Fireworks Guide: Sparklers
A traditional, handheld firework which emits sparks or a coloured flame.
- Held in the hand.
- Emits either sparks (gold and silver versions) or a flame and smoke (coloured versions).
- Suitable for children (5 years or older, under supervision).
- Low smoke indoor versions available, but for cakes use ice fountains.
- Burn time typically 40 seconds (12 inch) or 90 seconds (18 inch).
- Guides to other types of fireworks can be found in the Firework Guides main menu.
A closer look at a sparkler
All varieties of sparklers look fairly similar:
Tip: The end you light. Sparklers these days have “easy light” tips (in the past they could be notoriously hard to get going!).
Pyrotechnic coating: This is the part that burns and emits sparks or a flame.
Handle: The part you hold, gloves are recommended.
Packet: This will advise whether the sparkler is suitable for indoor or outdoor use and have an instruction label with basic safety advice.
What type of effects to expect
Most outdoor sparklers come in either gold or coloured varieties. I’ve also seen a combination of effects in a double-coated type of sparkler called a “Yo Yo” sparkler which burns down in one effect and back up in another. Crackling sparklers are also available although less common.
Indoor sparklers tend to be mostly gold or silver.
Useful information: Neon sparklers
A number of sparkler brands include effects labelled as “neon” where the sparkler composition is dyed bright colours. In my testing, most of these do not burn the same colour as the dye and are often simply golden sparklers or a weak coloured flame. The neon colouring is therefore mostly for show.
How much do they cost?
£1 or thereabouts for smaller gold sparklers (usually packets of 5 or 6) up to £3+ for speciality sparklers such as giant coloured versions.
There really is a lot of variation in price. You should also expect to find bulk deals if buying a lot of sparklers e.g. for a wedding.
However to complicate matters, many outdoor sparklers are still classed as “outdoor fireworks” because of their pyrotechnic composition. Whilst they should be available all year from specialist firework shops, supermarkets and the likes tend to only have these during their seasonal Bonfire Night selling period.
Many indoor sparklers are classed as a low hazard indoor pyrotechnic and can usually be found available for mail order all year around.
Coloured vs. gold sparklers
Nearly everyone buying sparklers gravitates towards coloured sparklers as they sound better. In fact, it’s gold sparklers that give off the best sparks and create a more traditional effect. Gold sparklers also give off the least amount of smoke.
Coloured sparklers on the other hand usually burn with a bright coloured flame and emit a lot of smoke. For whatever restrictions of chemistry, it doesn’t seem possible to create the amount of sparks that gold sparklers produce but in a colour such as green, red or blue.
The two photos below, at the same scale, show the differences between a gold sparkler and a coloured one.
Useful information: Gold vs. coloured sparklers
Gold sparklers: Best sparks, least smoke. Usually the better buy.
Coloured sparklers: Least sparks, mostly just a flame, lots of smoke.
If you want to use sparklers indoors, such as on a cake, you need to buy sparklers specifically designed for indoor use.
These will be marketed as indoor sparklers or will have a packet that clearly says suitable for indoor use. Sparklers designed for cakes are also usually smaller than outdoor sparklers, typically up to 6 inches, and often come in a variety of shapes, including hearts and numbers.
For birthday cakes and the likes, the much better product in terms of spectacle is a cake fountain (usually called an ice fountain). These produce a plume of sparks. To find out more, have a look at my ice fountain article.
The best sparklers for weddings
Without a doubt, gold sparklers are much better for weddings than coloured sparklers. This is because they produce less smoke and create traditional sparks, rather than the smoky flames from coloured sparklers.
There are a few safety caveats with sparklers and weddings which I cover in the using sparklers safely section, please read this before lighting up. It could save your guests’ eyebrows 😉
The best sparklers for photography
Both gold and coloured sparklers work well for photographs however they produce completely different results.
Gold sparklers produce a fuzzy line and don’t light up as much of the surroundings.
Coloured sparklers produce a more solid line a bit like using a torch and also light up anything they are close to, making them ideal for certain situations where you want people or scenery lit up.
This is a type of outdoor sparkler which has a wooden core instead of a metal one. Although these have better ecological credentials thanks to the lack of metal, they do drop very hot ash so are not suitable for some types of celebration such as weddings, summer parties (where people might be wearing shorts) or over decking and the likes.
They burn brightly however and the giant ones – a full metre long – are great fun. Check out my full review and video of Trafalgar’s ECO Sparklers if you would like to learn more.
A word about safety
Ironically, sparklers are one of the leading causes of firework related accidents, typically burns to the hand. This is likely to be because people don’t realise they burn so hot and remain hot for a time after use.
But if used correctly, wearing gloves and with common sense there is absolutely no reason they should cause an injury.
My using sparklers safely guide has a lot more information on safe sparkler use and some tips on ensuring your sparkler fun goes without a hitch.
Gold sparklers give off the best sparks and least smoke. Coloured sparklers are a bright flame but can be quite smoky and don't spark as much.
Gold sparklers. They have more sparks than coloured sparklers and much less smoke, important if you have a large number on the go at the same time.
Only use sparklers indoors if the packet or label says they are suitable for this. Otherwise, outdoor sparklers create far too much smoke to use safely indoors.
Only use sparklers specifically designed for indoors or for cakes (they are usually much smaller than outdoor sparklers and give off less smoke). However a much better item to use on cakes is an ice fountain, which gives off much more sparks and much less smoke.
It varies tremendously depending on size and type, but typically 40 seconds for 12 inch sparklers and 120 seconds for 18 inch sparklers.
All types of sparkler can be used for photography and light painting, with varying results. Gold sparklers create a fuzzy line and don't light up much else. Coloured sparklers create a vivid line (similar to a torch) and can light up the surroundings or subjects.
If kept dry, sparklers do not have a shelf life and will store for many years. Keep them away from moisture, sources of ignition and children. They are safe to store at home.
Most types of sparkler are classed as an outdoor firework and cannot be sent through the normal postal system in the UK. This is why many outdoor sparklers cannot be purchased by mail order. Never send sparklers through the post yourself - it's illegal.
It's recommended not to give sparklers to children under 5, to ensure they are supervised and for them to wear gloves. Other than that, sparklers are safe when used with care. Always dispose of spent sparklers immediately into a bucket of water or sand.
Because many sparklers are classed as outdoor fireworks, away from the seasonal selling periods (when supermarkets stock them) you will need to find a specialist fireworks shop that is licensed to open all year. Mail order is also a possibility but sparklers have to be sent by courier and this is expensive unless it's a bulk order, say for a wedding.
The most smoky sparklers are coloured ones which can give off a lot of smoke. Gold sparklers give off much less, and indoor sparklers less still.
Due to litigation, liability and insurance considerations it is no longer advised to give away or sell sparklers at community events. There is too much potential for injury. Instead, stick to non-pyrotechnic items such as glow products (light sticks, glow necklaces and so on).
Yes. Sparklers on sale in supermarkets around Bonfire Night are just as good (and often the same brand) as you'll find in a specialist fireworks shop and often cheaper. Be aware however that supermarkets usually sell out of sparklers quite quickly, so buy well in advance. Long queues at firework shops on November 5th because all the local supermarkets have run out of sparklers are quite common. Unused sparklers will keep indefinitely if kept dry.
Further information and next steps
If you are following the Beginner’s Guides then you can click here to return to that page. Alternatively you can click here to see the main menu of each firework type in this section if you want to read more (or click on the menu at the top of this page to access all of my guides).
If you have any questions then please feel free to join my Fireworks Forum and ask away. Members are always here to help beginners and no question is too silly.
If you’re ready to buy fireworks for your display then the Buying Fireworks section will guide you further.