What fire breathing fuel is the least toxic?
March 2, 2009 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Rubbing alcohol, white gas (camp fuel), lamp oil. What are the least toxic fire eating/breathing fuels?

I trust this performer's years of fire breathing experience, but not his medical knowledge (he said rubbing alcohol wasn't toxic). So which of these fuels, and I think he uses Kerosene too, would be the least dangerous if ingested?
posted by pantsrobot to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was under the impression that fire-eaters used regular old lighter fluid.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:39 PM on March 2, 2009

You eat fire using Naptha, you breathe fire using Kerosene.

Do yourself a favor and don't breathe fire, especially if you have to ask this question.
posted by MrHappyGoLucky at 2:40 PM on March 2, 2009

I dont know anything about fire-breathing but Wikipedia says paraffin (lamp oil) is most commonly used. As for safety, you REALLY dont want to ingest ANY of them! There are some medicinal uses for paraffin so my guess is that would be the least toxic. Unless you want to blow your head off, I would avoid white gas in your mouth. I've made bombs out of that stuff (juvenile antics - not a professional terrorist)
posted by elendil71 at 2:42 PM on March 2, 2009

Response by poster: I don't plan on doing this myself, definitely not until I do some serious research.

I've seen this person use all these fuels (and more!) for his performances, although he does not recommend alcohol for fire breathing because of it's mostly blue and hot flame.
posted by pantsrobot at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2009

In the USA at least, fire eaters mostly use white gas. For fire breathers, the recommendation is ultrapure lamp oil (which is pretty much the same thing as mineral oil). You can also use flour or non-dairy creamer (or pretty much any powder that has a high surface/volume ratio).

There's very little risk of ingesting fuel when eating fire since there should be very little on your wick. There is, of course, a huge risk of swallowing it when breathing fire, as well as absorbing it through your mucous membranes, not to mention blowback, chemical pneumonia, tooth rot, setting your face on fire (all of these things have happened to friends of mine), etc.

I'll second Mr HappyGoLucky: don't breathe fire, especially if you're asking this question.
posted by adamrice at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2009

Biodiesel is actually the latest rage, as I understand it. Apparently it is safe to drink.
posted by chairface at 3:02 PM on March 2, 2009

Probably Everclear, but it tastes worse than all of them combined.
posted by nosila at 3:34 PM on March 2, 2009

Everclear is unacceptable, because you get drunk from it even without swallowing it (mucous-membrane absorption). Drunk + firebreathing = dead. Alcohol also does not produce a very visible flame.

Biodiesel is not so great. It's hard to ignite, and has very poor combustion characteristics, resulting in a lot of extremely unpleasant-smelling smoke and not a very impressive fire.

More info here and here.
posted by adamrice at 3:50 PM on March 2, 2009

Biodiesel is actually the latest rage, as I understand it.

Unlikely. Biodiesel does not ignite readily (see here for a chart of flash points).
posted by ssg at 3:50 PM on March 2, 2009

According to an article in the Swedish Bulletin of Doctors from about 2001 (will look for the citation) the majority of young patients with chemical phenomia was caused by small amounts of white spirits (naphta) going into the lungs (by sloppy firebreating). It was all the rage for a while and a lot of people ended up in the emergency wards.

So - your question is in reality twofold: Toxicity on one side and bodily harm on the other.

Ingestion of naphta is no big deal, it gets digested by stomach-fluids. No big side-effects (it's not healthy, but won't cause instant death either).

But: Get a few drops in the lungs, and it will cause fluid influx to your lungs - which can be fatal if not treated.

A friend of mine experienced this after a night of fire-breathing. He was an experienced breather and wasn't drunk or careless. But when he woke up the next day, he could hardly get air. He was breathless from going to the bathroom. When he called the ER, they recommended him to take a cab as soon as possible to hospital. He now has full lung-capacity again and no ill side-effects. Sheer luck, I guess.

Conclusion: Don't do it. If you anyway chooses to breath fire: Practice with water until you got the technique down pat. When you breath fire do be sober and alert. Don't go to bed immediately after the performance. Have a phone nearby. Take care.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 4:00 PM on March 2, 2009

I used to know some people who breathed fire using everclear. They did experience the drunkening problem mentioned by adamrice. Their solution was to only breathe fire for a short time, and then just be kinda drunk for the next couple hours. ymmv.
posted by jeb at 4:19 PM on March 2, 2009

Never breathe fire using any type of alcoholic beverage. More dangerous than any intoxication you may experience is the fact that alcohol will numb your lips. This will result in you not being able to aerate the spray properly or it can lead to leakage, resulting in a badly burned face.

Always use a rag in your non-torch hand as well. Wipe your mouth, do your spray, and then immediately cover your mouth with the rag again. This cleans up any leakage and helps prevent blowback.
posted by MrHappyGoLucky at 4:31 PM on March 2, 2009

Back in the day, I used kerosene and lamp oil (paraffin) for fire breathing. The lamp oil was far more pleasant to hold in my mouth. I can't tell you which is the least toxic, but after one crummy night where I apparently swallowed some fuel I can tell you that kerosene burps are really disgusting.

Make sure you have a wet towel for smothering fires and keep your fuel out of your practice area.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:22 PM on March 2, 2009

Huh. I guess I made dumb judgment calls when I was 18. Who would've thought?

Thanks for the correction of my clearly-dangerous suggestion.
posted by nosila at 7:29 PM on March 2, 2009

This is a slightly tangential point, but you never want to breath fire with anything where the vapor can ignite (kersone vapor will not ignite,whereas alcohol will).

I think all petroleum based oils are carcinogenic, and the unfortunate part abut fire-breathing is that you will absorb and swallow plenty of the badness with your tongue/throat. I used to use kerosene and it's pretty revolting even if you swallow tiny amounts of it.

I heard theories from fellow jugglers that they would coat their mouth with buttermilk, but I doubt it does much,
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:47 PM on March 2, 2009

I always use barbeque lighter fluid. It doesn't taste that bad and is readily available (in the UK anyway). More and more I'm seeing BBQ lighter GELL on sale though. This, of course, is no good.

In general, I'd never recommend using anything that produces vapour (like petrol).

My advice: Don't try it....it's really dangerous - however easy people like me make it look!
posted by JtJ at 8:17 AM on March 3, 2009

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