Kerosene heaters work by drawing kerosene from a tank through a wick to a combustion area, where the kerosene ignites and heat is generated. Most of these heaters are equipped with a tip-over device to prevent fires in the event that they are accidentally knocked over.
Also known as paraffin heaters, kerosene heaters are portable, unvented space heaters generally used as supplemental heat in homes without central heating in every room or as a source of heat during power outages, when conventional heat sources are unavailable.
While safer in 2015 than they were even a decade previously, kerosene heaters still pose a risk of accidental fire owing to operator error, such as not providing sufficient ventilation or using the wrong type of fuel. Other potential fire hazards caused by operator error include improper storage of combustible fuels and general carelessness while adding fuel. Kerosene heaters, along with electric space heaters and wood stoves, pose a far greater risk of fatal fire than central heating. Some health officials warn against using kerosene heaters, often citing the potential health risks involved in breathing the fumes.
Modern safety enhancements to kerosene heaters include automatic extinguishing devices, protective metal grills, carrying handles and lift-out fuel canisters. Other improvements include battery-powered ignitions, fuel gauges and leveling indicators.