Using and Maintaining Imco Lighters, by A.C.C.

I am writing with a bit of information that fellow readers might find helpful: We all agree that possessing the means to make fire is important. I suspect that like me, lots of you have put back a supply of disposable butane cigarette lighters. In a grid down world, they would make great barter items.

I have always thought it would be nice to also have some “Old School” liquid fuel lighters, as well. For years, I carried a Zippo lighter, but it was frustrating because the fuel evaporated so quickly that unless I refueled it at least every other day, it might not light. This is such a problem that some folks would cut a section of bicycle inner tube, to cover the joint and slow down evaporation. But then, you had to move the rubber tube each time before you could use the lighter. It was irritating enough that I eventually quit the Zippo, and went with Bic.

I still, however, wanted a liquid fuel alternative that could use a variety of fuels, work reliably, and go for at least a week between refueling. I read about the European counterpart to the Zippo. Most of the American G.I.s carried Zippos in WWII, but the Europeans mostly carried a very different design made by a company in Austria called Imco. The Imco is smaller and lighter than the Zippo. It is windproof and is designed so that you can take the fuel tank and wick out of the lighter mechanism, and use it as you would a candle.

Emco LighterUnfortunately, Imco closed their factory years ago, and surviving lighters are old, sometimes rusty or worn, and increasingly expensive as collector items. I recently discovered that a Japanese company bought the rights to the Imco lighter from the original company. They have started manufacturing them again (in China) and, in my opinion, have improved the lighter in terms of fit, finish and quality. The biggest improvement is that they are now making them out of stainless steel (although the fuel tank is aluminum like the originals). It uses regular Zippo flints, and has a space for storing a spare in the lighter mechanism.

I’ve been using one daily for a couple of months now. You can fuel it with multiple types of fuel, including Emco Lighterlighter fluid, kerosene, lamp oil, mineral spirits, Jet A, naphtha, Coleman fuel, and even gasoline in a pinch. My favorite fuel is a synthetic kerosene, which is available under the brand Kleen Heat. In the cold months, your hardware and home center stock this as fuel for kerosene space heaters, and sell it by the gallon. I’m not sure what the difference is between this and regular kerosene, but it burns cleaner and is odorless. (Kerosene has an odor, and creates some sooty black smoke.) I refuel my Imco every seven days, and it lights first time, every time.

Emco LighterSomething else to know if you prefer lighter fluid. Commercial lighter fluid is naphtha, which is what Coleman fuel is made from. If you get a small plastic squirt bottle, like a Nalgene two ounce bottle with small spout, and a gallon of Coleman fuel, you can keep your lighter fueled for many years.

Bulk flints are available on eBay, and cost $21 per thousand. That ought to be a lifetime supply.

Emco LighterI bought my Imco lighter through Amazon from Landser Outfitters, LLC, for $10.49, plus $5.14 shipping. They are also available on eBay, direct from China for $8.99 plus 99 cents shipping, but that can take a few weeks for the package to arrive. For a few more bucks, I got mine in two days from a U.S. seller.




  1. Interesting article. I never heard of Imco until today. I have changed over to Ronson Jetlite for everyday carry and for long term storage. They are metal cased, they produce a strong flame, they are refillable, adjustable, and they last about 2 – 3 years getting banged around in my pockets with all the other junk I carry. The cheapest place to find them is Walmart. They are always more expensive at online retailers. They don’t have the panache of a Zippo or the fuel flexibility of the Imco, but with zero maintenance, I push the button and I get flame every time. When they do die, I think they succumb to pocket lint, in my case. I do keep a stash of Bic lighters, but their flame is small and unadjustable on most of them, and they are pretty fragile – they are for barter only in my book, not reliable enough.

  2. Thanks, this is really useful.
    I’d like to carry a Zippo, if only for sentiment, but the problem of drying out so quickly makes them impractical to me. Might be different if I smoked.

  3. i bought an IMCO years ago at a gun show as an alternate to my zippos. they are truly great, i like the sliding windscreen to adjust flame height, and the removable flame. i’m not a smoker but i love it for backpacking and hunting, i have found they work excellent and reccommend them.

  4. I have read that the replicable zippo flints degrade over time, essentially breaking down from the inside out. I understand they need to be sequestered from oxygen if you intend to store them long-term. There are several online discussion threads about this.

  5. I carry my Vietnam War Zippo (engraved with my name & serial number) only to be able to make fire (and nostalgia) as I quit smoking in 1970. I replaced the inner lighter with a Thunderbird insert (Amazon, around $14, they are shipped empty) which uses butane fuel, regular flints and the flame is adjustable to boot. I bought several of them and tested one after filling. In over a year of sitting unused the gas did not leak out. The one in my pocket has been filled twice (I test it every few days) and only was refilled once after the initial fueling to see how much fuel has been used as it never ran out of fuel after several years of carrying it. Highly recommended.

  6. Bic lighters have an impressive track record, and some have figured out how to refill them with propane. If any one can share their negative experience with Bic’s, please do so. As a back up to a life time supply of Bics and other sources of ‘guaranteed’ flame, I have lots of inexpensive ferro rods for ‘guaranteed’ spark. In the right conditions, even ferro rods can be subject to corrosion. Keep them dry and they last indefinitely. Of course starting fire with these does require some skill, but certain materials make the process fairly easy. Cotton balls with Vaseline or wax impregnated, charred fibrous materials including cotton, alcohol wipes and others. In recent years, it seem that the old strike anywhere matches no longer have the storage life they once did. Gotta have alternatives….

  7. i bought an IMCO years ago at a gun show as an alternate to my zippos. they are truly great, i like the sliding windscreen to adjust flame height,

  8. I like that you published a short piece. You used to do a lot of “Letters” that were often quite valuable, and I miss them.

    I would be much more likely to submit material if you did that, as I often find interesting bits of information or have ideas or experiences that if written, would only make two or three hundred words. I used to submit these occasionally. Trying to make them in to a 1,500 word article would just pump them up with air.

    Please go back to publishing short letters/articles that are not meant for competition.

    Thank you.

  9. I have two of these and I frequently carry one when on the road or heading into the woods. I bought them online. They were advertised as something like “Windproof WWI Trench Lighter.” Each came with half a dozen flints and several spare wicks. I felt that their multi-fuel capability made them a great option for preppers.

    The gallon of Kleen Heat is a great tip, as is the idea of using the fuel tank as a candle. Thank you.

  10. Tunnel rabbit, I’ve found some ferro rods will degrade in time. Not sure if there is a concensus of the why, but 1) humidity, 2) water exposure, and 3) manufacturing defects are possible causes of this. I know from long ago a water washer (purifying cup) and a Doan fire starter had some corrosive issues, no doubt from chlorine – magnesium having a reaction. Both units were extensively damaged.

    I too like the ‘short articles’ – it is good to know reading material. Thanks for doing this.

    1. Storage Tip: As a diabetic I have to test my sugar frequently. I noticed that the strip testing containers seemed to be waterproof and really close securely. Tested them and sure enuf, they are. So now I save all the empties and they are awesome little storage containers. Might be a neat little way to keep flints from degrading. Good luck.

  11. Interesting. The hipster part of me likes the fact that it doesn’t immediately look like a lighter to most people. I also think that the one-handed operation would be easier to use with my bee gloves on. I also like the longer-lasting fuel; not being a smoker, I can’t be bothered to refuel a Zippo every day. Actually, given the new law in Texas, I couldn’t legally smoke even if I wanted to.

    1. Edit; meant to write ‘one-handed,’ operation, not home-based. Guess my autocorrect finally picked up on my homesteading tendencies. Spooky. Also, “bee” gloves. I do not wear gloves to bed.

  12. I don’t get it. I fill my zippo every Sunday. I use it a dozen times a day. Yea OK, sometimes it runs out on Saturday if I have used it as a flashlight… You guys must be doing something wrong???

  13. Can’t stress this enough, what ever your preference of lighter, carry one everyday. If a smoker can carry some type of lighter everyday, there is no reason you can’t. When you need it most, will be when you least expect it. For instance, take that woman that was lost for 12 days in Hawaii, who would’ve ever thought that she would need a lighter, a signal fire and she may have been out of there in 2 days.

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