Cotton Ball Tinder

tinderReliable Tinder for Starting Fires

Having reliable tinder is one of the most difficult elements of starting a fire besides initiating a spark or flame. It is essential to start building your fire to a sustainable level.  One of my favorite homemade methods to create tinder is simple, inexpensive, waterproof, and easy to make although a little messy.  The following list of instructions provides a list of materials and steps to produce your homemade cotton ball tinder for your survival kit.

Materials for Homemade Tinder:

  • 1 – Package of rolled cotton balls (a great alternative is to  replace the cotton balls with a spool of cotton string to make “wicks”).
  • 1 – Container petroleum jelly (vasoline)
  • 1 – 8″ x 24″ sheet of wax paper


  1. Open the package of cotton balls and take one ball from the package.  Work the outside edge of the cotton ball until you are able to begin unrolling it until it is completely unrolled into a long narrow strip.
  2. Roll the strip between your palms. This helps the cotton bind and allows you to work with the material a little easier in the following steps.
  3. Cut the cotton into approximately 4″ lengths using a pair of sharp scissors.
  4. Use your index finger to retrieve generous amount (about a teaspoon) of petroleum jelly.
  5. Using your non-dominant hand, grasp the end of one of your 4″ strips of cotton using your thumb and index finger to hold the cotton in place.
  6. Begin applying the petroleum jelly strip of cotton using a light spreading motion. Completely coat the entire length of cotton.
  7. When finished, flip the cotton strip over and apply petroleum jelly to the other side in the same manner.
  8. Roll the cotton back into a smaller ball that should be about 1/4″ in diameter and approximately 1/2″ tall (semi-cylindrical in shape).

Once you have made 4 – 5 of these “fireballs”, you can store them in a small plastic bag and keep them in a survival kit with a flint striker as a sure-fire (pun intended) means of starting a fire.

I have used this method and compared it to many others including using butane lighters.  In my experience, this is probably one of the most reliable methods to get a fire started very quickly in almost any weather conditions.

Check out our DIY instructional video on our YouTube Channel.

About the Author

Greg B. is the president of Survival Tactics NOW! providing professional consultation in survival planning and emergency preparedness. He is an ardent outdoorsman and wilderness survival enthusiast.


  1. Lewis B. says:

    I take tuna cans (after eating the tuna, duh) and cram dryer lint in them. Then I pour in melted wax, cram some more, until it is full. The dryer lint acts as the wick and the wax the fuel. Dries hard for easy stashing in a backback, and burns hotter than…..well, you know.

  2. Fred F. says:

    I use something similar but use neosporin in place of Vaseline so it has dual use.
    Both work well.

  3. RionP says:

    Very good idea! I’ll be trying this next time I’m camping! !