Gas lanterns work by burning a fuel to heat the mantles and create incandescent light. The mantle is a ceramic material that withstands enough heat to produce light without melting or burning. Gas lanterns produce the heat with propane or using vaporized white gasoline or kerosene.
The mantle is essential to operation of a gas lantern. As of 2015, most gas lanterns use a Welsbach mantle. Manufacturers produce new mantles by impregnating the silk mesh with the chemicals thorium oxide, cerium oxide and magnesium oxide. The installer ties the silk mantle in place and burns the silk away without fuel, leaving a fragile ceramic mesh. The brittle ceramic provides the surface area the device requires for efficient lighting.
While heating practically any material to a high enough temperature produces light, some materials provide a better quality of light than others do. Hot glass gives off a poor quality light. Steel is better. However, the ceramic mantle gives off a bright white light with heat.
Manufacturers design lanterns for outdoor use with plenty of ventilation. When lanterns burn fuel, they produce carbon monoxide, a deadly gas, so owners should avoid using lanterns indoors. The lantern also produces heat. Owners should place lanterns in areas away from combustible materials and on a sturdy base.