Make your own waterproof, fire-starting Fire Straws

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Fire StrawHaving the means to get a fire going is a vital part of any survival kit. While there are many natural forms of tinder available in the wild, in damp, rainy conditions it may be difficult to find anything dry enough to light off a spark. Fire straws are a great little project that can solve that problem. They are easy to make and small enough to fit into even the tiniest kits.


To make fire straws, you’ll need the following:

–Plastic drinking straws**

–Cotton balls or dryer lint

–Petroleum jelly


–A candle

–A pair of pliers or a multi-tool

–Toothpicks or bamboo skewers

First, toss several cotton balls or a few pinches of dryer lint into a plastic baggie and add in a dollop of petroleum jelly. Mash it all together for a bit, making sure all of the cotton or lint is impregnated with the jelly. Leave it in the bag for the time being.

Next, cut your drinking straws to size. I usually cut them in half or into thirds, depending on the size of the kit I’m making. A great way to store fire straws is in an old Altoids tin. You don’t necessarily need to keep them in a separate container, though.

Light your candle and begin sealing one end of each cut straw. Hold the end of the straw a few inches above the candle flame, just until you see the plastic begin to soften.

Using the pliers, crimp it closed tight. After you’ve done this to all the cut straws, move on to filling them.

Personally, I like to wear a latex glove for this next step but you can use your bare hands if you like. Remove a small pinch of the now slimy cotton balls and roll it up thin enough to fit into the straw.

Use a toothpick or bamboo skewer to shove the cotton down into the straw. Keep filling until there’s only about a half inch of space left.

Once the straws are full, you need to seal them. Do this the same way you did the first time around, holding the open end of the straw above the candle flame, then crimping it shut.

Congratulations, you’ve just made a batch of fire straws! What is really nifty about these is that this is a way to carry tinder in a completely waterproof manner. You can toss these straws into a bowl of water and let them sit for a month and they’ll still work just fine when you need them.

To use a fire straw, you take a knife and cut a slit along the side of the straw. Pull some of the cotton out through the slit and light it with a match or spark. . If you lack a knife, the plastic is thin enough that you could even gnaw it open with your teeth.

As it burns, it will also light up the plastic, creating a good-sized flame that will burn long enough to get your fire going.

I add several fire straws to each and every survival kit I assemble. This is a great project for kids, too. They tend to enjoy smooshing the cotton and petroleum jelly together. If you get a couple of kids involved and make a little assembly line, you can make dozens of fire straws in just 15-20 minutes.


**Believe it or not, there is quite a range in widths when it comes to drinking straws. For this project, the wider the straw, the better. Not only will a wider straw allow you to fill it with more cotton compared to a thin one, they are easier to fill. If you happen to have a Culver’s restaurant in your area, I’ve found their straws to be the ideal size. In fact, fast food restaurant straws tend to be considerably wider than those you can buy at the grocery or warehouse stores. I’m not suggesting you grab a couple handfuls of them the next time you stop for burgers but rather save them after your meal. Take them home, rinse them out and let them dry overnight. If you go this route and use dryer lint instead of cotton balls, the only investment is in the petroleum jelly and toothpicks, both of which you probably already have in the house.

Jim  Cobb is a Disaster Readiness Consultant and author of Prepper’s Home Defense, The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, and Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide. His websites are Survival Weekly and Disaster Prep Consultants.

27 thoughts on “Make your own waterproof, fire-starting Fire Straws”

  1. I just started making these as well. I use pliers and squeeze the end of the straw about 1/8″ to 3/16″ from the end. I then melt the protruding portion and wait until it cools. This makes a perfect crimp every time! Just a suggestion. Give it a try!

  2. Mix another ingredient (easily obtained at Home Depot store) to make a detonator fuse for an explosive device or napalm mine. Can’t tell you here what object ingredient is cause DHS will kick my front doors down at 4am.

  3. Great idea. Living overseas I have access to bubble tea straws that I have used to seal in meds. I am going to make some fire starters this week. Thanks for another great tidbit of advise.

    1. The Survival Mom

      They’re waterproof and vaseline lasts indefinitely, so my guess is that they will have a very long shelf life.

    1. The Survival Mom

      That would be worth a try but you would want to keep those separate in a container of some sort, since the Vaseline would soak through the paper straw.

  4. An excellent idea!!!! And I am pretty sure I have everything in the house, including the straws. Love these easy, simple projects that you share. I am very appreciative.

  5. I have forgotten the other ingredient, they used to be very helpful with woodchuck infestations.
    Former USAF CCT

  6. That’s funny lol straw lights up….As it burns, it will also light up the plastic, creating a good-sized flame that will burn long enough to get your fire going. And pollute our air just a little more…. Not for nothing just use gasoline this is the most retired idea I’ve ever hear of…. Let’s just use old tires to start our fires like really????

  7. Cesar, the amount of toxins given off by a burning straw that is about 3″ long is likely less than the average person breathes in while walking down a city street. Further, I would think the smoke given off by the resulting campfire would create far more “air pollution” than the fire starter.

    Do you normally carry gasoline with you when hiking? Do you keep a container of gasoline in your bug out bag? Both are preposterous ideas. The entire point of this fire straw project is to give one more reliable means of getting a fire going in a survival situation. This isn’t something I would expect people to use regularly in their normal day-to-day lives.

  8. Instead of petroleum jelly you can also use left over frier oil. Used oil would be best. The oil that I am specifically talking about is the vegetable, olive, canola, or shortening oil that you have left over from frying chicken or what ever you want to fry. I would recommend staying away from Peanut oil just for the sake of those that are sensitive.

  9. While you have the straws, candle and pliers out for this project, why not seal up a couple of strike-anywhere kitchen matches and a small strip of 600 grit sandpaper inside another piece of straw? You can get a further use out of the sandpaper to sharpen your penknife or fishing hooks or single-edge razor blade!

  10. Oh yes, I just love the smell of plastic burning when I camp. And it’s environmentally sound too! SMH

  11. What is it about “Survival” that you don’t understand. No one said to used when you have planned a camping trip and should have brought what was needed with you.

  12. I love how people want to make negative comments about the environmental impact of the burning straws. My family is extremely green, but honestly if I were in a survival situation, my kids safety, health, and life is going to come first. The little bitty bit of straw smoke compared to my kid freezing to death or me not being able to cook for use would not even enter my mind. Which is what an ’emergency’ or ‘survival’ kit is for. You obviously would not plan a family bbq when it is cold and rainy. You would be able to use better, more green methods. Get off yer soap box people and think about the context that these would be used in. I think it is an awesome idea. BTW.. I kinda wonder if you got the fat straws, if it would be ok to store a few back up pills from prescription bottles for important meds (I am diabetic for instance). Maybe keep them in the tackle box or the away from home emergency kit. We are thinking about making a weather/water/fire proof hidden emergency cache out in the woods behind our house just in case.. hmm..

  13. If the “toxins” and further “pollution” are major issues how about taking ALL of the cotton out and not lighting the straw? I know, I know, this radical proposition would just ruin a perfectly good rant but hey, might be worth a try if needed to save the planet. =))

  14. SuperSurvival

    I found a tutorial on Pinterest and YouTube and is trying it out! But instead of the petroleum jelly, I am using olive oil to soak the cotton balls in.

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