Lighters Need Cleaning Too

Well used pipe lighter in need of cleaning

I've managed to destroy a number of items by running them through the laundry in various pockets I've neglected to empty: valuable checks, essential phone numbers, flash drives, and a chocolate chip cookie I left in a shirt pocket, a cookie whose flavor was detrimentally modified by the soap cycle. I still miss that cookie. I use a lot of pockets, so it's difficult to maintain efficient offloading techniques, especially with a fishing vest filled with pipe cleaners, tamper, phone, notebook, pen, wallet, tobacco pouch, pipe pouch, a lighter, a back-up lighter, reading glasses, sunglasses, bear repellent (you never know), binoculars, magnifier, flashlight, flint-and-steel, water filtration kit, folding knife, handkerchief — you get the idea. The watch pockets in jeans are tough too, particularly for lighters, because every time I disrobe, I'm so distraught by my reflection in the bathroom mirror that I can't seem to remember a watch pocket exists. I'm still observing the enigma but am working on an academic paper regarding the vanishing of watch pockets in jeans until after the wash cycle, when they reappear containing lighters in various modes of distress. It's quantum physics, and the math is slow going for me, but the solution is nigh.

I've washed Old Boy-styled lighters many times, and they don't seem to care. They've ignited without complaint after a bout in the washer and dryer, and given the amount of handling they receive, a thorough scrubbing on occasion is appropriate. I have a 20-year-old Colibri pipe lighter that's still going strong, but it takes about three days to recover from a laundry ordeal. In lighter years, it's as old as I am, and I take about three days to recover from the laundry, too, so I'm patient. Disposable pipe lighters do not fare as well, in my experience. They lose their will to live after the rinse cycle. I've not tried washing a Dunhill or Dupont lighter with this technique, but you'll know when I do, because you'll hear the sobs.

Laundrifying a pipe lighter is not a recommended cleaning technique, and as efficient and painless as it may be, no lighter should be subjected to that indignity. While I've not personally experienced the spin cycle, I imagine it's disorienting, and then the dryer itself is a nightmare. My brother and I took turns, when we were young, spinning each other in a laundromat dryer, because it was like a carnival ride that cost only a quarter, and while the "cool down" and "fluff" cycles were fine, I do not recommend high heat, especially in a load of damp bed linens, which tend to asphyxiate participants. My brother remains skittish around linens and since that time has slept exclusively in sleeping bags.

Well used lighter in need of cleaning

We all keep our pipes clean, but lighters need care as well. You've probably noticed the carbon build-up on lighters, and even a washing machine is incapable of removing it, so other strategies are necessary. Like all of life's problems, however, this quandary can be resolved with the bountiful employment of alcohol.

Everclear is my favorite. If you drink enough Everclear, you won't care how your lighter looks, but there's another way that removes the carbon itself rather than your consternation. Instead of drinking it to reduce the visibility of the carbon, try the counterintuitive method of applying the Everclear directly to the lighter itself.

You've probably noticed the carbon build-up on lighters, and even a washing machine is incapable of removing it, so other strategies are necessary. Like all of life's problems, however, this quandary can be resolved with the bountiful employment of alcohol.

It may sound wasteful of good Everclear, but substitute alcoholic beverages are acceptable, though Everclear has been a favorite solution of mine since before I even smoked pipes, when instead of carbon removal I used it to disable brain cells, especially the ones that still remembered junior high school. Everclear can fix anything, but for carbon removal, rum or gin or brandy can work. Tequila, while an impressive solvent, should under all circumstances be avoided. I have significant experience in this area. Tequila is a portal into an impetuous dimension from which return and restoration are perilously complex.

Battling carbon build up requires a heroic, transparent fluid with elevated alcohol content, and I recommend you always have plenty on hand for cleaning needs, impromptu picnics, and zombie apocalypses. If your lighter has been building carbon for quite a while, it may take some time to clean it, but alcohol will prevail.

Dirty and clean lighters, side by side

Carbon builds around the nozzle of the lighter, where the butane ignites. It's a natural byproduct, even when using multiple-refined butanes, and in Old Boy-style lighters, like IM Corona, Dunhill, Sillem's, Peterson and Kiribi, the moving arm and the flint tube are quickly covered. Carbon builds on other lighters as well, but it's all removable by dipping a pipe cleaner into alcohol and slowly scrubbing it away. Sometimes the nozzle itself will begin to splutter when partially blocked. I've always been able to remedy that dilemma with an alcohol rubdown.

For everything regarding pipes, including pipe lighters, I recommend only edible products. I've never used isopropyl alcohol for cleaning pipes and don't intend to, and I urge others not to use anything they can't safely swallow. Alcohol is also flammable. If you douse a lighter in alcohol and then immediately test it, you may be impressed by the result, but watching your whole arm ablaze isn't the most efficient use of your time. Let the alcohol evaporate for five minutes and avoid the potential for flaming eyebrows and independent-minded fireballs careening through the house.

Carbon is a particular problem for those of us who use a lighter excessively. I probably light a pipe lighter 200 times a day. I don't light a pipe and smoke it to the end; I take a couple of puffs and put it down, then relight, again and again. That's a lot of wear on a lighter, and a lot of carbon build-up.

Thoroughly cleaned pipe lighter

It may take several applications, but once the lighter is clean, it's easy to keep clean by repeating every couple of weeks. Your lighters will soon be as sparkly and beautiful as your pipes, and in my opinion, they will be happier and better adjusted after a few sessions with a high-proof alcohol that both you and your lighter can appreciate for its restorative properties.

Category:   Resources
Tagged in:   Accessories Lighters Tips


    • Old Timer... on November 21, 2019
    • Great article...I've been looking at those fancy 900 dollar Dunhill lighters. They are self-cleaning I hear. I've yet to find a pipe lighter that I like. I've been trying to switch over to using old school matches, more of a gentle flame, which can be a ridiculous task if outdoors. I've noticed a trend in pipe lighters using two or three flames like a welding torch. Something I will avoid for briar, great for a cigar perhaps. Can you or anyone recommend a soft flame lighter that will be a bit gentler on the briar rim? THX

    • Bryan Webber on November 21, 2019
    • I smoke my pipes similarly and have multiple re-lights with my lighter. I have a Kiribi I bought last year and its been fantastic. I always have everclear on hand to mix for cleaners and antiseptics, so I can attest to its ability to clean the carbon off my favorite lighter.

    • Will on November 22, 2019
    • @Old Timer - I hope this is not taken as bragging but I have a ST Dupont and a Dunhill Roll-a-gas lighter but honestly I use my Kiribi Kabuto 95% of the time. It's a fantastic lighter and I highly recommend them.

    • Old Timer... on November 22, 2019
    • Thx @Will...I've got the Kiribi Kabuto on my wishlist now...appreciate the tip...

    • Smokey on November 24, 2019
    • I will likely be despised for this but I’m convinced that my approach has merit, thus my commentary.

      I carry a “pipe bag”. It has ample room for two or three favorite pipes, a tin of today’s choice, spare lighter, spare tamper, cigar tube full of tapered pipe cleaners and a small microfiber cloth. It zips shut and at 7” X 10”, is small enough to be easily managed. My favorite bag started life as a cloth lined, soft leather woman’s clutch made in past times by Anne Klein...they have a separate zippered pocket inside to retain the spare lighter, tamper and cloth. Fairly easy to find on eBay for under $20. No worries about things inadvertently ending up in the clothes washer, getting misplaced in the car or anywhere else.

      I prize my Petersons and only wish them the best in care, thus my lighter of choice is the ubiquitous BIC. Not classy at all but for $2 it gets the job done well with no danger of charring the rim and if lost or exhausted, replacement is no further away than the nearest convenience cleaning needed.

      I travel by car good bit and the convenience of this arrangement is perfect for me, it’s simple and effective, a twenty first century approach to smoking my nineteenth century pipes and tobacco blends.

    • James Cox on November 24, 2019
    • Hey @Old Timer,
      I use a Zico lighter. It works great, soft butane flame, is easy to refill, and has a quality set of tools attached. All for about $25. I'll add a photo to this post if possible. Hmmm don't know how to add a photo. Shame, it's a handsome lighter too.

    • Bob Silverman on November 24, 2019
    • While it mirrors The Old Boy in looks, I prefer the Peterson lighter, which while it does not contain a tamper, it has an enormous butane capacity. And it is reliable and easy on flints.

    • Ed Svec on November 24, 2019
    • I recently lost a Corona Old Boy that I carried daily for at least 15 years. It was surprisingly recovered from the recliner mechanism of my Lazy Boy recliner. Dented and showing some deep scars, it was still a sight for sore eyes. I am happy to report that the battle scarred lighter still fully operational and lighting pipes daily once again.

    • Mark Faith - on November 24, 2019
    • I liked your piece - great, enjoyable writing - thank you.
      I'll have to try it , if I ever have any alcohol left at the end of the day.

    • Mark Faith - on November 24, 2019
    • PS - I wish I could find a large table top lighter that was clear - so I could tell when it was full of butane. Any suggestions?

    • Spike Herbert on November 25, 2019
    • Just tried this with some Jamison (horrid stuff that Irish whiskey) on my Old Boy that I haven’t been able to light in months. Worked like a charm. Just fired up some Stokkebye Luxury Twist in a Brebbia Linea A.

    • Michael Cherry on November 26, 2019
    • Chuck;
      I have several lighters, mostly Zippos. A couple are 55-60 years old and it never occurred to me that they needed cleaning. Thanks for the information. You are the Man!!
      Your Obedient servant;

    • Robert on December 18, 2019
    • I always use my Falcon Nimrod petrol pipe lighter as has flamed are to not and will damage My pipes

    • KevinM on February 7, 2020
    • Never liking to lose an opportunity to over complicate a simple task, I prefer to administer the charring light with a wooden match, and then follow up with a Zippo with the pipe fitment. The Zippo fluid also does a good job of cleaning away the carbon buildup on the Zippo’s flame box. I’ve often admired more expensive lighters, but I’m your basic value consumer.

    • Nate on July 5, 2021
    • I originally used this method last year with everclear on my black Kiribi Kenshi. Without forethought, I came to find that the black finish didn’t take kindly to the strength of the everclear and has since been removed from the top of the lighter. After dedicating the black Kenshi to rugged use, I purchased a nickel plated Kenshi for my everyday carry. Will the nickel platted finish be able to hold up to the strength of everclear?

    • Jack on August 4, 2021
    • This article needed to he written.The information was very useful.Thank you

    • William on September 7, 2021
    • Just came across this article, which is very well-written (as usual) in your inimitable hyperbolic style. I've now applied your suggestions to my Peterson Old-Boy style lighter with excellent results. No Everclear here, but the local 90-proof firewater works very well.

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