How Does a Zippo Lighter Work?

By Laura Dixon

Zippo Lighter Features

One of the most popular handheld lighters on the market, Zippos set themselves apart from the pack with their distinctive design and functioning. Zippo lighters come in a few different varieties, from windproof versions to more standard butane gas lighters. All of these have a simple set of inner workings that allow the lighters to function. Since the first Zippo lighter was created in 1933 and subsequently gained widespread popularity in the 1940s, the product's components have evolved. The Zippo consists of three main features: the wheel (or striker), the flint and the wick.

Filling and Lighting the Zippo

To fill this lighter, a person must first open the fuel holder by removing the metal exterior. With this casing removed, the container is ready to be filled with Zippo lighter fluid, saturating the wick and a small, absorbent cotton pad that insulates the fuel container. After the parts are reassembled, the lighter is ready for use as the wick is submerged into the lighter fluid of the fuel tank. Zippo lighters differ from standard varieties in that the wire-covered, non-flammable wick is always kept saturated in flammable fluid. When someone pushes down on the striker with her thumb, the wheel turns rapidly over the flint, creating hot sparks. These sparks light the fluid coating the wick, and this highly flammable lighter fluid--not the wick itself--produces a flame. When opening the lighter, users will notice a brief ringing sound, created by the lighter's hinge lock as it slides open and closed.

Zippo Lighter Flame Control

The heat of the flame moves down the wick's copper covering until it reaches the cotton in the fuel tank, which then rapidly heats the fuel. As the fuel evaporates, it sends a continuous flow of energy up the wick to keep the flame lit. This unwavering fuel flow helps the flame stay alight even in wind--an integral part of Zippo's reputation for windproof lighters. Finally, when the lighter lid is closed, the flame is immediately extinguished as it becomes deprived of the oxygen it needs to burn.