Cotton balls burn fairly well as tinder, but they can be improved greatly with a few moments of time and some petroleum jelly. The cotton and petroleum jelly combination makes an excellent kindling, which will burn for over three minutes. That’s long enough that they can be useful if your kindling isn’t fully dry.
You have to make these one at a time for them to come out well; however, it is best to follow the first one up with another, while you’ve got everything out. They will keep for a good long while, so you may as well make a batch of them while you’re at it.
The idea is to saturate the cotton ball with the petroleum jelly. To do so, put a cotton ball in a bowl and scoop up about a teaspoon worth of petroleum jelly, with the back side of a spoon. Using the backside of the spoon, work the petroleum jelly thoroughly into all parts of the cotton ball. Please note that you need to use the back side of the spoon and not the front side. If you use the front side, you’ll end up with the petroleum jelly stuck in the spoon, instead of being worked into the cotton ball.
The same sort of fire starter can be made using the cotton pads that women use to take off makeup. These are a little easier to work with, as they maintain their shape easier. The biggest problem with these is that they don’t soak up as much petroleum jelly, so they won’t burn as long.
Finished cotton balls should be stored in an airtight container or zipper plastic bag. Only one is needed for starting a fire. They will ignite readily from a small flame, a spark, or when using the sun’s rays to start a fire.