DIY Pill Bottle Firestarters

Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness!

One of the best things that you can do for your kids is to teach them to be more self-reliant and knowledgeable about their own survival at an early age. Make it a part of everything that you do and it won’t seem like such a weird concept. Each week, we tackle one skill, one activity, one refresher to do during our home school time (hey, might as well take advantage of the credits, huh?) that helps us learn more. In doing that, I am very Pro-Kid-Led activity, so I tasked my kids to come up with a way to use some old leftover pill bottles we had and create something for our bug out bags.  They each did a little research and this is what they decided to share.

(If I were a really good homeschooling mom, I would’ve had them write this article. Homeschool Mom Fail.)

How to Make an Emergency Pill Bottle Firestarters

1. Remove the labels from the pill bottles. You never want to confuse an empty, labeled pill bottle with another. In an emergency, you might not pay attention to which bottle you are grabbing. Be safe, do this step. We soaked our bottles in a little soapy water for a few hours, used a scrubby pad to take off as much of the paper & adhesive as possible, then used a little goo-fighting liquid to remove the last of the adhesive. Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! 2. Collect your ingredients. We used 100% cotton balls, a sandwich bag, empty bottles, petroleum jelly and chopsticks ( we use some hinged chopsticks for kids). If you have chopsticks, use them. You’ll be glad you did. Oh..and not included in the photo, a spoon! Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! 3. Tear the cotton balls up into small pieces. This is a good time to teach your kids about tensile strength in cotton balls. We prefer smaller pieces to allow us to maneuver into our rocket stove and use for small fires, but using the cotton balls full size is just fine. Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! 4. Scoop out some petroleum jelly from  your jar and place it into your sandwich bag. We opted for two spoonfuls. Once the spoon is in the bag, use the bag to help scrape off the excess without ever getting your hands dirty! Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! 5. Fill the baggie with cotton ball bits, seal off the bag (you should really do that – do as I say, not as I photograph), and then knead the bag for awhile, getting the jelly goo all over everything! Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! 6. Use a pair of chopsticks or bamboo skewers or tweezers or even tongs to transfer the goopy cotton ball bits to the pill bottle. Pack it in as tightly as you can. Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness! 7. You are done!

How it works

You know have some tinder with a kick! You’ve basically created the beginnings of a candle. Once flame has been introduced, the wick (cotton ball) is the fire carrier and the wax (petroleum jelly) is the burn agent. And like a candle, as long as there is agent, the wick doesn’t just burn away. So you have a long-lasting fire starter that starts in an instant with a few sparks from a fire steel (like the one here) or lighter or other spark-generator. And what really makes this a great fire starting tinder is that it is essentially water proof. As long as your whole cotton ball is covered in goo, you can start it in the rain! And because it burns so easily, yet slowly, you can even start it in wind. A hurricane force wind just might cause a problem, but mild breezes that might make starting a fire a problem will not be a problem for this tinder.

This is exceptionally great to use with a Rocket Stove. Place it inside the stove, light it, and begin feeding the stove with sticks. Because it doesn’t burn out quickly, you’ve got time!

Other PREParedness uses for an empy pill bottles

1. Emergency Fishing Kit – include fishing line, hooks, weights, lures

2. Emergency Fire Starting Kit – include matches and tinder. Glue sand paper to the bottle top or bottom. This isn’t water proof, but water resistant.

3. Emergency Sewing Kit – fill with a bobbin of thread, some needles, safety pins, straight pins, etc.

4. Emergency Cash Stash – fill with quarters and have emergency money on hand.

5. Emergency Mini-First Aid Kit – sample sized antibiotic, bandaids, gauze pads.

6. Emergency Water Filtration System (start at around 1:38)

7. Emergency Ammo storage. You can fit quite a few .22 shells even in the smallest of pill bottles.

8. Spices, powders and other condiments for a bug out bag or hiking bag. While not water proof, they are water resistant, so you might find this a great way to tuck in broth for water, tea, spices, etc.

Your Thoughts: What other emergency uses can you think of for reusing pill bottles?


Mom with a PREP | Get Your Kids Involved! Make Pill Bottle Firestarters this weekend! Simple and quick way to teach your kids about PREParedness!

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  1. Aubryn says

    Great little article, but why nit save all that time trying to clean off the pill bottles with soaking, scrubbing and goo remover by just sticking a new avery type label to the bottle with what’s inside printed on it? #firestarters #sewing #fishing- homeschooling mom of 33 years finally done!

    • says

      Honestly, because I didn’t want to. Labels tend to come undone, get gunky, and just aren’t something I wanted for our bags. It doesn’t take any time to clean them off, and they are then easily identified by seeing what’s in them. Feel free to do it for yours, though!

  2. Blue says

    Wait…. Where did you get the clothes pin looking chopsticks? I refuse to do this project with out them! (well, that and my kids waste half their meal when we eat at asian resturants, and that would be a money saver..)
    We used to make all kids of kits with the kids in Cub Scouts useing 35mm film canisters. It seems that now, those little waterproof gems are now endangered as everyone moves into this newfangled digital stuff (you kids and your gadgets, it will never take off I tell ya’).
    How water proof would you say that these pill bottles are? I want to do the project for an upcoming canoe trip with the scouts, but everything has to be water tight. I amsure an application of electrical tape may work as well, now that I think of it.. and of course, if you do this with mixed company, make sure the lables are off before you gather everyone together, do need to be seeing anybodies business….

      • says

        It would, but these work better for small hands that won’t get so messy in the jelly. You can do it however it works best for you – but this is how we do it and it works for us!

    • SherryLynne Fay says

      If you have a diabetic friend, ask them to save their test strip containers for you. Mine have a hinged lid, which means you can’t lose it. My labels peal right off, leaving a smooth white surface. Or, leave the label on and write on top of it. A Sharpie will wipe off of the side, so you would need to put tape on top of the label. Put it around the whole container and overlap it. The top is textured and the Sharpie stays on it. They are smaller than film canisters, but that has it’s advantages, too. Mine come in boxes and the Rx is on the box, meaning no one knows who’s Rx it was.

    • Linda Geremina says

      In one of my newsletters, I saw where plastic straws were used for waterproof containers for ointments, spices, the cottonball fire starters, etc. Pinch bottom of straw with small needle nose pliers. Run end through a lighter flame till sealed. Cut off whatever length you need leaving an inch extra. Fill straw with whatever, leaving that inch extra. Pinch with pliers and seal with flame. It gives you mini water proof containers!

    • Michael says

      Wrap the container with duct tape using the last few inches to seal. You’ll add a small roll of tape for all the things you use duct tape for.’

    • Naomi Arthur says

      Michael, I did an experiment with pill bottles , with the child-proof top and also with the easy open proof tops, and found that when immersed in water, the contents did indeed remain dry. As long as the top remains tightly closed, they will be waterproof, and they are not easily removed accidentally.

      • SherryLynne Fay says

        Hit up any laundromat and get all the dryer lint you want! I have snack baggies with dryer lint in my emergency kit. It is sooooo flammable!

        • PEGGY says


    • Dennis K. says

      …and you can store that lint in a left over toilet paper cardboard tube. You could even use the tube as the container for the petroleum jelly and lint then store several larger than a pill bottle in a ziplock baggie.

      • says

        While a pill bottle may shatter in a bag if it’s smushed, our luck with fluid anything in zip top bags when they get squished into emergency bags is that they leak. Something punctures it, the pressure finally breaks the zip lock. Not that it isn’t useful…but why I didn’t suggest it for use in bags.

  3. Dick Campbell says

    I save the unused little salt & pepper packets from fast food sacks, stuff a pill bottle with these and you have simple, cheap condiments!

  4. Cricket McMillin says

    I save all the seeds I can from peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, eggplant, etc. and store them in pill bottles. I soak them overnight before planting them and I have an endless supply of seeds.

  5. Jelf says

    From one prepper HS mom to another, if you warm the petroleum jelly (not over an open flame!), it will melt and soak into the cotton balls more thoroughly, allowing for longer burning time. Also, I individually wrap a handful o f mine in aluminum foil to keep separate and then stuff in a bottle to make for a more convenient resource in an emergency.

  6. Bubba in Vegas says

    Wait, you didn’t show a picture of these things actually burning. Are you removing them from the bottle to burn, or just lighting it as is? I’m concerned about the bottle plastic burning and being toxic.

    • says

      No, we didn’t take photos using them because they are just like any other tender out there. Remove one, stick it between a few twigs and light it. The pill bottle is just a container.

  7. Frank Thomas says

    Jane: Pill bottles are okay for storing small items but the containers for diabetic test strips are better because they are waterproof.

  8. Bill Entwistle says

    I have been using my wifes make up remover squares for years… Please don’t tell her.
    I wipe both sides of each square in the Petroleum Jelly and put them in a 1 gallon zip lock bag. I can fit well over 20 of them flat in the bag. I them seal the bag and roll it up and put a rubber band around it. I like the flat wide surface for catching the Flint sparks.
    My kids and I have now created 6 pill bottles as well … You can never have too much
    Thanks for a great idea.
    I am also a huge fan of rocket stoves- I made my own out of a galvinized pail and I recently aquire my Eco Zoom rocket stove and use it all the time…more people need to learn about rocket stoves and how much wood it saves.
    I have yet to use anything but scrap wood to fuel it in over 30 uses.
    Thanks again for the info
    Thanks for a great article and detailed pictures.

  9. Mark says

    You can melt the petroleum jelly in a pan (or whatever) and saturate the cotton balls in the liquid, wrap them in heavy duty foil and press them as flat as possible. You can fit several of these in a pill bottle. When you need to use them, cut, tear, or unfold the foil. The advantage is, it makes it easier to maneuver the fire around, for light or whatever. You can get a lot more PJ in the cotton this way.

    • desert says

      I t is hard to be “Char Clothe”, stuff lights instantly with a spark …burns up fast so you have to have your stuff ready when you strike an arc….you can get dozens and dozens of pill bottle size out of an old t shirt!

    • says

      Help for non-waterproof firestarters. Using the tweezers pull off small pieces of the coated cotton balls and pack them into a cut to length straw (sealed on one end with pliers and a lighter) then seal the other end and put them in the pill bottle. You can use as much as you want and reseal. Completely waterproof.

  10. Gary says

    Tape the sand paper inside the lid and ensure the matches are fire starting end down. Then the sand paper is harder to get wet.

    • JJM says

      Just tried Red Tipped ‘strike on box’ Diamond matches. They do NOT strike on sandpaper (rough or fine). If so, please advise what brand matches and type of sandpaper. If I understand correct, the strike pads are more than just a rough surface.
      I did see instructions on how to make ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches, and will need to see if I can recover the article to make some.

  11. Maxine Reese says

    A strip of Duct Tape, (not Duck brand) would hold longer against water than nothing. How about melting some Gulf Wax around the rim. That would water proof it until it was opened the first time, plus what crumbles off would burn. I use pill bottles to save seeds, buttons, small nails, extra meds as well as aspirin and antacid tablets for my purse. I think chewing gum should be added to that purse list as mine gets yucky and thrown away. I used dryer lint and wax to make balls for starter. Don’t have to buy the cotton balls, but I think Vaseline would be cheaper than the Gulf Wax. Wouldn’t any oil based product work? Like old rancid cooking oil,or bacon grease, rendered fat that you trim off of meat, etc.

  12. cmac says

    Another container to consider using would be empty spice bottles. They have a tight fitting screw cap and come in several sizes.

  13. Paul Lackey says

    Someone has shown how to use straws cut to desired lengths crimped with pliers and sealed with hot wax. This allows most items to be kept waterproof. Also, don’t forget necessary medicines. Check out YouTube and of course, enlist you kids improvisational minds. You might be surprised. I was! Great article. Keep ‘um coming.

  14. Kevpie says

    Another great fire starter many people have but not realized is Fritos. While not water resistant they will provide a good long burning flame to start tinder. I’ve shared this with my boy scout troop. The dip size is even better and only takes one (1).

  15. D Bro says

    This may take some fun out of it but I just microwave my petroleum jelly and pour it over the cotton balls. It seems easier to fully penetrate the cotton or lint.

    • Jim says

      I was thinking that a microwave oven would be very beneficial too, but my thought was to put the petroleum jelly and the cotton balls into the bag, then microwave the bag with the goodies in it until the P J is sufficiently melted, then knead as needed to distribute the goo into the cotton balls, (or dryer lint), being careful of course to not burn yourself on hot liquid petroleum jelly.

  16. TSgt B says

    If you cut waxed paper into strip a little wider than the diameter of the pill bottle(s), fold it over one to three thicknesses, and put this on top of the bottle, then force the lid on, it will make the bottle waterproof. Trim off the excess, and open carefully; you can use it several times over.

    • mistakesweremade says

      Thanks for this tip! I don’t have access to diabetic test strip containers, and clear plastic is easier to use anyway. 🙂

  17. Vicki says

    I can help you clean those pill bottles much easier. Microwave a coffee mug of water like you would for coffee. Pour that hot water into the pill bottle and almost immediately begin peeling off the label. It will come off in one piece with virtually no residue left over.

  18. LynnB says

    Another great….really great firestarter is to use fine steel wool which you can light with a flint or the newer magnesium strike starters.

    Also for wet wood, etc, if you have an aerosol can of just about anything, (mosquito repellent saved the day for me one cold wet camping day), and the propellent makes a great blow torch, as many women who smoked while using hair spray discovered.

    A great to have in the car in case you need to leave or just for emergencies, put your “stuff” in a .50 cal ammo case…the good ones are waterproof. Cost around $15-$20 and holds quite a bit of stuff without taking up too much room. Can also take it with if you need to abandon your vehicle.

    I bought a small battery powered radio so you can keep in touch with what’s happening, and also has a hand-crank for non-battery power. Fits in the ammo box.

    • Phred says

      These work fine when the temperatures are comfortable and the jelly is gelatinous, especially if you pull them apart a little to separate the fibers a little. But I wasted a couple of dozen matches trying to light one while snow camping. Just couldn’t get it to light in the cold air.
      Then while hiking in the summer it suffered the same fate as some of the paraffin starters I have tried, it melted and leaked out of the pill bottle and got all over everything. So now I keep the bottle inside a freezer grade zip lock bag.

  19. Amy says

    We made these when I was a Campfire Girl. The counterpart was a container of matches. The matches are dipped in paraffin to make water proof. Sand paper glued to inside of lid, and outside (just to give more surface), matches put in dipped side down. Love that you are teaching emergency preparedness as a normal thing. Wish we had more of this in the school curriculum.

  20. Leslie says

    (If I was a really good homeschooling mom.) – Sorry – Should read “If I were a really good homeschooling mom.” (Pet peeve). Thank you for the instructions.


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