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Alternative Fire Starting Without Matches

By The ITS Crew

Alternative Fire Starting Without Matches

Whether you’re lost in the woods, bugging out, or simply need to get a fire going, these alternative fire starting techniques could come in handy in the event you don’t have matches.

Even if you have matches, it’s likely that they may not even do the job. Windy or damp weather, depending on the type of matches you have, could mean a no-go.

These techniques we’ll show today are not all encompassing, as there are plenty of resourceful ways of starting a fire.

Here are a few of what we feel to be the most alternative.

Steel Wool and a 9v Battery

Alternative Fire Starting Without Matches

While it’s not likely you’ll have Steel Wool and a 9v Battery with you while you’re lost in the woods, you could very well have these items lying around in your house.

Steel Wool is an excellent conductor, which means it allows the passage of electrons through it, or in this case the spark from the 9v.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Steel Wool – The finer the better, and get the stuff without the soap.
  2. 9v Battery – A brand new battery is preferred
  3. Tinder – Dryer Lint makes for excellent tinder, and it’s another common household item.

Start by stretching the Steel Wool out. A bunched up piece of Steel Wool will not allow the spark to be carried as quickly throughout.

Take the 9v Battery and scrape it across the Steel Wool, the conductor will carry the current through the Steel Wool and produce a spark. This will then be spread throughout the Steel Wool.

This happens quickly so it’s important to transfer this to your tinder pile as soon as you see the spark. You’ll also need to gently blow on the Steel Wool to aid in producing a flame (see video below).

Steel Wool and a Cell Phone Battery

Alternative Fire Starting Without Matches

In a true survival situation all you may have is your 3G iPhone from AT&T that drops calls all the time and be unable to get a hold of anyone to come rescue you.

If this is the case and you’d rather have a fire than dealing with the iPhone issues, simply break it apart and grab the battery.

Although, if you happen to have another brand of phone that actually lets you replace the battery, just take it out and grab your Steel Wool.

Much like the above method, a cell phone battery can do the same thing as the 9v battery from the technique above.

This is definitely more plausible for most people, as it’s more likely you’d have the forethought to carry some steel wool than a 9v battery. And who doesn’t have a cell phone on them these days.

Even if by some remote chance you forgot your steel wool, there are other common conductors such as wire that can be used to create a spark.

Hand Sanitizer

Alternative Fire Starting Without Matches

Some of you may not know this, but hand sanitizer is flammable. It typically contains gel made of Isopropanol or Ethyl Alcohol, both of which are flammable.

It’s not going to ignite your hands if you go for a smoke break after using it, as this email would have you believe.

You will typically need an open flame though in order to get sanitizer lit, we’ve achieved getting it going with a spark, but those results are not typical.

It also doesn’t produce as much heat as a fire would, and isn’t very windproof. It is, however, a good alternative fuel you can use in a pinch.

The flame on sanitizer is also very hard to see in daylight, much like an alcohol stove is. In the video below we get it ignited and hold a piece of wood up to it to prove that it’s lit.


As we stated, these are just a few alternative techniques we know of to start a fire without matches and are not all encompassing.

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  • Great article thanks for the info

  • jherm0311

    Good stuff guys. Any idea if the steel wool works when damp or wet? Keep up the good work!!


    Love the videos, I’ll have to try the hand sanitizer just because. Thanks ITS

  • Awesome article.

    Who doesn’t love starting a fire in the rain, with no matches and damp wood.

  • Dave

    What knife is that?

    • Blake Mims

      … yeah, I kind of like the look of it myself… man, come on, I don’t have money to “burn” on another knife, yuck, yuck, yuck…

    • Dave, it’s a SOG SEAL Pup.

  • Dillon

    You can also start a fire really well with a cotton ball, Carmex (due to the petroleum jelly in it) and a spark. That burns really well and does it well in snow as well.

  • one of my favourite methods is using potassium permanganate and glycol anit freeze.

    mix the two together and wrap tightly in newspaper and hey presto! fire.

    Potassium permanganate is included in a lot of survival timas as it is also a water purifier and you’ll find glycol in almost all modern cars’ coling systems.
    An old friend of mine did it live on UK television in the 80s and it was very very impressive.

    very handy tip to know if you ever have a vehicle accident / breakdown in the wild.

  • Phantom

    Steel wool usually requires a pretty new 9v battery. Even if the battery is slightly used it makes a dramatic difference in it’s ability to spark the steel wool. Also, expect only small hot embers and not a burst of flame – be prepared with appropriate tinder.

    My favorite fire starter combo is a ferrocium rod and wax cotton balls. Vaseline cotton balls are too messy. Use a tea-lite candle, let it burn and form a pool of wax (or supplement with other wax), blow it out and place the cotton ball over the wax. It will wick-up the wax and harden in seconds. Roll the cotton ball out into a birds-nest and strike with the ferro rod. The cotton catches immediately and the wax fuels a strong flame for up to 5 minutes. Easy to make, easy to pack, easy to use.

  • MIKE25

    Good article, definitely some new ideas you don’t typically hear about.
    One other thought on the hand sanitizer, if you add a little table salt (take-out packets or MRE packs work great) it precipitates most of the additives in the sanitizer and leaves a layer of nearly pure alcohol. It’s easier to light and apply to some tinder, caution with the invisible flame is a must though.

  • TG

    Very cool, Thanks

  • Cory Heimark

    Very cool article and interesting discussion.
    fire is a good thing as many of you know and sometimes you are in places where you have to get creative

    not really similar to the steel wool technique but does anyone have any experience using the magnesium start from the tool logic SL Pro….packaged as a survival knife it is more or less a compact folding knife with an LED flashlight attachment that can pull out and be a fire starter….just wondered if anyone liked them or if they were handy for a bug out bag or range box or other misc use. I’d never use it as my primary knife

  • Peregrine John

    You don’t actually need a 9V battery for this. I’ve done it with the C-cells (or D, whatever) in a standard flashlight. Make a strip of steel wool, make it denser at the ends and tease it out in the middle. Hold the batteries together in your hand and set them on 1 end of the wool. Firmly connect the top part, and yeah, you can get actual flames from it.

  • Razor

    Another item that is relatively common and flammable is a bag of corn chips or greasy potato chips. Like the hand sanitizer, the best success comes from lighting it with an open flame from, say, a match, but both will burn decently as tinder. Combined with other tinder materials (grass, pine needles, dry evergreen boughs, dry milkweed silk, etc.), the grease may provide the sustained flame needed to get your kindling going. I’ve demonstrated this to Boy Scouts on several occasions, and always get a fun reaction from the Scouts when they see how long and well the chips burn. If nothing else, it certainly gets them thinking about what they’re eating.

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