A fragrance oil lamp consists of a fuel reservoir, a stone and a wick. Isopropyl alcohol is the fuel. Only the alcohol burns; it heats the stone and the fragrance diffuses into the air. These lamps also are known as catalytic lamps and lampe bergers.
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The special wick used in fragrance oil lamps is called a catalytic combustion wick. It was developed in the 19th century. It was originally intended for use in hospitals and mortuaries, to remove unpleasant odours and -- it was thought -- to purify the air. The first person to gain a patent on such a lamp was Maurice Berger.
The lamp works through catalytic combustion. You light the lamp, then after a few minutes extinguish the flame. The combustion process continues, however, causing the fragrance to be dispersed around the room. Most fragrance oil lamp wicks are made from cotton, but a new version called the Platinum Wick is made entirely from metal.
Manufacturers claim the newer metal wicks are superior to cotton wicks because they don't need to be removed from the lamp when not in use and are not subject to carbon build-up. The metal wicks also last longer. Concerns have been expressed over health risks from the use of fragrance lamps, such as the potential for allergic reactions.
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