ASTM F2201-20: Utility Lighters

A man using a utility lighter, adhering to ASTM F2201-20, to light cupcakes for a surprise office birthday celebration.

Mechanical lighters appeared in the early 16th century. They worked with gunpowder and ignition, running like with firearms. They were very noisy and produced a tremendous amount smoke and hence could be dangerous to life. Nowadays, utility lighters can adhere to consumer safety specifications like ASTM F2201-20: Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Utility Lighters.

Invention of the Everyday Lighter

During the 19th century, there was an increased focus on creating self-igniting friction matches and developing lighters. Before pocket lighters, people had to rely on tinder boxes and then vesta cases, small portable cases made from precious and non-precious metals that held matches. Matches were used to light lanterns, fires, and stoves, so almost everyone needed a vesta case.

In 1823, Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, a German chemist and professor at the University of Jena, invented one of the earliest lighters. The large contraption, which looked like a lamp, worked by reacting zinc with dilute sulfuric acid in order to produce hydrogen. To use it, a valve was lifted, firing the flammable hydrogen gas toward a porous form of platinum known as “platinum sponge” (i.e., the platinum metal catalyst). This then reacted with the atmospheric oxygen, heating the platinum and igniting the hydrogen, resulting in a steady, flaring flame. This lamp was very large, hard to use, and also highly dangerous, and as a result, it did not remain popular.

Needless to say, creating today’s widely-used and safe utility lighter—with safety specifications detailed in ASTM F2201-20— took a lot of experimentation throughout history.

What Is ASTM F2201-20?

ASTM F2201-20 covers all flame-producing consumer products commonly known as utility lighters (also known as grill lighters, fireplace lighters, lighting rods, or gas matches) and such similar devices. This standard establishes requirements for utility lighters to assure a reasonable degree of safety for normal use and reasonably foreseeable misuse of such utility lighters by users. Utility lighters, being flame-producing devices, present a potential hazard to the user. ASTM F2201-20 cannot eliminate all hazards, but it intends to minimize potential hazards of utility lighters to users.

Matches are specifically excluded from this specification; flame-producing products intended for igniting cigars, pipes, and cigarettes are also specifically excluded from this safety specification and are covered in ASTM F400-20.

History of the Portable Lighter

Pocket lighters made an entrance during the late Victorian era. They were filled with fuel, which was then absorbed by a cotton wick. This model used a sparking flint mechanism. Victorian lighters were predominantly crafted in brass however silver lighters were also found.

In 1910, the Ronson Company manufactured the Pist-O-Liter, which was designed to closely resemble a long-barreled pistol. The trigger released a file-like component which rubbed against a flint-like surface contained in the barrel. It was a practical choice for applying sparks to harder-to-reach places, such as motor vehicle engines. Shortly after this in 1912, Ronson developed the Wonderlite, a metal cased lighter more closely resembling modern varieties, known as a “permanent match” style of lighter. Developed in New Jersey, Ronson invented the first truly automatic lighter in 1926. This model called “Banjo” enabled users to press a button that created a flame, and then when the button was released, the flame extinguished. It was a huge success due to its simple usability and attractive design. By the late 1920s, there were four main types of lighters in use: manual, automatic, semi-automatic, and striker lighters. 

In 1933, George G Blaisdell founded the “Zippo” lighter. Early Zippos were made of brass, but during the World War II they were manufactured from black crackle steel due to metal shortages. Zippos during wartime were commonly emblazoned with unit crests and other military symbols, a trend which is still popular today. They developed into a popular fashion accessory with a variety of artistic designs and metals used.

Utility Lighters Structure Requirements

ASTM F2201-20 specifies that utility lighters should withstand the following tests:

  • Drop Test: three separate 1.5-m (5-ft) drops without fuel reservoir fragmentation, without sustained self-ignition, and without a leakage rate exceeding 15 mg/mi
  • Temperature Test: a temperature of 65 °C (149 °F) for 4 h
  • Burning Test: a burning time of 10 s in two different attitudes— (1) with the flame directed vertically upward, and (2) with the flame directed 45° below horizontal
  • Pressure Tests: internal pressure of two times the vapor pressure occurring at 55°C (131°F) of the fuel recommended by the manufacturer

ASTM F2201-20: Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Utility Lighters is available on the ANSI Webstore.

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