It is often possible to find old
kerosene lanterns at flea markets, antique stores, or
garage sales. Many of the old lamps and lanterns look
like they are in good condition on the outside, but
the inside will most likely need to be cleaned.
Kerosene is not a volatile fuel
such as gasoline, but it does precipitate a waxy
deposit that gums up the lanterns and wicks, and when
burned they are sooty and smelly. To restore them to
like new condition on the inside, the lanterns
or lamps must have the waxy deposits removed. The
easiest way to do that is to fill them with gasoline,
let them sit overnight, then swish around the
gasoline and pour it out. Let the lamp dry, replace
the wick, and you are in business.
The best way to clean a fount is
to boil for a couple of hours in hot water, detergent
and a brush, and this will often do the trick. In
fact, if you have a stuck burner or other part, the
boiling will soften the residue in threads and enable
the lamp to be taken apart. Most wax varieties
melt at approximately 150 F. Hot water from a
tea kettle is about 215 F. Drain any kerosene from
the lamp, fill with boiling water and detergent, let
it sit for a few minutes, then pour it out on a
gravel driveway if possible - anyplace but a sink,
where the wax can harden and clog the plumbing.
It takes 4 or 5 treatments with boiling water to get
most of waxy deposits removed, and a final
boiling water bath and cleaning with a long, thin
brush will often remove any remaining wax.
With Dietz style railroad
lanterns, cleaning gets more tricky. The side
supports on these lanterns were designed for a
purpose: they move heated air from the top of the
burner unit down to the tank, so the oxygen being
burned is heated, making the lantern more efficient.
But that means the hollow side supports can become
clogged with both waxy deposits from kerosene and
soot and spider webs at the top.
To properly clean a "railroad
style" or Dietz lantern, remove the globe, pour out
any old fuel, fill it half way with gasoline or paint
thinner (Be careful: both are highly combustible!),
then hang on to one side support like a handle and
swish the cleaning fluid around in the tank and
through the hollow side support/air chamber. Reverse
handles and do it again. Pour out the fuel and look
at it. You will probably see that it is an awful
cloudy white or yellow color. Repeat the cleaning
procedure, sometimes 3 or 4 times, until the cleaning
fluid comes out clear.
Remove the wick, leave the cap off
the fuel tank, and let the lantern air dry for at
least a day. Then clean the entire body of the
lantern, replace the wick and globe, and the lantern
should work like new. If you need to use the
old wick, lay it on a board and pour boiling water
over it a dozen times, let it dry thoroughly, and it
should work until you can obtain a new wick.
Sometimes the wicks have to be soaked in 90% alcohol
to remove any residual water. Note: this is for
cotton kerosene lamp wicks only - not
kerosene heater wicks!