What Is the Difference Between Kerosene & Coal Oil?

Kerosene and coal oil are often assumed to be the same thing; a clear, liquid fuel used for lamps and cooking. In the early years of the oil industry, the two names were often used synonymously.


Kerosene is a fuel oil made from the distillation of petroleum, or crude oil. It is used for cooking, as a lamp oil, and also as a fuel for automobiles in some parts of the world. Kerosene is mentioned in Persian texts dating from the ninth century.

Coal Oil

At the dawn of the oil industry, the patent for a product called Kerosene was filed by the chemist James Young. He had found a method of processing oil shale and bituminous coal into a thin, clear liquid fuel. He named this oil Kerosene, and sold this product all over the world. This product was called "coal oil" by the general public.

Coal Oil is Kerosene

The name "coal oil" is historically linked to Kerosene because of the common misconception that the Kerosene came from the coal. In fact, Kerosene comes from the oil inside the coal. The term "coal oil" is an outdated name which only flourished at the dawn of the oil industry.