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What is Kerosene?

Kerosene, or spelled kerosine is also called paraffin oil or paraffin or kerosene oil, is a flammable hydrocarbon liquid used commonly as a fuel. Typically, Kerosene looks pale yellow or colorless and exhibits a not-unpleasant characteristic odor. It is obtained from petroleum and can be used for burning in kerosene lamps and furnaces or domestic heaters, as a fuel component or fuel for jet engines, and as a solvent for insecticides and greases.

About Kerosene Oil

It was discovered in the late 1840s by a Canadian physician named Abraham Gesner. Initially, Kerosene was manufactured from shale oils and coal tar. However, in 1859, following the first oil well drilling in Pennsylvania by E.L. Drake, petroleum quickly became the primary source of Kerosene. Due to its use in lamps, Kerosene was considered as the major refinery product for many decades until the advent of the electric lamp reduced its lighting value. And, the production further declined as the rise of the automobile established gasoline as an essential petroleum product. Nevertheless, in several parts of the world, still, Kerosene is a common cooking fuel and heating fuel for lamps. Standard commercial jet fuel is importantly high-quality straight-run kerosene, and several military jet fuels are blends based on the kerosene chemical.

Properties of Kerosene

Chemically, Kerosene is a mixture of hydrocarbons. The chemical composition completely depends upon its source, however, it usually consists of about 10 different hydrocarbons, each containing ranging from 10 to 16 carbon atoms per molecule. The saturated straight-chain and branched-chain paraffin and ring-shaped cycloparaffin are the main components (which is also known as naphthenes). Kerosene is less volatile than gasoline. Its flash point (the temperature, where it generates a flammable vapor near to its surface) is 38 °C or higher, whereas that of gasoline is as low as −40 °C. This property makes Kerosene a relatively safe fuel to store and handle.

Kerosene oil is known to be one of the so-called middle distillates of crude oil along with diesel fuel, with a boiling point between around 150 and 300 °C. It can be formed as "straight-run kerosene," which is physically separated from the other crude oil fractions by distillation, or it can be formed as "cracked kerosene," by cracking, or chemically decomposing the heavier oil portions at elevated temperatures.

Illuminating Oil From Coal and Oil Shale

Although "coal oil" was well known by industrial chemists at least as early as the 1700s as a byproduct of making coal tar and coal gas, it burned with a smoky flame that can prevent its use for indoor illumination. In cities, most of the indoor illumination was provided by piped-in coal gas. Whereas, for spotlighting within the cities and outside the cities, the lucrative market for fueling indoor lamps was supplied by whale oil, particularly that from sperm whales, which burned cleaner and brighter.

Kerosene From Petroleum

Samuel Martin Kier began selling lamp oil in 1851 to local miners, in the name of "Carbon Oil". He distilled this using a process on his own invention from the crude oil. He also invented a new lamp that helps to burn his product. He has been dubbed the American Oil Industry's Grandfather by historians. The salt of Kier wells was becoming fouled with petroleum since the 1840s. At first, Kier just dumped the useless oil into the nearby Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, but later, he began experimenting with multiple crude oil distillates, along with a chemist from eastern Pennsylvania.

Applications of Kerosene

As Fuel

Heating and Lighting

The fuel, which is also called heating oil in Ireland and the UK, remains widely used in lanterns and kerosene lamps in the developing world. Although it replaced the whale oil, the Elements of Chemistry edition in 1873 said, "The vapor of kerosene substance mixed with air is explosive, the same as gunpowder." This may have been because of the widespread method of adulterating Kerosene with hydrocarbon mixtures, such as naphtha, that are cheaper but more volatile. In 1880, Kerosene was a significant fire risk, where nearly two of every five New York City fires were caused by defective kerosene lamps.


In countries such as Nigeria and India, Kerosene is the essential fuel used for cooking, especially by the poor. Also, Kerosene stoves have replaced the appliances of traditional wood-based cooking. As such, an increase in kerosene prices can have a primary environmental and political consequence. Also, the Indian government subsidizes the fuel to keep the price low, to around 15 US cents per liter as per 2007, February, as lower price discourages the dismantling of forests for cooking fuel. In Nigeria, an attempt made by the government to remove a fuel subsidy, including Kerosene, met with strong opposition.


Kerosene or tractor vaporizing oil (TVO) was used in the early to mid-20th century as a cheap fuel for tractors and hit 'n miss engines. These engines would start on gasoline; then, it switches over to Kerosene once the engine warmed up. On a few generators, by heating kerosene to its vaporized point, a heat valve on the manifold will route exhaust gases near the intake pipe which could be ignited by an electric spark.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Explain About Kerosene in Chemistry?

Answer: Kerosene is used as a diluent in the PUREX extraction process, but increasingly, it is being supplanted by dodecane. Kerosene is used to store crystals in X-ray crystallography. Dehydration can take place slowly when a hydrated crystal is left in the air. This makes the crystal's color become dull. Kerosene can keep air from the crystal.

2. Give the Applications of Kerosene?

Answer: Let us discuss some important applications of Kerosene.

  • Kerosene can be used to clean motorcycle chains of old lubricant before relubrication and for bicycles.

  • It is used to remove candle wax, which has dripped onto a glass surface; it is also recommended that the excess wax be scraped off before applying Kerosene through tissue paper or soaked cloth.

  • In Australia, it has seen its usage in mosquito control.

  • It can also be used to thin oil-based paint used in fine art. Even a few artists make the use of kerosene to clean brushes; however, it leaves bristles, which are greasy to the touch.

3. Explain the Toxicity of Kerosene?

Answer: Kerosene ingestion is more harmful. Sometimes, it is recommended as a folk remedy to kill head lice, but health agencies warn against this because it causes serious illness and burns. Even a kerosene shampoo can be fatal if the fumes are inhaled.

People can be exposed to Kerosene in the workplace by drinking kerosene, breathing it, skin, and eye contact. The NIOSH - US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has set a recommended exposure limit of 100 mg/m3 over a workday of 8-hour.

4. Give any Two Properties of Kerosene?

Answer: The hydrocarbon length distribution in the mixture, by making up Kerosene ranging from a number of carbon atoms from C6 to C20, although Kerosene typically predominantly contains from C9 to C16 range hydrocarbons.