Oops, I Overfilled My Zippo!

I get this query from time to time, so I thought I’d take a minute to address it.

If you’ve ever owned, own, or will own a Zippo, at some point, you will probably overfill it (or have already). You can tell you’ve overfilled it when a small puddle of lighter fluid will remain on top of the rayon batt (bet you didn’t know that cotton ball stuff under the felt flap was called that.) You’ve really overfilled it when there’s lighter fluid leaking out of the top. Mind you that I’m talking about this when your lighter is still upside down.

Okay, first you need some zinc tubing, a power drill and…wait, wait, I’m just kidding. You’re going to need two things. A washcloth and a faucet. Turn your lighter insert right side up, with the felt pulled out of the way and try to drain some of the excess out. If nothing comes out, that’s not unusual. If lighter fluid does pour out, you’ve really overfilled it. At that point, I’d suggest leaving the lighter insert out somewhere for the fuel to evaporate for a couple of days.

Presuming lighter fluid doesn’t come pouring out of the bottom of your Zippo, the rest is pretty easy. Put the insert back into the lighter. Run some water, close the lid to your Zippo, and put the closed lighter cap-side up under the water for just a few seconds, maybe 10. While doing this, make sure to get your hands damp. I’ll explain that later.

Now we want to evaporate the excess fuel. Hold the lighter right side up over the sink and strike it like normal. If something really awful happens, you can always just drop it into the sink. Again, I’ll explain that later, and it explains why you want your hands damp. Damp, not dripping wet.

That Zippo will burn like a torch. The flame will jump into the cap. Let it burn for a half minute or so, and close the lid. You’ll want to do this several times, until the flame level drops to about what you want it to be. You close the lid because, as I said, flame will jump into the cap, making it really hot. If it does get too hot to handle, let it cool a little before continuing.

Once you’ve got the flame down where you want it, and the inside of the cap isn’t catching on fire, close the lighter, rinse off your hands, wipe your hands, and wipe the lighter, and lay the Zippo on it for a while. Now go wash your hands properly.

The longer you leave the Zippo on the washcloth, the better. If you can leave it there overnight, that’s the best. I always use this method to fill my Zippo anyway, so I can throw it in a pocket the next day. I’d still suggest throwing it in a coat pocket or somewhere other than your pants pocket for a day. If you’ve ever had a naptha burn, you’ll know how painful it is, and how much you want to avoid it.

Remember when I said to keep your hands damp before lighting your Zippo to evaporate the excess fluid? The damp water will protect your hands. Let’s say you really, really, really overfilled it, as I have before. There will be fluid around the top of the chimney, and it may get on your fingers. When you light the Zippo, the flames could jump to your fingertips, and you end up, literally, with your fingertips on fire. Don’t panic (hah!). Close the lighter, and rinse your hands under the running water. Again, the fact that hands are damp will have protected them.

Now, since it’s damn near impossible to not panic with your fingertips on fire, even though it doesn’t hurt, make sure that in your panic, you drop the lighter into the sink before screaming like a little girl and running around in circles. Well, okay, I screamed like a little girl, but I did manage to close my Zippo before doing it, and didn’t run too far.

Bottom line: The lighter fluid will evaporate, even if you do nothing, if you leave the insert out a few days. You can accelerate the process by burning off the excess fluid, but take care to not hurt yourself.

And on hindsight, it was kinda cool seeing my fingertips on fire.


  1. Daniela says:

    thanks!! i really overfilled it haha thought it was defective or something lol

  2. Cortland says:

    Thanks so much! This was very helpful. And amusing.

  3. The one time that i overfilled my zippo, i just set it in the sun for awhile and i guess it dried it up some because after that it worked fine. OH Yes i did remove the flint as well. Another option you have, especially if you are a piper or stogie smoker is to replace your zippo inards with a vector system, works much better, electronic ignition, so there are no more flints or wicks and you use butane so you don’t have to worry about over filling, just be careful when you are re-filling. Do not hold it close to your face because the backspray may squirt out, and that burns. Hope that helps you out. By the way the vector system only runs about $11.99 and there are three different types; three directions of flame. they are pretty awesome and they fit right into an original zippo, not an aftermarket, faux zippo. Good Luck!!

    • Jack says:

      The problem I’ve had with the vector inserts are that a lot of them use really “hard” jet type flames, and those burn the edge of pipe bowls. They’re very good for cigars, but hell on the pipe bowls. They have a newer one that’s a little “softer” though, but I figure, if I have a Zippo, I’d rather use the original insert, or buy a nice butane lighter for butane. Just my two cents. 🙂

      • Thats very good feedback. One other thing to consider that most people don’t even realize, yet they go ahead and do it anyway, is to but a torch just for the purpose of having a “Torch” Basic rule of piper thumb is you use a torch and you’ll burn like a torch.
        You are correct though, vector does have a nice unit that i like called the “Thunderbird” that blows the flame out the side. give it a try you might like it and because its more of a flame that projects like a torch it won’t burn the rim of your pipe. Between you and i lets make it four cents 🙂 LOL

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