Ask any camper and they will say that char cloth is one of the best tinder materials. Because of this, many outdoor lovers keep it in their tinderbox and carry it on their camping trips. But, what many of them don’t know is how long does char cloth last. After all, you can’t carry it around forever and hope it won’t lose its flammability.

The method of pyrolysis turns char cloth into slow-burning fuel which makes it great for camping and other outdoor activities. By keeping char cloth in a dry place and eliminating any excess humidity, you will manage to prolong its shelf life and keep it flammable. This goes both for char cloth you make on your own and the one you can buy in a local store.

What Makes the Best Char Cloth?

To make the best possible char cloth you will need 100% natural plant fiber. Jute, cotton, and linen are commonly used. There was some misconception that only pure cotton will work, but that’s not true.

You can safely use all plant-based materials and do just fine. Avoid synthetic cloths such as polyester. They will melt and the outcome will be a product that won’t catch a spark.

One of the popular cotton types is duck canvas or duck tape. It is a thick 100% cotton canvas that has a loose and rough weave. Using this cloth you will get a rougher surface that catches fire easier.

You can also use denim for char cloth. The rule is the thicker the better, so just make sure the fabric is thick and natural and your char cloth will be perfect.

How Do You Start a Fire With Char Cloth?

Starting a fire with char cloth is very easy. The simplicity and effectiveness are the main reasons for char cloth usage. Here are a few tips on how to start a fire with char cloth:

  • Light char cloth
  • Place it in the center of the tinder nest
  • Blow on the char cloth until the nest flames up
  • Place burning bundle under branches
  • Watch your fire grow

How Long Does Char Cloth Last?

Char cloth has two long-lasting qualities:

  • Shelf life – The shelf life of char cloth is pretty-much long. If you store it in a dry place it can last for years. So, avoid leaving it in humid areas like basements.
  • Burning length – Char cloth is the preferred tinder among campers and nature-lovers. When using steel and flint, char cloth easily ignites and burns really slowly, so you get a hot ember and plenty of time to build a fire around it.

Although char cloth is slow-burning material, you should use small kindling elements such as dried leaves to keep the spark fostered.

Char Cloth vs Cotton Balls

The main difference between these two tinders is the preparation method and different burning length. Char cloth is a drier type of tinder, while cotton balls can be a little bit soaked.

Cotton balls preparation includes lumps of cotton and vaseline, and its burning length depends on the size of balls as well as the amount of vaseline you use. Both options have their pros and cons.

Cotton balls can be a cleaner option and water can’t harm them unlike char cloths, but they tend to burn quicker than cloths. On the other hand, char cloth can be made almost anywhere, especially when you are outside and don’t have vaseline by your side.

Cotton is a great material for char cloth

Where Can You Buy Char Cloth?

If you prefer buying over making your char cloth, you can check out your local outdoor equipment store, or check out some of these char cloth kits and buy them on Amazon.

How to Make Char Cloth by Yourself

Lighting a fire while on some outdoor activity can be tricky, especially when your tinder is damp. Char cloth makes this task so much easier. Keep reading the instructions below, and learn how to make char cloth by yourself.

Find an Empty Metal Tin

Some people use empty mint tins, but you can use any metal tin you have. Just make sure to clean it thoroughly.

If you want to make a large amount of char cloth, use a paint can or something similar. The can must be 100% metal, with no rubber or any other materials.

For a can without a lid, you can use aluminum foil to cover it.

Punch a Hole in the Lid

You will need an awl, or a hammer and a nail. The hole should be large enough to stick the tip of a pen in, but not too large.

This hole will prevent the tin from exploding, and hot air and gasses will leave through it. A too-large hole would enable air to enter the tin again and it could set the cloth on fire. So the cloth will be ash instead of char cloth.

A tin with a hinged lid can let a little air get in through the hinge, so make sure to enlarge one of the hinge holes rather than punching a new one.

Choose a Natural Material

A clean and old 100% cotton T-shirt, jute, or pair of old denim jeans will do just fine.

Although the cloth is the best option since it’s easy to see when it is charred and there is no risk of dye interfering, you can safely use dyed cloth, just be sure the cloth doesn’t contain any synthetic material. Check out some other ideas for materials you can use for char cloth:

  • Loosely woven materials (easy-to-light): cotton balls, linen, cotton shirt, jute, cheesecloth, hemp
  • Heavy materials (long-burning): cotton web belt, denim, soft cotton washcloth, natural canvas, hemp rope.

Cut the Material Into Pieces

The fabric is going to shrink during charring, so make sure you have at least 2 inch (5 cm) squares of fabric.

You don’t need to precisely measure cloth or make even edges, just make sure the cloths are similar in size and cut them with a pair of scissors.

Pieces need to be small enough to be set flat inside the tin. Rolled up cloth may not char fairly. Bigger cloth pieces will probably burn longer, which is great if you have a dump tinder.

Place the fabric pieces into the container, and keep them mostly flat. You can nearly fill the tin or leave some space, just be sure you don’t block the fabric.

Place Char Cloth on a Ventilated Heat Source

During charring, the cloth will produce bad-smelling or potentially toxic gas. So the best option is to set a heat source somewhere outside, in a non-flammable area.

If you are making char cloth inside, be sure the space is fireproof and well-ventilated. Check out possible options you may have in a survival or camping situation:

  • Hot coals base on a grill or a fire.
  • Camping stove on a minimum flame.
  • Grease candle – you can make it with leftover cooking fat, a wick, and a jar.

The cloth pieces in the tin will partially fall apart into ash and gas. The result is ready-to-light carbon. Burning gas leaving a hole is a great sign. Leave the can or tin until gasses die down.

Waiting time can be from 5 to 50 minutes, depending on the tin size and temperature. Larger cans and lower temperatures might make the process longer.

Make sure the thin is upright, and the hole is on the upper side. Large tins may have trouble heating all the cloths. You can use a fire-stiffer to turn them in the coals and make sure there is no more gas left to be burned off.

Let the Can Cool and Then Examine the Char Cloth

Remove the tin from the fire, and place it on a fireproof surface. Wait until it’s cool enough before touching it.

This step is optional, but you can place a nail or other tool back in the tin hole, so fresh oxygen stops from entering the cooling tin. The freshly made char cloth is burning hot, and may automatically ignite if there is too much oxygen on the tin.

If you followed all of the steps from above, you should get fully black charcoal, with visible fiber patterns.

The char cloth should be able for easy transportation, without falling apart. After peeling apart the pieces, store them in a waterproof bag. You can use them as a camping accessorize or for emergencies.

Make sure the cloth is completely black, if not, return it to the tin and heat again. Be sure there is no gas coming from the tin before you take it off. If you see cloth crumbling to dust when touched, you probably left it on fire for too long. Use a new fabric, and try again.

How to Make Char Cloth Indoors?

Making char cloth inside of your home is pretty much the same process as making it outdoors. Though instead of letting the smoke coming out of the tin hole and spreading through your house, you can light it with a flame, not on a stove.

It will burn much like a candle. When the flame is gone, your char cloth is ready. Make sure to open the windows, so the air can flow, and make the char cloth under the cooker hood if possible.