AskDefine | Define kerosene

Dictionary Definition

kerosene n : a flammable hydrocarbon oil used as fuel in lamps and heaters [syn: kerosine, lamp oil, coal oil]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. A petroleum based thin and colorless fuel oil, (paraffin in British English.)
    The kerosene lasted us all winter, so the furnace kept us always warm.


fuel oil
  • Czech: petrolej
  • Dutch: kerosine or
  • Finnish: kerosiini
  • French: kérosène
  • German: Petroleum , for airplanes: Kerosin
  • Italian: cherosene
  • Polish: nafta
  • Spanish: queroseno
  • Portuguese: querosene

Extensive Definition

Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, is a flammable hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek "keros" (κηρός wax).
It is commonly called paraffin (sometimes paraffin oil) in the UK and South Africa (not to be confused with the waxy solid also called paraffin wax or just paraffin, or the much more viscous paraffin oil used as a laxative); the term kerosene is usual in much of Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.
Kerosene is widely used to power jet-engined aircraft, but is also commonly used as a heating fuel. The heat of combustion of Kerosene is similar to that of diesel: Its Lower Heating Value is around 18,500 Btu/lb, or 43.1 MJ/kg, and its Higher Heating Value is 46.2MJ/kg.


Kerosene is a thin, clear liquid formed from hydrocarbons, with density of 0.78-0.81g/cm3. Kerosene is obtained from the fractional distillation of petroleum between 150 °C and 275 °C, resulting in a mixture of carbon chains containing 12 to 15 carbon atoms.
Kerosene was first described by al-Razi (Rhazes) as a distillation of petroleum in 9th-century Baghdad. In his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets), he described two methods for the production of kerosene. One method involved using clay as an absorbent, whereas the other method involved using ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac). In 1846, Kerosene was refined from a naturally-occurring asphaltum called Albertite by Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner, founding the modern petroleum industry in the process. Gesner went on to establish his Kerosene Gaslight Company to market kerosene around the world in 1850. Scottish chemist James Young built the first truly commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851, using oil extracted from locally-mined Torbanite, shale, and bituminous coal. Polish chemist Ignacy Łukasiewicz discovered the means of refining kerosene from the less expensive seep oil in 1856. The widespread availability of cheaper kerosene was the principal factor in the precipitous decline in the whaling industry in the mid- to late-19th century, as the leading product of whaling was oil for lamps.


As a fuel

Heating and Lighting

At one time the fuel was widely used in kerosene lamps and lanterns. While replacing whale oil, it was considered as 'explosive as gunpowder' in 1880, 39% of NYC fires were caused by defective kerosene lamps. These were superseded by the electric light bulb and flashlights powered by dry cell batteries.
Its use as a cooking fuel is mostly restricted to some portable stoves for backpackers and to less developed countries, where it is usually less refined and contains impurities and even debris.
As a heating fuel, it is often used in portable stoves, and is sold in some filling stations. It is sometimes used as a heat source during power failures. The use of portable kerosene heaters is not recommended for closed indoor areas without a chimney due to the danger of build-up of carbon monoxide gas.
Kerosene is widely used in Japan as a home heating fuel for portable and installed kerosene heaters. In Japan, kerosene can be readily bought at any filling station or be delivered to homes.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland kerosene is often used as both a cooking and heating fuel in areas where there is a limited gas supply.
The Amish, who limit use of electric appliances for religious reasons, rely on kerosene for lighting and often purchase kerosene-powered versions of appliances such as refrigerators.
More ubiquitous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, kerosene space heaters were often built into kitchen ranges and kept many farm and fishing families warm and dry through the winter. At one time citrus growers used smudge pots fueled by kerosene to create a pall of thick smoke over a grove in an effort to prevent freezing temperatures from damaging crops. "Salamanders" are kerosene space heaters used on construction sites to dry out building materials and to warm workers. Before the days of blinking electrically lighted road barriers, highway construction zones were marked at night by kerosene fired pot-bellied torches. Most of these uses of kerosene created thick black smoke because of the low temperature of combustion.
A notable exception, discovered in the early 19th century, is the use of a mantle above the wick on a kerosene lamp. Looking like a delicate woven bag above the woven cotton wick, the mantle was a residue of mineral material (thorium dioxide) which glowed white hot as it burned the volatile gases emanating from the blue flame at the base of the wick. These types of lamps are still in use today in areas of the world without electricity.


Today kerosene is mainly used in fuel for jet engines (more technically Avtur, Jet A, Jet A-1, Jet B, JP-4, JP-5, JP-7 or JP-8). One form of the fuel known as RP-1 is burned with liquid oxygen as rocket fuel. These fuel grade kerosenes meet specifications for smoke points and freeze points.
In the mid-20th century, kerosene or "TVO" (Tractor Vaporising Oil) was used as a cheap fuel for tractors. The engine would start on gasoline, then switch over to kerosene once the engine warmed up. A "heat valve" on the manifold would route the exhaust gases around the intake pipe, heating the kerosene to the point where it can be ignited by an electrical spark.
Kerosene is sometimes used as an additive in diesel fuel to prevent gelling or waxing in cold temperatures.


In countries such as India and Japan, kerosene is the main fuel used for cooking, especially by the poor. Kerosene stoves have replaced the traditional wood-based cooking appliances that are unhealthy and inefficient. The price of kerosene can be a major political issue; the Indian government subsidizes the fuel to keep the price very low (around 15 cents/liter as of Feb.2007).

Cultural/Performance Art

Kerosene is also used for fire performances such as poi and staff because of its low flame temperature when burnt in free air, making the fire low risk, should the performer come in contact with the flame.
Kerosene is often used in the entertainment industry, as a fuel for fire dancing. Kerosene is not usually used as a fuel for indoor fire-dancing as it produces an unpleasant odour which becomes, in sufficient concentration, poisonous. In general such use of fire indoors is not common. Methanol is often used instead, but it can be a more dangerous fuel because of its lower flash point, and it also produces less "impressive" flames.


Kerosene has been used to treat pools of standing water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, notably in the yellow fever outbreak of 1905 in New Orleans. It can also be used to remove lice from hair, but this practice is painful and potentially very dangerous. Also, this would wash out all natural oil and fats from the hair and scalp.
Since kerosene is chemically stable, it is used to store substances with redox tendencies within to prevent unwanted reactions, such as alkali metals. Kerosene is also used in the packaging and storage of white phosphorus to prevent immediate combustion on contact with oxygen.
Kerosene can be used to store crystals. When a water-soluble crystal is left in air, dehydration may occur slowly. This makes the colour of the crystal become dull. Kerosene can prevent the crystal contacting air.
It is used as a solvent and in conjunction with cutting oil as a thread cutting and reaming lubricant. When machining aluminium and its alloys, kerosene on its own is an excellent cutting lubricant.
kerosene in Min Nan: Chhàu-iû
kerosene in Catalan: Querosè
kerosene in Czech: Petrolej
kerosene in Danish: Petroleum
kerosene in German: Kerosin
kerosene in Spanish: Queroseno
kerosene in Esperanto: Keroseno
kerosene in French: Kérosène
kerosene in Croatian: Kerozin
kerosene in Indonesian: Minyak tanah
kerosene in Italian: Cherosene
kerosene in Hebrew: קרוסן
kerosene in Latin: Petroleum
kerosene in Dutch: Kerosine
kerosene in Japanese: ケロシン
kerosene in Norwegian: Parafin
kerosene in Norwegian Nynorsk: Parafin
kerosene in Polish: Nafta
kerosene in Portuguese: Querosene
kerosene in Russian: Керосин
kerosene in Simple English: Kerosene
kerosene in Slovak: Petrolej
kerosene in Finnish: Petroli
kerosene in Swedish: Fotogen
kerosene in Tamil: மண்ணெய்
kerosene in Vietnamese: Dầu hỏa
kerosene in Turkish: Gazyağı
kerosene in Chinese: 煤油
kerosene in Contenese: 火水

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

alcohol, avgas, benzine, briquette, burnable, butane, carbon, charcoal, coal, coal oil, coke, combustible, crude, crude oil, dope, electricity, ethane, ethanol, ethyl, ethyl gas, fireball, firing, flammable, flammable material, fossil oil, fuel, fuel additive, fuel dope, gas, gas carbon, gasoline, heptane, hexane, high-octane gas, high-test, illuminant, illuminating gas, inflammable, inflammable material, isooctane, jet fuel, lead-free gas, light source, low-lead gas, luminant, methane, methanol, motor oil, natural gas, octane, oil, paraffin, peat, pentane, petrol, petroleum, premium gas, propane, propellant, regular, rock oil, rocket fuel, turf
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