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Tiki torches: Guide to creating safe, stylish outdoor ambience

Tiki torches: Guide to creating safe, stylish outdoor ambience

Tiki torches, these iconic Polynesian pillars of flame, are more than just a decorative addition to your garden. They can transform your outdoor space into a tropical paradise, casting a warm glow and relaxing ambience.

But before you light up the night, it is important to understand how to use them safely and effectively. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about tiki torches.

What are tiki torches?

What are tiki torches?

Tiki torches, also known as garden torches or citronella torches, are a decorative outdoor lighting solution that adds a touch of Polynesian paradise to your garden. Traditionally used in Hawaiian luau ceremonies, tiki torches have become popular additions to patios, decks, and backyards, setting the ambience for summer evenings.

Design and functionality

Tiki torches come in a variety of styles, but they typically share some common features:

  • Fuel reservoir: This is usually a metal canister that holds the fuel source, which can be citronella oil, torch fuel or lamp oil.
  • Wick: A long, absorbent strand that draws the fuel up and burns with a steady flame.
  • Stake or stand: This allows the torch to be secured in the ground or on a flat surface. Tiki torches can be short and table-top mounted, ideal for centrepieces, or tall and stake-mounted to illuminate pathways or create a border.
  • Tiki theme: Many tiki torches feature a decorative element that reflects Polynesian culture. This could be a bamboo sheath, tiki mask details, or a colourful metal finish.

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Fuel and functionality

The most common fuel for tiki torches is citronella oil. Citronella oil is a natural insect repellent and its pleasant citrus scent adds another layer to the ambience. However, citronella oil burns off quickly, so you will need to refill the reservoir more frequently.

Torch fuel is another option. It is a petroleum-based fuel that burns for longer periods than citronella oil, but it does not have any insect-repellent properties and may give off a stronger odour. Lamp oil can also be used, but it’s important to ensure it’s suitable for outdoor use.

Safety considerations

Tiki torches are a source of open flame, so it is important to use them safely. Adhere to the following tips:

  • Keep them away from flammable materials: This includes overhanging trees, sheds, fences and furniture.
  • Never leave them unattended: Extinguish the flame properly before leaving the garden, even if it is for a short walk.
  • Supervise children and pets: Keep tiki torches out of reach of children and pets who may get burned or knocked over.
  • Place them on stable surfaces: Ensure the stand or stake is secure, especially if the torch is tall.
  • Extinguish them properly: Use a snuffer specifically designed for tiki torches to extinguish the flame safely. Never pour water on a burning torch.

Purpose of Tiki Torches

Tiki torches are a versatile addition to your outdoor space. They can be used for:

  • Creating a tropical ambience: Tiki torches instantly add an island feel to your garden, perfect for pool parties, barbecues or luau-themed gatherings.
  • Providing illumination: Tiki torches cast a warm, flickering light that creates a relaxing atmosphere and helps to illuminate pathways or seating areas.
  • Repelling insects: When citronella oil is used as fuel, tiki torches can help keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay.

Tiki torches fuel

Tiki torches fuel

Tiki torches rely on fuel to create their warm glow and ambience. But when it comes to choosing the right fuel for your torches, there are several options to consider, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

1. Citronella Oil

Pros

  • Natural insect repellent: Citronella oil is well-known for its ability to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects. This makes it a popular choice for tiki torches, especially for outdoor gatherings in the summer.
  • Pleasant scent: Citronella oil has a fresh, citrusy scent that adds another layer to the tropical atmosphere.
  • Clean burning: Citronella oil burns relatively cleanly, producing minimal smoke or soot.
  • Readily available: Citronella oil is widely available at hardware shops, garden centres, and online retailers.

Cons

  • Shorter burning time: Compared to other fuels, citronella oil burns off quicker. So you will need to refill the reservoir more frequently. This can be inconvenient if you are planning on using the torches for an extended period.
  • Less effective repellent in high infestation: While citronella oil does deter insects, it may not be entirely effective in areas with heavy mosquito populations.
  • May not be suitable for all torches: Some tiki torches may not be designed to burn citronella oil efficiently.

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2. Torch Fuel

Pros

  • Longer burning time: Torch fuel, a petroleum-based product, burns for significantly longer durations than citronella oil. This makes it a more economical choice if you plan on using the torches for several hours.
  • Easier to find: Torch fuel is widely available at most stores that sell tiki torches and outdoor supplies.

Cons

  • No insect-repellent properties: Unlike citronella oil, torch fuel does not repel insects.
  • Stronger odour: Torch fuel can emit a stronger odour compared to citronella oil, which some people may find unpleasant.
  • Environmental considerations: Torch fuel is a petroleum-based product and its combustion may release more pollutants into the air compared to citronella oil.

3. Lamp Oil

Pros

  • Readily available: Lamp oil is a common household item and can be a substitute fuel for tiki torches in a pinch.

Cons

  • Not ideal for outdoor use: While some lamp oils may be suitable for tiki torches, it is crucial to ensure you use a type specifically designed for outdoor applications. Indoor lamp oil may not burn cleanly or safely outdoors.
  • Safety concerns: Improper lamp oil can be dangerous for outdoor use as it may have a higher flashpoint and could ignite more easily. It’s important to prioritize safety and use fuel approved for outdoor tiki torches.
  • Limited insect-repellent properties: Lamp oil generally doesn’t have any insect-repellent properties.

How to use tiki torches

How to use tiki torches

Preparation

1. Fuel up

  • Choose your fuel: Decide between citronella oil or lamp oil.
  • Check the manufacturer’s instructions: Different torches may have specific fuel recommendations.
  • Fill the reservoir: Never fill the reservoir past its designated capacity. Most torches have a fill line to indicate the maximum level.
  • Safety first: Use a funnel to avoid spills and ensure the torch is cool before refuelling.

2. Finding the perfect spot:

  • Light it up safely: Tiki torches are open flames, so prioritize safety when positioning them.
  • Keep it clear: Maintain a minimum distance of 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 metres) between torches and any flammable materials like fences, sheds, trees, or overhanging structures.
  • Stable ground is key: Ensure the ground is sturdy enough to support the torch. For stake-mounted torches, push the stake securely into the ground until the torch stands upright and doesn’t wobble. For table-top torches, choose a flat, stable surface.

Lighting and enjoying the ambience

1. Light it right

Matches or a long-necked lighter is ideal for lighting the wick safely. Avoid using your fingers or reaching over the flame.

  • Light the tip of the wick: Let the flame establish itself before adjusting the height.

2. Ambience and safety

  • Adjust the flame: Some torches have a mechanism to adjust the wick height, allowing you to control the flame size.
  • Sit back and relax: Tiki torches cast a warm, flickering light, perfect for creating a relaxing atmosphere in your garden.
  • Stay vigilant: Never leave burning tiki torches unattended. Even a short absence can be risky.

Extinguishing and storing

1. Extinguishing properly

  • Snuffer, not water: Use a specifically designed snuffer cap to extinguish the flame safely. Snuffing smothers the flame by cutting off its oxygen supply. Never pour water on a burning torch.
  • Let it cool down completely: Once extinguished, allow the torch to cool down completely before handling or storing it.

2. Storing for next time

  • Empty the reservoir: When the torch is cool, empty any remaining fuel from the reservoir. This prevents evaporation and potential issues during storage.
  • Store upright and securely: Keep torches upright in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place, out of reach of children and pets. Ideally, store them indoors, especially during winter months.

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