Propane vs. Kerosene: A Storage Guide for Preppers

Propane vs. Kerosene: A Storage Guide for Preppers

Have you ever gone three or more weeks without electricity because of a hurricane, tornado, or some other disaster?  I have, and I can tell you from experience that even for a short term scenario, managing fuel is not as easy as it looks.   Each of these situations gave me a chance to gain some very tangible experience with fuel storage issues.  When considering propane vs. kerosene, it is not enough to just consider the basic characteristics of the fuel or how much energy it will produce. You must also consider storage safety long term changes in the fuel.  This article will give you an introduction to propane and kerosene as well as advantages and disadvantages of storing each one for survival needs.

An Introduction to Propane

Propane is actually a gaseous form of petroleum.    When propane is compacted 270 times more than normal pressure, it turns into a liquid that is easy to transport.  There are two ways to get propane:

Propane flame
  • propane can be extracted from natural gas.  In this case, butane, and ethane (both volatile gasses) must be removed so that the remaining propane is safe to transport through natural gas lines.
  • Propane is also released while petroleum is being turned into heating oil and gasoline.
  • This fuel is considered cleaner than others because there are fewer emissions.  It is also considered better for the environment because it can be extracted from a “renewable” natural sources such as waste from farm animals, trash dumps, and home based methane reactors.

Problems With Storing Propane

Propane is usually stored in tanks that range in size from 1 pound to 420 pounds.  There are also larger sized tanks available, however, they require a special permit.   Regardless of the tank size, great care must be taken when storing propane because:

  • This gas is poisonous and can kill if you breathe it in or ingest it.
  • Propane is also highly volatile. If there is a leak in the tank, it can cause an explosion if the escaping gas contacts a spark or something else hot enough to ignite it.
  • If the weather is very cold, propane can loose its ability to evaporate and can’t be used.  You will need to know how to manage these issues in order to use propane safely.

 Key Advantages of Storing Propane

Storing Propane for survival use will give you a larger choice of equipment than many other fuels.   This includes generators, cooking stoves, lamps, and all kinds of camping equipment.   Propane can also be stored in tanks for many years without breaking down into other chemicals.

Here are some other advantages:

  • Propane is used throughout the country and is available in many stores.  If you are careful about where you acquire the tanks and how you store them, it is possible to stockpile propane without being noticed.
  • Even if you do not use the propane for many years, it is still likely to ignite and burn cleanly without any problems.

An Introduction to Kerosene

Kerosene Lamp

According to efoods Direct, “Although kerosene has become less common in the United States, it is still commonly used in Japan and in developing nations. The Amish use kerosene for their lighting at night.”

Kerosene is a clear, flammable liquid made from petroleum.  After processing, manufacturers add red dye to some kerosene.  Red or K-1 kerosene is intended for home heating while undyed kerosene is intended for transportation.   Since kerosene for transportation carries a higher federal tax, most kerosene is dyed red to avoid that problem.

For prepping and home use, kerosene can be used as fuel for heaters, lamps, and stoves.  Even though kerosene has almost twice as much energy as Propane, it gives off carbon monoxide and a distinctive odor.  If you use kerosene indoors, you must also have adequate air flow because the fumes can cause headaches and even death.

Also see: Survival Math in Action: How Long Will Propane Last?

Problems With Storing Kerosene

Kerosene can be stored in cans or tanks of all sizes, however, reside from old gas cans, chemical drums, or other used containers can contaminate the kerosene.  I normally store kerosene in clean, new, sealed containers that are clearly marked for kerosene storage.   If kerosene becomes contaminated, it may not burn correctly, or it may release more toxic fumes.

Here are some problems you may encounter even with the best storage methods:

  •  Kerosene has a shelf life of approximately five years.
  • Water vapor or condensation will ruin kerosene over time.  This may happen faster if you use plastic containers.
  • Bacteria and mold can also live in kerosene and act to break it down.
  • If the kerosene appears cloudy or yellow, it may not burn right.
  • Can’t be stored as long as propane
  • you can try adding stabilizers to the kerosene, however they may not extend the life of the fuel by that much
  • If you try to use kerosene that has gone past its shelf life, it may still burn.  Unfortunately, it can also cause wicks to foul and create other problems that will ruin your equipment.
  • If you live in an area where kerosene is used as a heating fuel, you can stockpile it without drawing much attention to yourself.
  • Containers for storing kerosene are cheaper and easier to obtain.

Key Advantages of Storing Kerosene

After using propane and kerosene during hurricanes and other disasters, I honestly don’t feel that kerosene would work well for longer-term scenarios.  Aside from being very dangerous to use in confined areas, it simply doesn’t have the shelf life of Propane, nor is it as reliable.  From a storage point of view alone, it does cost a bit more to store propane.  In the long run, I have greater confidence that propane will ignite and burn correctly no matter whether it is stored for just a day or as long as a decade.

Have you ever lived for weeks or even a few days without electricity? If you used propane or kerosene, I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Did you find that storage methods were an important factor in how well each fuel performed during a crisis situation?  Please feel free to share your conclusions about which fuel is better to store and how you arrived at that conclusion.

Recommended reading:

Image by: Bob the Lomond

4 thoughts on “Propane vs. Kerosene: A Storage Guide for Preppers”

  1. I’ve used both kerosene and propane to heat when necessary. I found the kerosene to be smelly and dirty, and I will never use it again unless nothing else is available. Propane stinks if smelled directly, but when in properly sealed containers and used in properly working appliances, there is no smell, and it’s clean. It doesn’t darken the area around it as kerosene does. The longest I’ve stored propane is about three years. After that time it still worked fine, and the containers were in great shape. It was stored in an area that was exposed to weather changes, from 100 – minus 15, and it gave me no problems at all.

  2. I use Kerosene lanterns fairly regularly in the evening, so I am constantly using it and replacing it. I find it a good alternative for lighting in ventilated areas as the light from electric lamps used in the evening can affect my sleep cycle.
    I use and store Propane for everything else as well as some additional lighting. However, I am in so cal where it never gets that cold and I have huge wood pile I could use for heating water and cooking, so Propane is really just a luxury I could easily get by without unless it was a very long term event.
    Good article, thanks!

  3. I have both, but the bulk of my btu storage is in kerosene. When you look at the world you will find that about 1/2 the people on earth cook with kerosene. That means that there are many stoves, heaters, lamps that are available and dependable.

    In an emergency I could cook on propane (I have 3 – 20# bottles and 2 – 5# bottles) and could use it in the BBQ (with burners for pots). The biggest advantage for me is that I also have propane welding and brazing torches so that might be very handy.

    I have 4 – 20 gal drums and 4 – 5 gal military gas cans of lamp grade kerosene. I also have 2 – 45,000 BTU heaters and 2 wick type stoves with plenty of spare wicks for cooking and 2 Aladdin lamps and 4 of the “railroad” lanterns.

    When push comes to shove the kerosene equipment is much more rugged than the propane equipment that requires regulators, needle valves, etc.

    So I choose not to put all my eggs in one basket.

  4. Hi. I’m using Propane currently as fuel to my cooking, heating. This is working very well and highly flammable. It is environmentally friendly and conserves energy efficiently. Kerosene produces stinky smell after use and it is sometimes does not fit well in all applications of domestic purposes. empty gas cylinder price

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