All out of butane for your butane stove? You’re in the right place to find out whether or not you can simply use propane, instead.
Unless you’re using a multi-fuel stove, it isn’t a good idea to try to use propane in a butane stove. Propane and butane are very different fuels and each requires a unique combination of air and fuel in order to work safely and effectively. Instead, it’s better to choose whether you want to use propane or butane and purchase a stove that will suit that requirement.
Things can get complicated when it comes to the fuel options available for camping stoves. There are so many different choices out there, and it can be really difficult to determine how different they are from one another.
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There may be any number of reasons you’re wondering if you can use propane in a butane stove. Maybe you purchased the perfect camping stove, only to find that the fuel it uses is more expensive than you had hoped. Or perhaps propane is all you have on hand at the moment and you want to see if you can make it work rather than waste the fuel.
Whatever your concern is, you’re in the right place. Continue on and you can learn about the differences between propane and butane, and whether or not you can exchange one for the other safely.
Why Can’t You Use Propane in a Butane Stove?
Propane and Butane are both natural gas production byproducts–so it seems logical they are interchangeable. However, although they are similar, and are both classified as Liquefied Petroleum Gasses (LPGs), they are different enough to make it dangerous to swap.
Butane is actually a denser gas, at 2.489 (kg/m³), while propane is 1.882 (kg/m³) –see Engineering Toolbox for specifics. If that wasn’t enough of a difference, propane has a much higher vapor pressure than butane. (At 21.1C, Propane is ~109psig while butane is only ~16.9psig–source).
This is why propane comes in tough steel cylinders and butane comes in those much lighter canisters. In other terms, propane is trying to escape out of its fuel tank more strongly than butane is.
If you’re new to using camping stoves, then you might be wondering what all the different fuels are and how to even start figuring out which one is ideal for you. To start learning about the basics of the different camping stove fuels, take a look at our article on the subject here.
When you use butane in your butane stove, the system is designed to ensure that the fuel is mixed with the correct amount of air. As a result, you get a nice, safe flame that you can use for cooking. The same occurs when you use propane in a propane stove. The stove and jets are custom-built for the properties of the gas they were designed for.
However, what’s worth understanding is that butane and propane need different combinations of air and fuel in order to work correctly. The specific combination used for butane is unlikely to work if you use propane instead. This is largely because the density of each fuel type is different.
Aha! You might say, but I’ve gotten this to work! Well, yes, both butane and propane are gasses you can burn–but wait a second.
Generally speaking, butane is a fuel with a higher density while propane is much less dense. So if you add propane to a butane stove, that stove is going to continue functioning as if it is using Butane. As a result, you could end up experiencing unintended consequences that range from inefficiency to danger. One such consequence includes the stove burning with a yellow flame.
Dangers of Yellow-Flame Stoves
At a bare minimum, having a yellow flame on your stove can mean that it’s not running efficiently. Consequently, food won’t be able to cook as well and it may even result in future problems with your stove. You may be burning more gas at a lower heat than is optimum. That’s the best case.
Some stoves are designed to result in yellow or orange flames, but if your stove typically creates a blue flame, a yellow flame is a problem. To learn more about what causes yellow flames on a camp stove and how to fix them, take a look at our article on the subject here.
On a more serious note, a yellow flame can also create danger through the increased release of carbon monoxide. If the stove is being used in an enclosed area, then carbon monoxide poisoning can quickly become a real issue. Consequently, campers should make sure that they are using their stove outside if at all possible–even if you have the right type of gas, particulates, dirty stoves, etc can affect your stove burning.
Second to that, make sure that you can recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Being familiar with these symptoms can mean saving a life in some cases since the carbon monoxide itself is difficult to notice without a detector.
According to the National Ag Safety Database, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are as follows:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Shortness of Breath
- Heart Flutter
If you notice these symptoms while using your camping stove, please remove yourself from the immediate area as quickly as possible. At that point, it’s a good idea to contact a doctor or other medical health professional to make sure you’re doing okay. In some cases, a trip to the hospital may be needed to ensure there are no lasting effects.
Protecting Yourself From Carbon Monoxide While Camping
Carbon monoxide is something that is worth being aware of no matter where you are. Poisoning can happen in homes, RVs, and tents. Furthermore, it isn’t easy to tell if there is a build-up due to the substance having no scent. Because of this, it’s very important to take the precautions needed to keep yourself and your family safe.
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock website provides these tips to use when you’re camping to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Ventilation is your best friend. Cook outside in the open if you can, or with doors and/or windows open if you’re inside an RV.
- Get a detector. Carbon monoxide detectors will alert you to potentially dangerous levels before they can become a real problem. Make sure you have one that works well, has fresh batteries, and is easy to see and/or hear.
- Be aware of the carbon monoxide that may be created by others. The stoves and exhausts of nearby campers can sometimes create an issue. Be careful how close you get to other campers and try to avoid placing tents near places where higher levels of carbon monoxide might be emitted.
- Maintenance. Conduct regular maintenance for your camping stove to make sure it’s functioning correctly. Then, follow the guidelines for that stove to ensure the best results.
But…My Friend Tried This and It Worked Fine
So, your friend might have a point, let’s look into how they might have done it.
Exceptions exist for every rule. There are stoves out there that can accept a wider variety of fuels. Camping stoves like the GasOne GS-3400P are capable of using either propane or butane for cooking. This is a super convenient option! If you want the flexibility, it may be worth opting for one of these stoves.
As it turns out, a lot of stoves actually run on a blend of propane and butane. Propane can burn at MUCH lower temperatures than butane (because of its higher vapor pressure). Just because your stove takes a fuel blend doesn’t mean it can be used with pure propane or butane. Always use the fuel recommended for the stove.
If it’s important for you to be able to use multiple kinds of fuel in your camping stove, then make sure to do plenty of research on the stoves that are capable of handling different fuels. On top of that, it’s wise to know how to make any changes needed so that each kind of fuel can burn safely.
Otherwise, we recommend sticking with the tried-and-true. Meaning that you use the fuel intended for your stove, and in the correct size. Ultimately, this ensures the highest level of safety and efficiency, even if it isn’t always the most inexpensive or convenient.
Now, you may be wondering, why even use butane? Well, there’s advantages and disadvantages you might think about.
For those of you who are shopping for a new camping stove, comparing the costs of different kinds of fuels can help you to choose the stove that will suit your needs and budget best. In our article on the topic here, we’ll compare the costs of propane and butane to give you a clear picture.