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A fragrance lamp, also known as a perfume lamp, effusion lamp or catalytic lamp is a lamp that disperses scented oil using a heated stone attached to a cotton wick. The catalytic combustion wick was originally developed in the 19th century for use in hospitals and mortuaries. A Frenchman named Maurice Berger was the first to receive a patent, (in 1897) and the company he founded, Lampe Berger, is the oldest worldwide manufacturer of the device though there are a growing number of companies making such lamps. The lamps are sold on the premise that molecules that cause bad smells are inherently unstable and the fragrance lamp's flame-less, low-temperature catalytic combustion speeds up the decomposition process, converting odor molecules into harmless substances (such as carbon dioxide and water). While the lamps are no longer considered effective for use in hospitals, they have remained popular as air fresheners.
The fragrance lamp's process is initiated by lighting the stone burner seated at the mouth of the lamp. After a few minutes the flame is extinguished by blowing it out. But; the heated burner remains active as the flame-less, low-temperature catalytic combustion process; and diffuses the aromatics throughout the room. The lamp does not operate with an open flame, making it much safer to operate than scented candles. Its lower operating temperature also means that, unlike scented candles, the aromatics are diffused very efficiently into the ambient air without being burned. One of the by-products of these fragrance lamps is low-level ozone, which has been attributed to the "purification process" of the lamps in eliminating odor. In the last year a newer kind of catalytic burner was introduced called the Platinum Wick. This wick is composed of metal and cotton wicking, and produces the same diffusion effect with a catalytic screen that encircles the top of the wick.
It is difficult to verify the claim that scientific evidence supports the use of these lamps as it is difficult, if not impossible, to find the relevant research.
The lamp fuel contains 90% isopropyl alcohol and should be regarded as a highly flammable liquid. Furthermore, to start the catalytic wick according to the instruction it is necessary to light the catalytic burner with a flame and let it burn for approximately two minutes until it reaches the correct operating temperature. At this point the flame should be extinguished in order for the oil to be diffused. Precautions should be taken to avoid any possible hazards:
- Make sure the fuel container is in perfect condition, perfectly tight and not leaking.
- When not in use, make sure the airtight cap is on at all times to prevent evaporation (alcohol vapour/air mixture is highly flammable).
- Do not leave unattended during operation.
- Do not use in an unventilated room.
- Do not inhale, ingest, or use the lamp fuel in any other manner.
- Take extreme caution while refilling the fragrance lamp. Make sure there is ventilation, and that there is no open flame.
- In case of any spillage, wipe the area carefully before lighting the lamp.
- Do not fill lamps on wooden furniture or use a lamp without a dish underneath it. The fuel will damage furniture.
Potential Hazard from Ozone
- Ozone has been proven to trigger asthma, causing breathing difficulty and fatal to those in bad health condition.
- Ozone will be able to remove smell, virus and bacteria only in high concentration which is beyond public health standards.
- Ozone is very reactive; it will react with many chemical compounds and form a variety of aldehydes. In an experiment performed in 1992, total concentration of organic chemicals in the air increased rather than decreased after the introduction of ozone.
- "Ozone Generators: What you need to know" (PDF). Connecticut Department of Public Health. May 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-20.
- "Ozone Generators that are Sold as Air Cleaners". US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2010-07-20.
- Weschler, Charles J; Hodgson, Alfred T; Wooley, John D (1992). "Indoor Chemistry: Ozone, Volatile Organic Compounds, and Carpets". Environmental Science and Technology 26 (12): 2371–2377. doi:10.1021/es00036a006.