Like any millennial worth their salt, I maintain a home well stocked with candles in varying scents to match the seasons and my moods. And while my personal sustainability journey long ago led me to seek out particularly ethical, eco-friendly candle options with which to refresh my supply, it wasn’t until much more recently that I realized I could also improve upon the actual candle lighting method. Lighters aren’t exactly the type of product that’s constantly reinvented, so it never dawned on me that there might be an alternative to matches or long-neck, butane-fueled lighters — and then I saw a random Instagram post about rechargeable USB lighters.
I couldn’t get my hands on one fast enough: I ordered The USB Lighter Company’s Candle Lighter from an independent eco-shop in October 2021 and haven’t bought a gas lighter since. (I have, however, bought at least five more USB lighters for family and friends — they make for excellent gifts, especially when paired with a sustainable candle.)
The Candle Lighter from The USB Lighter Company is a sustainable swap with almost no downsides. The rechargeable, fossil fuel-free technology can put an end to your days of buying and throwing away gas-powered lighters, while the sleek design and futuristic flame will actually have you excited about what’s typically a pretty boring home item.
What we liked about it
The reason I bought myself a USB lighter a year and a half ago is still my favorite thing about it: It eliminates the need to repeatedly purchase and dispose of the widely available plastic butane lighters (which are typically packaged partially in more plastic). While those lighters are powered by a toxic fossil fuel and only last as long as the butane does, The Candle Lighter works via technology derived from the Tesla Coil; a battery-powered electric current creates plasma arcs, which in turn create a spark. The battery takes about 1.5 hours to charge, a full battery powers about 300 lights (according to the website; I haven’t personally counted, but I charge mine so rarely that I can’t remember the last time I plugged it in, despite lighting candles regularly), and when it dies, you just plug it back in to recharge. Sure, there are some refillable butane lighters on the market, but those seem to be less widely available — and they still require repeated use of that fossil fuel. Plus, refillable or not, when you dispose of a gas-powered lighter, you’re not only adding plastic to the waste stream but also potentially leaking gas into land and waterways.
To be honest, I didn’t consider much beyond the sustainability aspect when I bought my USB lighter, but I’m thrilled to report that it’s an incredible product outside of that as well. The arc tips are inside the lighter when not in use; when you slide the switch cover up to reveal the power button, the arc tips get pushed out as well — the surrounding plastic barely gets hot at all, but it is nice to be able to nestle the arc tips back within the rest of the lighter when you’re done and put it away. As for the lighting itself, it’s as easy as can be: Push the little red button, and a glowing purple spark line appears between the arc tips with a sizzling sound to accompany it. Hold the lighter so that the candle wick (or whatever else you’re lighting — the edge of a log or fire kindling, perhaps) is positioned in that spark, and watch the flame appear.
If you plan to use it outside, whether to light a citronella candle on your patio at home or to ignite the bonfire during your summer camping trip, there’s also the added bonus of being windproof. Unlike gas-powered lighter flames, The Candle Lighter spark is nestled well between the arc tips and surrounding plastic, so you don’t have to worry about annoyingly strong gusts getting in the way of your task.
The lighter’s exterior has a smooth, matte finish that feels really nice to the touch and is easy to grip when using — plus, it comes in a range of colors, including olive green, rose gold and more. And while this is neither here nor there when it comes to sustainability or function, I have to admit, it’s fun to use. Even now, a year-plus into having mine, I’m still a bit fascinated every time I see and hear that spark work its magic science.
The Candle Lighter is The USB Company’s classic model, but it also has the newer The Motli Light ($45), which offers a slightly different shape, longer battery life (advertised as up to 1,000 lights per charge), a built-in LED flashlight and an on/off button separate from the lighter switch. The Motli Jr. ($35) is a slimmed-down version with a smaller battery (500-plus lights per charge, according to the website) and no flashlight, and The Pocket Lighter ($35) is the most compact model, with a double arc facing out from the lid for easy lighting.
What we didn’t like about it
To be honest, there’s not much not to like. The only issue I’ve ever had with The Candle Lighter has been the spark not appearing every once in a while when I go to light it. On a couple rare occasions, that’s been because the battery died and I didn’t realize it (in which case I plugged it in for 10 minutes or so until it had enough charge to work, or used a match in a pinch). Otherwise, it’s because the arc tips had collected a bit too much ash debris; when that happens, I just use a corner of a towel or napkin to wipe it clean. (For what it’s worth, the website recommends a dry sponge or old toothbrush.) In some cases, the arc may not appear because of the overcharge protection — according to the website, the lighter will shut off for a minute if it’s overused.
If you’re taking your lighter on the go for a camping or road trip, it may be a nuisance to think about charging — but if you’re carrying a phone, chances are you’ll also have an external battery for that. Plus, if the lighter is fully charged before you go, you probably won’t need to plug it in on the trip.
And then there’s the price. The Candle Lighter is $30, and The Motli Light is $45 — admittedly, high numbers for a lighter, especially if you’re used to buying the disposable kind. Then again, a butane candle lighter may only cost about $3, but it’s not unreasonable to think you’d buy 10 or more lighters in the time you could have a single USB lighter (I know I would — in fact, I certainly have bought more than 10 in the past prior to having the USB version). It may also be a comfort to know that the company offers a 30-day guarantee, so if you have any issues within that time frame, you should be able to easily get a replacement.
That said, it’s also not uncommon to pay more for products made sustainably and ethically. The USB Lighter Company touts its US compliance with all global and international ethics labor laws, which “means all of our factories and manufacturers have passed BSCI [Business Social Compliance Initiative] Audit Protocol.” The packaging, meanwhile, is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified Zero Waste Packaging. The lighters come in simple boxes, with instructions printed on the boxes themselves or accessible via a QR code that’s on the box. Unfortunately, though, the website doesn’t have further transparency beyond those brief statements; as with all products and brands, the ideal scenario would be to have an extensive sustainability and ethics report available to all consumers.
Even with the steep price tag, I wholeheartedly recommend The USB Lighter Company’s The Candle Lighter (see my earlier comment about having already bought at least five for gifts). If you’re a candle person or require a lighter with even minimal regularity, it’s worth it — both for the environment and for personal convenience — to have one of these on hand.