The Clipper is one of the most durable plastic lighters on the market.
- The pull-out flint holder is great for helping to push down the contents of hand-rolled smokes!
- Replacement flint holder and wheels can be purchased online.
- They come in different shapes and sizes—even Clipper utility lighters.
- Every time you spin the wheel of a clipper, it releases thousands of tiny flint particles. So if someone has a dodgy lighter which takes three spins before it lights, that's 3300 plus particles floating around. Not ideal if you're laying down with particles being breathed in and landing on your skin and eyes! I doubt anyone has scientifically tested the health implications of this. For those reasons, I've stopped using any flint-and-wheel style lighters.
- All lighters with a wheel get very hot when left alight for too long.
- It doesn't take long before the wheel gets clogged up with flint debris, sweat, and oils from the skin. This will cause the wheel to eventually stop the lighter from working effectively.
- Flint and wheel lighters are not ideal for people with sweaty hands. Or anyone who regularly uses hand creams. Round lighters are easier to roll—easier to roll means easier they are to lose.
Clipper Tips and Hacks
- When the flint is not working well, turn it upside down so the flattened part of the flint will work like new again. Also, stretch the bottom end of the spring to make it more effective. Or add another flint if there's room. Two's better than one.
- The metal removable top is ideal to push down the manly cuticles of your fingernails. The metal top can be made larger or smaller depending on finger size.
- It was hard to see how much fuel I had left in some Clippers, so I would weigh it. It weighed 12.1 grams when empty and 17.1 when full, holding approximately 5 grams of fuel. Always good to know.
- You can cut a flint in half with a pair of scissors if you ever needed to.
- Don't let anyone use your flint-wheel lighter. Always light their smoke if they need a light. This prevents the wheel from being clogged up by residue from sweaty or greasy hands.
- Never point someone else's lighter directly towards your face when first lighting it, especially after seeing how easy it is to make a powerful flame thrower out of a Clipper.
The most famous disposable lighter is the BIC brand, which was founded in 1945 by Baron Marcel Bich. The company was named after the BIC Crystal ballpoint pen. They are based in France and are well-known for making consumer products including lighters, pens, surfboards, razors and printed paper products.
- Butane gas
- The BIC is a good quality disposable lighter and slightly more expensive than the standard makes and models.
- They come in small and larger sizes for personal preference.
- Each holds up to 3,000 lights.
- BIC also sells utility lighters.
- It's disposable.
- The "wheel" gets very hot when left alight for too long.
BIC Tips and Hacks
- The flint cannot be replaced unless you hack it.
- The flame can only be increased if you hack it.
- The lighter can only be refilled if you hack it.
4. Refillable & Disposable Flint/Butane
Butane was discovered by the chemist Edward Frankland in 1849. In 1950, that butane replaced a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture called naphtha, a mixture that was used in early cloth wick lighters. Butane, because it was less smelly and the flame more controllable became the ideal fuel source used for all the lightweight and disposable lighters throughout the world.
- Butane gas
- They are the cheapest on the market.
- There are refillable and disposable varieties.
- No need to buy flints, fuel or charge it.
- The cheaper they are, the thinner and less durable they'll be.
- The distance between the flint wheel and gas release button are too close together. This can cause the wheel to get hot quicker, and when kept alight for too long, it will burn the thumb.
- The easy -o-press gas release button is prone to being accidentally pressed when they're in a tight pocket and especially when sitting down, and it will leak gas. Not dangerous, just annoying to have an empty lighter when you need one.
- The wheel gets very hot when left alight for too long.
Tips and Hacks
- When the lighter runs out of fuel, remove the metal top attachment (if possible). Then slide the slider to high-flame, and you'll be able to carry on using it.
- To increase the flame if you want it higher than the maximum, use a small knife to cut some more space for the slider to be able to move further. Some lighters will be made of metal, which is not as easy to cut.
- When your disposable lighter has run out of fuel, remove and keep the flint.
5. Refillable & Disposable (Electronic Spark) Lighter
The electronic spark device is the only difference to the original flint-based lighter. The technical name is a piezo ignition electric igniter which uses the principle of piezoelectricity (the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials).
- Electronic Spark
- It's childproof.
- The butane (childproof) push button is so hard to press that it's less likely to accidentally leak inside pockets, especially when sitting down.
- Some lighters have a built-in torch, which can be very handy.
- All non-wheel and flint lighters are easy to light, even with wet, oily and sweaty hands.
- It works with the wettest or sweatiest hands.
- A built-in torch means less room for the butane, which makes the lighter run out quicker.
- The push button's pressure requires some effort to light.
- I don't like the loud clicking sound they make, especially when I'm on the phone, or in the early hours of the morning with thin walls. Other times I want to have a sneaky smoke without advertising it with every loud click.
- When it's run out of fuel, there's no chance of using the "electronic" part to try and make fire. Having a flint, along with tinder, kindling and wood will help make fire than an electronic lighter without fuel.
- The electronic part of these lighters tends to fail. Sometimes you can see the spark working, but the lighter just won't work. I think this is because of two things. Firstly, poor quality fittings which have not been perfectly aligned or stable enough when it was made, and secondly, the small wire could have moved slightly out of place after being dropped too many times. Maybe the direct sunlight caused the wire to slightly warp! I don't really know.
- The metallic top gets very hot when left alight for too long.
Electronic Spark Lighter Tips
- Take the lighter apart and use the electronic device that makes the click sound and to give people very small electric shocks.
6. Butane Electronic Torch/Turbo Lighter
It was inevitable that someone would turn an everyday lighter into a flame-thrower!
- It will light in the windiest weather and stay alight.
- Ideal for lighting fires and cigars quickly and easily.
- It runs out of fuel quicker.
Tips and Hacks
- The flame is ideal to caramelise a crème brûlée in a timely manner.
7. Electric Coil Rechargeable Lighter
This lighter looks and feels so cool and is very quiet to use. It works by heating a small red hot coil to light up your smokes.
- Electricity Via USB charge.
- It's slim and stylish.
- A slight touch of the finger on the LED sensor screen will light the coil with no sound. It's ideal to use if you have thin walls/ceilings/neighbours!
- Fuel-free USB-charged lighters are economically and environmentally friendly.
- It's ideal for lighting cigarettes and candles.
- It won't light your pipe or thick cigars very easily.
- It does not work well in severe windy weather. You only have to gently blow it to see how non-windproof it really is. The solution is to cup your hands to protect the lighted coil from the wind.
- Even when fully charged, it does not last for long.
- It will light cigarettes okay, but re-lighting a hand-rolled smoke with ash on the end can be messy, especially when wearing a white suit or shirt! Unless you use an ashtray to remove the ash before lighting again.
- It does not stand up!
- Ideally, a larger battery would make it last longer.
- I purchased two and they were both faulty.
8. Electric Arc/Plasma Lighter
A self-charging electric lighter. It ignites two purple plasma ‘laser’ beams to light a cigarette. Depending on your age, you might perceive it emitting a high-pitched sound.
- It comes in cool, sturdy and quality designs.
- No fuel is required; it has a USB rechargeable battery.
- It's stormproof and waterproof.
- It will light cigars and pipes.
- There are no flints in it. It uses electrodes, which don't need to be replaced.
- How long it takes to charge and the number of uses per charge will depend on the make and model.
- If it's dropped in water or gets wet, it could short circuit and break.
- Some emit a high-pitched sound, and how silent or severe the sound is depends on your age!
9. Tesla Electric Arc/Plasma Lighter
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer who is best known for his contributions to the design of the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Elon Musk named the car company Tesla after the inventor. The self-charging Tesla electric lighter was designed by the inventor Mark Pauling. It was funded by the platform Kickstarter. This lighter works on the principle of an electric arc which uses a combination of electromagnetic induction and an electric arc to produces electricity.
- No need for flint or fuel
- A single shake generates a few seconds of a stable arc of electricity.
- It's heavy and stylish.
- It's windproof.
- Ideal for lighting cigarettes, candles and fires.
- Not the easiest lighter to light things with.
- If dropped in water or gets wet, it could short circuit and break.
- The heavier and more expensive lighters are, the more likely they are to being damaged when dropped too hard and/or too often.
- To save energy, don't hold the button for longer than needed.
10. Hob/Cooker Butane & Electric/Spark Type Lighters
This lighter was seen at the end of the film, 'Castaway', when Tom Hanks was finally back home after being rescued. He picks up this 'cooker' lighter, lights it twice, each time with a wry smile on his face, knowing how useful and priceless such a mundane object would have been while trying to survive on the island.
- They come in two versions. One is an electronic lighter with flame (butane). The other emits an electronic spark to ignite the gas of a cooker.
- Very useful to light ovens that don't have a built-in electric spark.
- As it's larger, it's easier to find, and there's less chance of losing it or of anyone accidentally pocketing it!
- Great for lighting out-of-reach things like lamps, tea lights and candles.
- Just because it's larger, don't expect the gas container inside to have a larger capacity.
Tips and Hacks
- Not just for cookers, this style of lighter (the butane type) is Ideal for those with dexterity or disability problems who have difficulty with holding and using a regular lighter.
What Is the Best Lighter?
We all have different needs and reasons as to which lighter would be appropriate. Perhaps it's the safety of a lighter. The durability, the price, the style or how economical a lighter is to use over a year are all important.
My perfect lighter would be a touch sensor (or silent click) with a flame (not torch-flame) Unfortunately, this lighter does not exist.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Lighter
Before buying a lighter, ask the seller if you can test them before buying. If they decline, go somewhere else to buy and test.
I look for the type of lighter I want. It has to be refillable & electronic. Then the design: I like lighters that are thin, slim and rectangular. Rectangular lighters, as opposed to round, are more stable and less likely to roll and go missing.
What's printed or engraved on it? It's up to your own tastes. What size is it? Smaller lighters are easier to conceal, but smaller ones will hold less gas and run out of fuel quicker.
- Check the flame height; some lighters' "low" flame is quite high. I prefer a lighter that has the lowest flame on its lowest setting. A low flame is safer, economical and environmentally friendlier, and lasts longer.
- When testing the flame, turn the lighter upside-down and check that the flame does not automatically get bigger. Not great when laying down to light a smoke!
- It has to stand up—that's just my preference.
- It has to strike five times consecutively. If it fails, try another.
Lighters for Extreme Survival Purposes
The best lighter specifications would include being tough, storm proof and refillable; waterproof and wind-proof; able to be sealed shut with a locking clasp and to float in water. Actually, you can buy this type of lighter (which could break). To replicate those specifications, a plastic bag, ingenuity, and any of the above lighters will practically replicate the survival lighter's features. You can even light a fire with a pair of prescription spectacles or magnifying glass and dry kindling (sun permitting). If I was going hunting or camping, I would take electronic and flint. And also gas, butane, boxes of matches and a magnifying glass. Just to be on the safe side.
If you're fed up of friends or colleagues stealing or mistaking your lighter for theirs, simply scratch your initials on your lighters using something pointy and sharp. To mark a Clipper, remove the silver top and use that hidden space to conceal your initial or colour-in with a marker. For other lighters, marking your initials, or a number of small dots on the lower back of the lighter works well. Take a photo of it, especially if it has distinguishable marks or scratches on it!
Lighters for Concert-goers
if you like to wave a lighter in the air without the risk of a burning flame, instead of downloading a "virtual flickering flame/candle" app on your mobile phone, simply video-record any flame you like for 30 seconds, then play it back on a loop!
© 2019 Tony Sky
Share YOUR lighter tips!
Sara :) on December 15, 2019:
What's the difference between a hippo and a zippo?
One is really heavy.
And the other is a little lighter
Tony Sky (author) from London UK on December 15, 2019:
I have looked into it but I don't see any with a touch sensor (or silent click) with a flame (not torch-flame) unless you can direct me to where I can would be fantastic.
Scott on December 14, 2019:
"My perfect lighter would be a touch sensor (or silent click) with a flame (not torch-flame) Unfortunately, this lighter does not exist."
Look into Colibri. I believe that they do.
Angel's 3434 on December 08, 2019:
I vape but ALWAYS carry my Zippo because you'll never know when you need fire!
Charlie1212 on September 28, 2019:
I vape, so lighters are no longer a nessisicity!
Just saying on July 29, 2019:
Many moons ago, while sitting watching televison, my older bully brother sneeked-up behine me and started to choke me (for fun) with his arm around my neck. I immedielty used my lighter to burn his arm which made him immedielty release his grip! IF, IF this was a real situation, the lighter could have saved my life!
Sweet P. on July 05, 2019:
DO NOT LET ANYONE WITH SWEATY HANDS USE YOUR CLIPPER!!!
Tony Sky (author) from London UK on July 05, 2019:
Zippo lighters are definitely the coolest. However, not ideal in any shape-or-form for me!
William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on July 04, 2019:
I gave up smoking many years ago, but when I smoked I loved the old Zippo lighters.