6 Reasons Why Your Camp Stove Burns With a Yellow Flame (and How To Fix It)


Unsure why your camping stove is burning with a yellow flame? Learn the reasons and how to fix them here!

There are several reasons both liquid-fueled and gas-fueled camping stoves may have a yellow flame. These can include a lack of oxygen, food oil that has spilled on the burners, and obstructions from insects or spiders..

Keep in mind, those aren’t the only reasons your stove may develop a yellow flame. Continue on to learn more causes of a yellow flame on both kinds of stoves as well as how you can fix each of these problems and get cooking again!

What Stoves Can Develop a Yellow Flame?

Camping stoves tend to fall into two categories based on the kinds of fuel they use: either liquid fuel or gas fuel. However, you can also find versions of those stoves that are designed to be ultra-lightweight for backpackers or for compact camping needs. Compact stoves may develop a yellow flame for different reasons than non-portable stoves, so keep that in mind.

In any case, liquid fuel and gas fuel stoves can develop a yellow flame–for similar reasons.

Below, you’ll find some basics on both gas-fueled and liquid-fueled stoves, to help you with determining which you have (if you’re uncertain).

There are some solid advantages to both liquid fuel camping stoves and to gas fuel camping stoves. I did a comprehensive post that talks about all the different types of fuel and their different advantages and disadvantages. Check it out! You might find a reason to jump ship and try another type of camping stove!

The two most common fuels are propane and white gas (white gas is a liquid fuel)–if you’re just interested in these two, check out our article comparing the two here.

Gas Stoves

Gas stoves are much more popular for campers. Larger propane stoves specifically work exceptionally well for car camping where weight isn’t an issue. If you don’t need two burners, you can get a single burner size, these stoves also offer larger sizes so you can cook for the whole family.

Gas camping stoves are very convenient. You attach your fuel to your stove and light it! There are some disadvantages, depending on what type of gas you have (butane for example) you might run into issues cooking in cold weather. Also, tank disposal and storage is a pain, but that’s true of almost any fuel type.

Propane is by far the easiest camping fuel to come by and is the go to for many campers.

Liquid Stoves

Whereas gas stoves tend to be more abundant and lightweight, liquid stoves tend to be more versatile. You can budget your meals exactly and bring exactly the fuel you need–as opposed to propane tanks where it’s difficult to know how much fuel you have left.

Liquid fuel is often used by ultralight backpackers (especially alcohol stoves) because of the ability to exactly budget your liquid fuel.

Liquid fuel stoves are trickier to ignite and to get a clean blue flame as they require priming. Definitely figure out your liquid fuel stove before you go try cooking with it out in nature.

Reasons a Gas Stove Might Have a Yellow Flame

There are a few common reasons why your gas camping stove has developed a yellow flame. In some cases, it may be something as simple as food debris build up. On the other hand, bugs and other issues can cause clogs in the system. If your gas stove seems to be stuck with only a yellow flame, check out these causes and solutions to get to the root of the issue.

Food Oil Spills

From time to time, the oils you use for cooking can build up on the stove itself. Ultimately, this makes it harder for the flame on the stove to get as hot as it should be. Whether it’s vegetable oil, olive oil, canola oil or some other kind of cooking oil, it can cause issues for your stove.

In some cases, you may just end up with some remnants from greasy foods on your stove. As you can imagine, these substances can burn off when you light your stove and can even interfere with the amount of oxygen being burned.

If there’s smoke coming from your stove (similar to when there’s food that falls to the bottom of your oven), that’s a promising indicator that your problem is simply oil build-up.

How To Fix It

There are a couple of ways you can deal with the oil spills that end up on your stove. Often, campers can just allow the stove to run for a while in order to burn up the remaining oil on the stove. If you set up the stove and keep it burning for a while, you may see that the flame returns to blue after the oil is cleared away.

If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you can also set to cleaning the burners. Take apart the pieces carefully, ensure they get cleaned well and then return the parts to where they belong. You can test your flame afterwards and see if that made a difference.

Gross Burner

Beyond simple oil spills, there may be some cases in which your burner ends up blocked by other kinds of debris. This might include oil spills, but you may also find bits of food that have become stuck to the burner, debris from the outdoors, and more.

When this occurs, it can be quite an obvious sign that your flame may not get back to normal until the burner is properly cleaned. With so much food debris, the flame can have quite a bit of trouble getting to the temperature it needs to be at.

If you’re finding that food debris and spills are a common problem on your burners, it might be that your pot is a little too shallow and oil and food spatters are too easily directed into your stove burner. If you want some other cooking options, check out our article here can that provide helpful information on pots and pans options for car camping.

How To Fix It

Cleaning your burner doesn’t require anything too complicated. You can simply use a stainless steel cleaner or vinegar in addition to some warm water. Either one will work, though you may need to use the cleaner several times if your burner has built up a lot of gunk.

You’ll need to begin by taking apart the areas you want to clean. Remove anything that is getting in the way, including all the fuel and other attachments that may be on your stove. During this process, you may want to grab a paper clip or an old toothbrush to use for removing gunk from the gas ports as well.

Be careful of using a toothpick because these can break off and worsen the problem.

Bugs Taking Up Residence

In some cases, it may not just be food debris that’s causing problems for your flame. Insects and arachnids can sometimes end up tucked away in your stove. These critters might include earwigs or spiders, who some claim may be even attracted to gases like propane.

Imagine that!

When this occurs, it can mean a buildup of dead bugs in your stove or spider webs clogging up the system. Not only can this be a frustrating experience, but also a creepy one if you aren’t a fan of eight-legged tenants in your stove. Luckily, they aren’t too difficult to remove.

How To Fix It

For the most part, compressed air is the key to getting both critters and webs out of your stove. In addition to your regular cleaning, compressed air just allows you to get a little more force inside the stove without causing any damage to the device itself.

If you suspect that spiders or earwigs are to blame for a problem in your stove, it is wise to be careful while getting them out. Try to keep any critters blown out of the stove far enough away from you. In most cases, you may just end up blowing out dead bugs but you never know when you might end up with an irritated spider who just lost its home. Yikes!

Lack Of Air

A yellow flame coming from your gas stove can also indicate that there isn’t enough oxygen getting into the system. Anyone who has built a fire knows that it needs enough oxygen to burn efficiently. When that oxygen is limited, the fire often suffocates.

In a stove, a lack of oxygen tends to mean that the flame isn’t able to get hot enough for you to cook well on. Instead, you get that yellow flame that just can’t really get the job done. If you believe this is an issue for your stove, it’s a good time to make some adjustments to let more oxygen in.

How To Fix It

Fixing a lack of oxygen in a gas stove requires a bit more know-how than simply cleaning it or blowing the bugs out. Because of this, you may want to take some time to learn about the inner workings of your stove. Once you know how to make adjustments to your model, you’ll have an easier time getting more oxygen flowing.

It could be if you open up your gas regulator all the way at once that a safety mechanism is tripped, called Low-Flow mode. This happens usually on large 15-lb propane tanks.

This isn’t a camping stove (but could definitely be used for a big group), but about halfway into the video he talks about low-flow mode. It also has some ideas on how to clean a stove that should apply to a camping stove as well:

Reasons a Liquid Stove Might Have a Yellow Flame

Many of the causes of a yellow flame you might experience with a gas stove can also apply to a liquid stove. However, there are a couple more possible causes you might notice when it comes to a liquid camping stove. If the causes listed above don’t seem to be causing your yellow flame, then check these ones out!

Gunky Stove

If you’ve been using your camping stove for a long time, then you may find that gunk can build up in areas aside from the burners. Typically, the burners are the most common places for debris buildup, but the space around those burners can certainly end up covered in gunk too.

That means things like food, bugs, oils, and debris from the outdoors or fire can end up causing an unwanted yellow flame on your liquid camping stove. If you’re noticing this gunk buildup, you’re going to need to do a deep clean on your entire stove to try to get it back to working order.

How To Fix It

There’s only one way to handle a stove that is covered in debris – clean it! When it comes to cleaning a camping stove that uses liquid fuel, it’s a good idea to make sure and detach the fuel tank before you clean any part of the stove, itself. That way, you can clean more safely and avoid mixing that fuel with any of the cleaners you’re using.

Next, different areas of the stove will need to be cleaned in different ways. For the painted areas, you can use just a gentle cleanser with some warm water to get any debris off. When you move onto the stainless steel areas, baking soda, vinegar, and stainless steel cleaners are a great idea.

If you’re cleaning any part of the fuel tank, its regulator, or any aspect of that outside the stove you can use brake cleaner.

To see an example of someone cleaning the regulator stem, check out this video here:

Be very careful to ensure you are in contact with as little fuel as possible. This guy uses steel wool to clean the stem but make sure you are a good distance from your fuel source since steel wool can generate sparks with friction so be careful.

Generator Problems

If you’re using a portable liquid fuel stove like the MSR Whisperlite Liquid Fuel stoves, the parts are a little bit different, but serve a similar purpose.

Often, a yellow flame on your liquid camping stove is a sign that something may be wrong with the generator. The Generator is a loop of metal that connects the fuel line hose to the stove itself. It’s pivotal in actually vaporizing the fuel creating the blue, clean flame you’re looking for.

Sometimes a good cleaning of the stove is all that is necessary–sometimes it required a cleaning of the generator, or of the pump and fuel tank itself.

When the generator for your stove isn’t working quite right, it can keep the flame from being able to reach the right temperature. Instead of heating up efficiently and turning into the blue flame campers know and love, it remains a wild yellow flame that needs to be resolved.

How To Fix It

There are two steps you can take when you suspect your generator is the cause of a rampant yellow flame. The first of these steps involve cleaning the generator. When you’re doing this, you’ll want to make sure that you clean out the shaft and spring carefully. Be careful to avoid damaging the needle!

Always check with your manufacturer for instructions on how to clean your liquid fuel camping stove. For reference, I’m putting the MSR instructions here as they will likely apply to many different types of liquid fuel stoves:

If you try cleaning the generator and it doesn’t work, you may need to take the next step to replace it. The good news is that replacing the generator doesn’t need to be a costly venture. What will be important is ensuring that you get a generator that works for your specific stove model.

Staying Safe While Repairing Your Stove

Both gas and liquid stoves involve the use of flammable materials. After all, how else are you going to get your food properly cooked? Because these stoves do come with some risk, it’s important that you stay safe while trying to resolve any issues the stove may be having.

Here are a few tips to help you remain safe while getting your gas or liquid stove back in order:

  • Work in an open space. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. Gas stoves produce noxious fumes include carbon monoxide, which can become very dangerous to you in an enclosed area. According to the National Center For Biotechnology Information, carbon monoxide can be a huge problem while cooking on a camping stove in a tighter space. It’s only fair to take extra caution even if you’re just repairing a stove. Additionally, it’s a good idea to make sure the fumes and potential fire from either kind of stove can be released safely.
  • Bring a carbon monoxide detector (if you have no choice but to cook in a semi-enclosed space) As mentioned above, gas stoves can release carbon monoxide. To keep yourself extra safe, it’s a good idea to have a detecting device nearby to make sure you aren’t being exposed to too much carbon monoxide.
  • Avoid hot temperatures. The only heat you want in the area should be coming from your stove once you’re ready to test it out again. Aside from that, nearby heat sources can be very dangerous.
  • Watch out for leaks. Leaks from both gas and liquid fuels can result in fire where you don’t want it. Make sure that any leaks get cleaned up well before you decide to use the stove again.

If issues like these, added weight or other annoyances are causing you to wonder if a camping stove is really worth the added effort, you aren’t alone! Check out our article on whether or not you need a camping stove here to learn more.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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