Let there be light MacGyver-style: How to create survival lights from everyday objects?

Knowing how to make light in a pinch is a key skill for any survivalist or really just anyone who doesn’t want to get caught unprepared in a crisis. So, whether you like hiking and need some survival tips, whether you want to know how to deal with a prolonged power outage at home, or you’re just looking for a fun DIY project to entertain the kids at home – here’s how to create survival lights from everyday objects.

When talking about “survival lights” we’ll usually either talk about modern survival lighting such as solar lanterns and lights that work on batteries or go old-school and talk about the many different ways to make candles. That’s because electricity is usually the first thing we loose when we’re in a tough situation.

Any good candle is made of two main ingredients – wax and a wick. So, the trick here is to find suitable tools for making both wax and wicks using everyday items found at home or in your camping gear.

What can you use for candle wicks?

There are lots of different things you can use for a wick as the purpose of a candle’s wick is to burn.

Any piece of cotton twine can make for a good wick. Heavy cotton Butcher’s twine is one of the best choices but you can also cut a strip out of an old cotton shirt or you can get a twine out of a mop.

Another thing to use is a balsa wood stick. You can get those from most craft stores or, if you’re camping, you can look for similar sticks in the woods. All you need to do after that is trim the stick with a pair of scissors to a length of your choice and soak it in olive oil.

Pro tip: If you dissolve 1 tbsp salt and 3 tbsp Borax in 1 cup (250ml) of boiled water and then soak your cotton (not wooded!) wick in it for a while, it will then burn brighter and longer when you light the candle.

Soaking it for up to 24 hours will have increasingly better results but even just 30-60 minutes will be helpful. Allow the cotton twine to dry off completely after that.

Pro tip 2: Freezing your cotton wick for up to 24 hours can also prolong its lifespan.

What can you use for the candle itself and the candle wax?

Cheese wax

This is one of those products that we usually get annoyed by as it seems like it just makes eating cheese harder. However, in addition to preserving cheese fresh for longer, cheese wax can also help you make candles as it’s just, well – wax.

Just cut as much of the stuff as you can, roll it around a string of wick, and light it up as you would a normal candle.


Your children’s crayons are great substitutes for candles as they are essentially ready-to-burn candles themselves. Crayons are made out of wax and are covered in paper which can act as a wick even though it’s on the outside of the “candle”.

Just cut off the tip of the crayon and light it up – it will burn for up to 30 minutes.

Alternatively, you can take 3 crayons, wrap them together in foil with a piece of wick string between them, and light that up.

Cooking oil

Any type of fresh or used cooking oil can act as an emergency candle as well. Just pour it in a suitable glass container such as a jar, puncture a hole in the jar’s cap, put the cap on, and pass a wick through the hole into the oil.

A can of tuna

Tuna, sardines, or any other canned fish can work as long as it’s soaked in olive oil or something similar (not tomato sauce!). All you need to do is puncture a hole in the top of the can and put some wick through it. This “candle” can smell a bit like fish but hey – that’s the price a survivor has to pay sometimes.

And as a bonus – you’ll still be able to eat the fish after that as well as refill the can with oil and light it up again.

Shoe polish

Shoe polish is another household item you can easily use for a candle as it’s mostly made out of oil and beeswax. As with most of the methods above – just puncture a hole on top of the shoe polish’s can, put a wick through it, and light it up.

Do check out all the ingredients of your particular shoe polish before you start, though, there are thousands of different types out there. Still, those we know of are perfectly harmless.


All you need here is to stick a wick string in a rectangular piece of butter and light it up – that’s it!

An orange

Yes, the fruit. Oranges won’t make for the most effective candles but they can work for a while plus they are fun to play with. You’ll need to carefully cut out one half of an orange’s peel with the center pith intact. This video from Lab 360 offers a nice video guide.

After you’ve cut the peel properly, just pour some oil over the orange’s pith and light it up.

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Lip balm tins

Lip balm tins work just like shoe polish – puncture a hole in them, stick a wick string inside, and light it up!

Bacon grease

If you’ve been storing a jar of bacon grease or if you just have some bacon in your fridge with lots of fat on it, you can use that instead of wax. Just put whatever bacon grease you have in a jar, put a cap on it, stick a cotton string through a hole in the cap, and that’s it.

A can of Crisco

Do you have a large can of Crisco in your home? That can work as a candle for a very long time! As with any of the methods above, just stick a nice cotton wick through a hole in the can’s cap and light it up. If you’ve soaked the wick on salt or frozen it for a while it will further prolong the effectiveness of this huge DIY candle.

A headlight and a plastic jug of water

And lastly, for a non-candle solution, a camper’s headlight gear can also be quite helpful in a crisis. It’s usually too bright and its light is too focused for effective candle-like light, however, there’s a way around that.

If you tape a turned-on headlight to a plastic jug full of water, the water can divert and diffuse the light and turn the whole thing into a nice “lamp”.

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