Alcohol Stoves – Safe to Use Indoors or Outdoors

Have you ever wondered why there are many versions of homemade alcohol stoves online?  It is because alcohol is an inexpensive, easy-to-obtain and a relatively safe fuel. Commercial alcohol stoves are also widely available.

Let’s explore a few of the alcohol stoves you may want to consider for camping, backpacking or indoor emergency cooking.

Alcohol Burner

An alcohol burner is a sturdy, lightweight, reusable tool for burning alcohol.The alcohol is poured into the center reservoir and then lit.

The vapors escape from a ring of small holes to create a nice even fire. The flame ignites the vapors, not the liquid fuel.

Two ounces of alcohol will burn for 10-15 minutes depending on the type of alcohol you are burning.

Extinguish by gently replacing the cap over the flames and smothering them. Use caution as the flame may be clear or nearly invisible. Do not blow on flames to extinguish. Smother them with the cap and allow to cool completely before tightening.

An alcohol burner is a basic tool that may prove quite valuable in an emergency situation whether you are cooking indoors or evacuating.

Military Surplus Alcohol Stove 

The alcohol stove pictured is used for camping, backpacking, and military. The kit includes the burner, stove and a pot for cooking.

It is incredibly sturdy and has everything you may need in one easy to carry kit. We purchased it from a military surplus store.

The alcohol burner sits in the base. The pot is placed over the base to cook. Alcohol burns about half as hot as other fuels, but produces plenty of heat to boil water. The military alcohol stove is designed to heat water or reheat foods.

It is the perfect stove for one person, but is not designed to cook for a family.

Canned Heat – Alcohol in a Disposable Can

Sterno is a popular brand of canned heat and it manufactures a few different varieties. According to the Sterno website:

On cost per hour basis, our wick products, specifically Safe Heat 6-hour is the safer, hotter, faster solution. The screw cap allows the product to be used for multiple functions. One Safe Heat 6-hour can is equal to three cans of a 2-hour gel.

We agree with that recommendation. Our favorite is Safe Heat because it burns clean enough for indoor use for 6 hours and is relatively inexpensive. We use the same can several times before the fuel is gone.

Safe Heat may be purchased at Sam’s Club in the catering section for around $15 for a flat of 12 cans or online here.

We use a Sterno Single Burner Folding Stove for safety and convenience when using canned heat. The Sterno brand stove tends to be a little more sturdy than the other brands. It might cost a few extra dollars, but is worth it in the long run.

Canned heat is available at dollar stores, sporting goods stores, big box stores and online. Some canned heat is designed for unique applications and may contain different fuel combinations. Just be very careful to read the label to make sure that it is rated for indoor use if you plan to use it inside.

Check out our post Canned Heat – Safe Fuel for Indoor Cooking to learn more about using canned heat for cooking.

Marine Alcohol Heater/Cooker

Heat Pal 5100 is lightweight, compact, and doubles as a stove and heater. No leaks, no pump, no explosion risk, and lights easily.

The manufacturer recommends using denatured alcohol which burns cleanly and is safe to use indoors.

The heat pal will burn for about 5 hours on a full tank (1.2 liters) and is compact (30x30x50cm) and lightweight. The heat may be adjusted as desired.

I love the versatility this device provides to be able to both cook and heat. It can sit right on a table and provide warmth to the area without burning the tabletop.

Homemade Alcohol Can Stove/Heater

An inexpensive portable alcohol stove can be created with new paint cans, toilet paper and alcohol. The original design called for a one gallon paint can, a quart paint can, a small tile, a paint can opener, a roll of toilet paper, and rubbing alcohol. It is often promoted at preparedness fairs like the one in the photo on the right.

We experimented and decided that we would not use this design indoors due to safety concerns. However, it would be a great tool for emergency use outside.

Our Experiment

We have often been asked how we like the alcohol burner made from a paint can and roll of toilet paper. The concept is great. A roll of toilet paper (with the cardboard center removed) is stuffed into a quart-sized paint can and filled with rubbing alcohol.

A small tile is placed under the alcohol-filled can while burning to protect the surface below the burner. A gallon-sized can is converted into a stove by punching ventilation holes in it around the top and bottom. The gallon can is used to store all of the supplies and doubles as a stove top.

It may be repeatedly refuel with alcohol, but the toilet paper does not need to be replaced. Sounds great … in theory.

We tried creating holes in the paint can with a can opener. It was a messy proposition. Then we tried drilling holes in it, which created a lot of sharp edges. We even took tin snips and a file to fix it. The result was a can with a lot of safety issues.

Paint cans were probably sturdier when this stove was first designed. The newer paint cans are so thin that we were concerned they may not be able to support the weight of a pot.

We created a stove out of a #10 can using a can opener around the top and tin snips on the bottom. It is slightly shorter than the paint can. The #10 can stove burned very hot and flames licked out of the holes all around the edges. We decided we would not use this indoors due to the fire hazard.

This alcohol stove brought water to a boil very quickly. We used a Corian cutting board for a safe, non-flammable surface. The tile in the kit was too large to allow the can to be stable.

True to our nature, we had to seize the opportunity to compare different forms of alcohol in action. After stuffing a roll of toilet paper in each can, we filled one with 70% isopropyl alcohol, another with 91% isopropyl alcohol, and one with denatured alcohol.

The picture illustrates the results accurately. The 70% isopropyl alcohol did not burn as well as the 91%. The flame is noticeably smaller and appeared to not be as hot. However, we didn’t have the correct instruments to accurately measure that. The denatured alcohol produced a nearly invisible flame. It was VERY HOT!

We could only place our hand about the level of the top of the center flame in the photo before feeling the intense heat. Denatured alcohol burns very clean and is a good choice for indoor use. However, great caution must be used because the flame is not easily visible.

The stoves work well, however, we are concerned about the safety of using them indoors. They produce a large open flame. We recommend that they be used outdoors only. There are much safer alcohol stoves and heaters for indoor use.

Alcohol as a Fuel Source

Pure forms of alcohol, such as denatured alcohol or Everclear, may be used indoors with adequate ventilation. However, some forms may be toxic and need more ventilation due to toxins produced from combustion. The following forms of alcohol are good candidates for use as a fuel source.

Denatured alcohol is often recommended by manufacturers of alcohol stoves. It can be purchased online or in hardware stores in the paint section.

Ethanol or ethyl (Everclear) is about 95 percent alcohol and is a fantastic fuel for burning indoors. It burns so cleanly that the flame is blue or nearly invisible.

Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is an acceptable cooking fuel. It may be purchased in 70 percent, 91 percent and 99 percent strengths. The higher the percentage of alcohol, the better the alcohol will burn. Isopropyl alcohol produces a yellow sooty flame and does not burn as cleanly as the above fuels.

Remember that any flame can produce carbon monoxide. Although alcohol is one of the safest fuels to burn indoors, proper ventilation is required to ensure adequate oxygen is available for complete combustion to prevent carbon monoxide from building up. Be sure to keep a working carbon monoxide detector with a digital readout nearby when burning anything!

Alcohol is a great storage fuel and has an indefinite shelf life, if stored in a tightly sealed container. Alcohol will evaporate quickly if left open and lose potency.

Alcohol has a low flash point, which means that it catches on fire very quickly. Alcohol burns about half as hot as some other fuels, but is a great choice for cooking indoors. It is extremely flammable, but not explosive.

Conclusion

Alcohol is a great fuel source that is inexpensive, readily available, safe to store and best of all does not produce a lot of toxins when it is burned.

Be very careful to experiment with your alcohol stove in a safe setting before disaster strikes.

As we learned in  our experiment with the paint can alcohol stove, your device may not perform how you thought it would. It is worth spending a few extra dollars to get something that is safer like a Sterno stove and a case of Safe Heat.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Comments 1

  • Hi
    Is it safe (Healthy) to burn 99% Isopropyl alcohol in a ventless indoor fireplace?
    There is adequate ventilation and a carbon monoxide detector.
    Thanks for your help.
    Cheers,
    Scott