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    Kerosene defined - Red Dye Kerosene - Mineral Spirits - High Sulfur Kerosene - Jet Fuel - Water in Kerosene -
    Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil - Kerosene Storage - Large Storage Tanks

    Daily reminders by our benevolent leaders on every danger imaginable has created a population afraid of almost everything. So it is with those new to kerosene as a fuel and kerosene-fueled heaters and cookers. But kerosene products have been around for over a century and are safe to use with only the usual precautions required for anything that generates heat.


    Handling kerosene means some will get on your hands, and it has a distinctive aroma. Because kerosene is an penetrating oil, regular detergent often does not completely eliminate the aroma. Thick, cheap hair shampoo, or a women's facial cleanser, will dissolve the kerosene quickly and easily. Any lingering kerosene aroma can be removed by using the new "hand sanitizer," which is an emulsified solution of glycerin, alcohol and water. When your hands are still damp and rinsed from using the shampoo, put on some "hand sanitizer," rub your hands together, then rinse and dry, leaving your hands smelling nice and fresh. A bit of trouble, but necessary for those of us using kerosene heaters.

    Kerosene is NOT like gasoline: it is a lubricant, not corrosive, not volatile, and extremely stable in storage. The specific gravity of kerosene is about 0.8, and its ignition point is more than 104 F. If you throw a match into a pool of kerosene it will put out the match. You can hold a match right up to the edge of a teaspoon half full of kerosene and it will not ignite (try that with gasoline and you will need to grow new eyebrows).

    kerosene or kerosine, colorless, thin mineral oil whose density is between 0.75 and 0.85 grams per cubic centimeter. A mixture of hydrocarbons, it is commonly obtained in the fractional distillation of petroleum as the portion boiling off between 150°C; and 275°C; (302°F;–527°F). Kerosene has been recovered from other substances, notably coal (hence another name, coal oil), oil shale, and wood. At one time kerosene was the most important refinery product because of its use in lamps. Now it is most noted for its use as a carrier in insecticide sprays and as a fuel in jet engines.

    Noun 1. kerosene - a flammable hydrocarbon oil used as fuel in lamps and heaters
    coal oil, kerosene, lamp oil
    fuel - a substance that can be consumed to produce energy; "more fuel is needed during the winter months"; "they developed alternative fuels for aircraft"
    hydrocarbon - an organic compound containing only carbon and hydrogen
    paraffin oil, paraffin - British usage

    Kerosene may be safely stored in plastic containers, oil drums, old diesel tanks -- just about anything that doesn't leak. Kerosene should be stored in blue containers, as red indicates gasoline. Kerosene does expand and contract slightly with ambient temperatures, so steel tanks should be vented or have some "head space" left in the tank. Plastic containers are designed to have room for expansion, so they may be filled to the lowest edge of the fill hole safely.

    Ideally, kerosene should be stored under cover in a ventilated tank. Five gallon kerosene containers should be on secure shelving in an outside shed or barn - never in sunlight, as that quickly degrades the kerosene. Obviously you should not store flammable liquids in the home, as that would violate every fire insurance and code regulation that exists and a few new ones as well. To emphasize a point, kerosene containers should be blue so they cannot be confused with gasoline containers, which are red.

    The grade of kerosene required by modern kerosene appliances is No. 1-K, which can be either red or clear. The red dye was added by a Clinton Administration edict in July, 1998, so people using kerosene to fuel their diesel engine vehicles would be easy to spot by the police for not paying the road tax on motor fuels. Sure. Like a cop is going to siphon fuel out of your tank to check what color it is. It is just one more idiotic, unconstitutional edict (see the Tenth Amendment) we are stuck with. [A reader in Holland told me the police actually DO set up roadblocks and check the fuel color to make sure the road tax has been paid, so I guess we are lucky so far.]

    Red dye or there a difference? Yes. Without a doubt. Red dye kerosene is usually delivered in bulk quantities by a fuel oil supplier, and is known in the trade as #1 stove oil. Clear 1-K kerosene in bulk quantities is very difficult to find in many areas of the country, AND it often costs at least a dollar a gallon more than red dye #1 stove oil (kerosene).

    If you are using kerosene only for lamps, clear 1-K kerosene can be purchased in hardware stores for $4 or more per gallon -- and you will not be using enough of it to make much of a difference in cost. The clear will burn cleaner in lamps then red dye kero, and the wicks will last a little longer. The best fuel for lamps is Low Odor Mineral Spirits, as it costs less than 1-K clear kerosene and burns unbelievably cleaner, so clean the wicks seldom even need to be trimmed.

    Adding an eyedropper full (1/3rd teaspoon) of pure alcohol per gallon of red dye kerosene helps to keep the wick cleaner. It may well shorten the life of the wick a little, but the savings in price compared to 1-K clear make that a small cost indeed. Pure alcohol is available in most hardware stores - look for Shellac thinner.



    The cleanest burning, lowest odor fuel for any wicked appliance is Low Odor Mineral Spirits. Jet fuel is extremely close to kerosene and burns well in kerosene heaters, and therefore is the fuel of choice for those who heat with kerosene heaters in many remote areas of Canada and Alaska. Diesel fuel burns with fumes and smoke, and carbons up the wick very quickly. Most lots of #1 Stove Oil are red dye kerosene, but some can have a little light oil from previous use of the fuel dealer's tank, burn with fumes and carbon the top of the wick faster.

    Examples are in order. My Valor Valmin is a flame spreader design heater. Burning 1K clear kerosene, the cotton wick needs to be trimmed and cleaned often, and there is a mild though distinct aroma of kerosene when it is burning. When burning Low Odor Mineral Spirits, there is no aroma at all and the wick never needs to be trimmed or cleaned. My Aladdin TR2000 is a catalytic converter type heater with a fiberglass wick, and just happens to be a design that is hard on wicks. Burning 1K clear kerosene, the wick needs to be burned dry after about seven tanks of fuel. Burning #1 stove oil (red dye kerosene), the wick needs to be burned dry every three or four tanks of fuel burned. Burning Low Odor Mineral Spirits, the wick may need to be burned dry after three or four months of daily use - maybe, as it shows no signs of tar or degradation of capillary action after two months of daily use burning Low Odor Mineral Spirits.

    All "wickless" oil stoves and ranges, which actually have edge-burning wicks, will have vastly cleaner burning characteristics and longer wick life if nothing but Low Odor Mineral Spirits are used in them, particularly now that product liability lawyers have destroyed the asbestos industry and fiberglass edge-burning wicks are the only wicks available.


    Kerosene heaters burn at 90% or greater efficiency and at 90% or greater maximum setting, so the "flame front" is just above the top of the wick and tar ball deposits build up more slowly. Using clear 1-K kerosene, the wick in a kerosene heater may only have to be "burned dry" once or twice a month, and it was common for wicks to last for several years. When burning red dye #1 stove oil, the wick must be "burned dry" to remove tar deposits once a week or so, and wicks can last for only a season or two, depending on the wick and catalytic converter design. There is no doubt: burning 1-K clear kerosene instead of #1 stove oil in a kerosene heater is more convenient and results in a longer wick life. And burning Low Odor Mineral Spirits, the wick does not even appear used and only extremely rarely needs to be "burned dry."

    Now we must consider the economics involved. The most economical method of heating is with kerosene space heaters -- if #1 stove oil is purchased in bulk, delivered to your tank. On January 14th, 2003, I had red dye #1 stove oil delivered to top up my tanks because I knew we were going to war with Iraq, and oil prices would be skyrocketing. It cost me $1.29.8 per gallon, for a total price of $176.65. I could have had clear 1-K kerosene delivered instead, but the cost would have been $2.34 per gallon, or $318.24. In one-half of one winter heating season, I saved $141.59 by using red dye kerosene!!!

    On March 11, 2003, a friend in New Jersey told me that clear 1-K kerosene was available there in bulk for $1.60. Almost made me cry, as that is about half the current price of red dye kerosene in Oregon. Obviously, there are regional price differentials that you should factor into which fuel to burn. My personal cut-off level would be about 25 cents per gallon more for 1-K clear, strictly from an economic point of view.

    In some areas kerosene is actually getting cleaner, while other areas are not so lucky. When the sulfur content is very high, as from kerosene refined from Alaskan crude, a white powdery residue can be found on the catalytic converter of radiant heaters and the top plate of convection heaters, as shown at right. The steel catalytic converter is from an Aladdin Tropic, sitting on the top plate of a KOGY 100 convection heater. The white powder is rather obvious. Heaters with short catalytic converters cannot handle high sulfur kerosene without a distinctive aroma when burning. It is best to avoid such fuel if possible. Click to enlarge.


    "Very few people know that common jet fuel is nothing but more highly refined (read: cleaner) kerosene. It works wonderfully in kerosene heaters, stoves, lamps, and lanterns. I'm an old retired aircraft mechanic and I've handled thousands of gallons of jet fuel. At airports large enough to service jets, you will find that jet fuel is very commonly available. Since the large fuel tanks and fuel trucks at an airport are "sumped" almost daily to remove moisture that can collect at the bottom of a tank, the few gallons drained off frequently is considered waste or close to it. Ask the right people and you might be able to get a few gallons for free. Just check it for a layer of water at the bottom in case it's present." Woody

    QUESTION from reader Michelle:


    This "kerosene" issue gets really complicated. Not only are there regional issues of availability, but I'm fighting a hundred years of corporate propaganda.

    Regional. In many areas of the East and South, 1K clear kerosene is sold bulk (your container) very inexpensively at many service stations. Sometimes it feels like everybody in Connecticut and Pennsylvania heats with kerosene heaters, and their prices for 1K clear are very low. Just across the state line in Massachusetts, it is literally against the law to use a kerosene heater to heat a home! In many remote areas of Canada and Alaska, jet-A is available, but kerosene is not. Here in SW Oregon, we cannot obtain 1K clear kerosene except at hardware store prices of $10.95 a gallon (or worse), as the pipeline from the Cherry Point refinery near Seattle ends at Eugene. So for inexpensive fuel for our kerosene HEATERS, red dye #1 stove oil is the only viable choice at $3.24 per gallon. Low Odor Mineral Spirits also appear to be priced regionally. Our local True Value Hardware Store sells Low Odor Mineral Spirits for $5.29 per gallon container, but some hardware stores in the East sell the exact same container of fuel for $11.99 per gallon - a pure ripoff of the customer.

    Propaganda. For a hundred years or more, we have been conditioned to believe that kerosene "oil" lamps are supposed to burn "kerosene." And for the past 25 years, another layer of propaganda would have us believe that only $20 per gallon "Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil" should be burned in lamps. Bullpucky. Standard Oil contracted with B&H to produce the Rayo lamp to promote their NEW product, kerosene. All wick lamps were patented BEFORE kerosene was invented, and were designed to run on coal oil. Coal is a mineral, and by crushing and steaming the coal, the "essence" of the coal was removed, it's "spirit," in the form of an oil. And that became mineral spirits, a vastly more pure product for use in wick appliances. If from low sulfur content coal, it became "Low Odor Mineral Spirits." The Amish still use nothing but Low Odor Mineral Spirits in their lamps.

    Yes, I still use 1K clear in some lamps. That is because I have barrels of it left over from Y2K prep days. But I will never buy another pint of 1K clear for use in ANY lamp. In all of my center draft lamps I burn Low Odor Mineral Spirits, and where it is important for the wick to not become charred and go out, as with my mini-heaters in pump houses (it is 21 degrees F outside right now, for example, on January 13, 2006), I use Low Odor Mineral Spirits. But in some applications I have to burn 1K clear kerosene just to get rid of it. Then only Low Odor Mineral Spirits (for lamps) and #1 red dye stove oil (for heaters) will be in my inventory.


    Water can contaminate kerosene, saturate the cotton bottom portion of heater wicks, and then the stoves do not work correctly. You can remove water by pouring it through a chamois cloth, or with the use of a proper filter. If kerosene is cloudy, that is water contamination. The fuel tank of the heater must be emptied and rinsed thoroughly to eliminate any remaining water.

    Remember that the capillary action of wicks is virtually destroyed by water...cotton in particular will absorb water, then the lighter kerosene is denied a capillary "path" to the top of the wick. Performance (clean, odor free heat output) is seriously degraded by even a little water in the kerosene. To circumvent that problem, add a half eyedropper full of 91% to 95% alcohol to the tank of fuel before the wick is "burned dry." [But remember you can't "burn dry" cotton wicks such as the Perfection 500!!!] The alcohol will absorb the water and burn it off with the kerosene. The alcohol burns at a higher temperature than kerosene, so red dye kerosene will burn cleaner with alcohol or "Wick Cleaner." If a fiberglass wick is saturated with water, it is best to remove the wick and wash it with alcohol (and air dry) before reinstallation in the appliance. The same alcohol trick can be used to clean the wick if the wick becomes saturated with diesel or oil by mistake [No guarantees, though. The wick may well have to be replaced.]. If you are using red dye kerosene, using an eyedropper of alcohol every tank full (or using wick cleaner) will keep the wick from needing to be burned dry as often. Pure alcohol is not that hard to's in almost every hardware store, sold as Shellac Thinner. It's wood alcohol, so don't let anyone drink it or they will go blind!

    A standard heating oil filter can usually be put on a kerosene storage tank, but the filter is only for sediment - not water. If an in-line filter is used, a shut off valve should be placed on the tank side of the filter, so if the filter becomes clogged, the valve can be shut and the filter replaced without draining the tank! The fittings for most common oil filters are only 3/8" diameter, and the fuel must flow through felt filter itself, so do not expect a fast flow from gravity flow systems. Even though the flow is slower than an unimpeded 1/2" or 3/4" pipe or hose, the filter does its job and eliminates the grit and sediment that may (nay, does) accumulate in the tank.
    Remove water and dirt from your fuel before it gets in your tank. Filter waters and solids down to 0.005-in while you refuel. A life saver used initially in the aviation industry to remove water and solids from aviation fuel that could cause an engine to stall. Helps keep diesel oils from gelling by removing water and protects your engines from solids in the fuel. Made from military standard electro-conductive polypropylene. Filter screen in the funnels is made of stainless steel coated with Teflon. The funnel and filter are designed to have the dirt and water that cannot pass through the filter collected in the bottom receptacle. No cleaning or replacements needed. Designed to work with gasoline, kerosene and diesel oils only. 3.5" diameter. USA made." The filters are sold by Gemplers, Item No. 145862, $13.75 each.


    Perhaps one of the biggest jokes in the world is "Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil," priced at about $20.00 per gallon. As few people these days have any familiarity with the history of lamps, their design, or their fuel, they actually buy "Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil" to burn in kerosene lamps. The lamps were all basically designed before 1890 to burn coal oil, so they are still called "oil lamps" even though coal oil was replaced by kerosene well over 100 years ago. But some marketing genius realized that kerosene is called "paraffin" in England, but by that name is a solid waxy substance in the US, so why not call clear kerosene "Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil" and fleece the unwary? It worked! I purchase gallons of Low Odor Mineral Spirits at a True Value hardware store for $5.89 a gallon. They sell "Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil" for $19.95 a gallon. In other words, the store makes ten times as much profit selling Liquid Paraffin Lamp Oil, so they have the necessary incentive to fleece the unwary who believe advertising propaganda.


    Standard oil tanks are oval and hold 220 gallons. The fitting on the front bottom is for 3/8" threaded pipe. The felt filters for sludge and some water are also 3/8" pipe thread, so it is relatively easy to attach them and have filtered fuel (Many hardware stores sell fuel oil filter units for about $20). To make filling kerosene containers easier, a 3/8" to ˝" adaptor is placed on a 3/8" pipe leading to the edge of the tank, so a boiler valve with 3/4" garden hose threads on the outlet can be used. Then a short length of clear ˝" hose can be made and attached to the boiler valve, and bottles or other containers filled directly without spilling.

    There are fittings on the bottom corners of the tanks that take 1 1/4" pipe for legs, but they are relatively fragile. The tank can be sat on the legs, but it can't be rocked upright on them, so it must be carefully lifted, and that means two strong men. I had only me, so I used pulleys, levers, winches, etc, to carefully lift and move the tank over the holes I dug for the legs...and still it was hard.

    I used 2 foot long pipe legs. The fittings are 2 inches above the bottom of the tank. I dug 6 inch deep trenches for each set of legs, put a 1 inch piece of concrete in the holes for the legs to stand on, and then took 1 gallon tin cans with both ends cut out, slid them up over each leg, taped them up in place, then lowered the tank into the trenches. Then I leveled the tank so the legs were solidly on the bottom (but level with a ˝" drop toward the outlet end), filled the trenches with concrete, then worked the gallon cans down about an inch into the concrete and filled the cans with concrete too. That made the legs very strong, anchored securely, and with the concrete extending up the pipe legs for about 8 inches, even the pipe legs are strengthened. The outlet valve is about 16" above ground level, so filling small containers is easy.

    Most oil tanks are installed lower than that for gravity feeding into a basement. I installed mine high enough to fill a tall bottle with kerosene right from the tap I put on after the filter.

    I cleaned the inside of the tank by using a pressure sprayer and diesel, spraying through the bungs on top of the tank, and draining it out by removing the bung at the bottom, right behind the 3/8" outlet on the end. What little diesel remained is not enough to contaminate 220 gallons of kero.

    Then I had the local oil company come out and deliver me 220 gallons of #1 Kerosene stove oil, not furnace oil or #1 diesel, and it had the red dye, of course. It works perfectly. I use it in all of my oil lamps and kerosene heaters, and it burns perfectly.


    It is sometimes possible to find other old tanks which are perfectly useable for kerosene storage. They may be of an odd shape, but they can be used with a little ingenuity. I found two old Mack truck saddle tanks, each holding 110 gallons. They made fine storage tanks after some modifications and building cradles to hold them. To get the kero out, I removed the 3/4" drain plug at the bottom of one end and replaced the plug with a boiler valve, then made up a short hose from clear 1/2" tubing and a garden hose female replacement end, and that makes filling bottles or jugs very easy indeed (see below, barely visible on end of tank at left).

    All of the tanks I use were old, a little rusty, did not leak - and were free. I cleaned the outside of the tanks with rags and solvent, applied a thin film of Ospho to neutralize the rust, let the Ospho dry in the sun for a day, then painted the tanks with an automotive (metal) paint. New tanks cost about $1.00 per gallon...$220 for a 220 gallon tank, and they still need installation. If you have the time and inclination, free tanks are worth the effort and trouble.

    Pages on this web site:

    Complete Site Index
    • Alphabetical list by brand name of heaters - and wicks to fit them!
    • List of wicks and the heaters they fit (a cross reference).
    • Measurements needed for an unlisted heater.
    • List of igniters and the heaters they fit.

    Information on Kerosene Heaters and Wicks

    • Care and Maintenance of Kerosene Heater Wicks
    • Installing Kerosene Heater Wicks - generic for unpinned wicks
    • Regular maintenance for kerosene appliances
    • Kerosene Fuel Primer
    • Kerosene Heaters & Stoves - the difference between convection vs. radiant heaters
    • Breaking In New Kerosene Appliances
    • Burning Kerosene Heaters at Night
    • Kerosene Heater Carts - why carry your heater around?
    • Kerosene tank cradles (photo) Building a Cradle


    May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart”
    ~ Eskimo Proverb ~

  • #2

    Be cautious when using kerosene space heaters
    By Sonja Koukel | For the Juneau Empire

    Dramatic increases in home heating costs have consumers searching for alternative fuel options. If you are thinking of purchasing a kerosene space heater for your home, there are important safety procedures you should consider before you buy. First, make sure local building and fire codes permit use in residential structures. Check with your insurance carrier to determine what impact the use of these heaters may have on your homeowner's policy.

    Many fire officials and safety specialists contend that kerosene heaters present hazards not found with other heating systems. The major hazard is fire that could result from the use of gasoline instead of kerosene in the heater. Follow these recommendations when using this type of space heater: 1) Use only heaters that carry an Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) label; 2) Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets. Heaters should be kept a minimum distance of 36 inches from all combustible materials such as curtains or furniture. Never use heaters to dry clothes; 3) Use only as supplemental heat. The heater should never be used as the only heat source. Don't operate it while you are asleep because the heater could malfunction and cause asphyxiation.

    Health hazards from the pollutants emitted from kerosene heaters are concerns as well. Burning kerosene consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other gases. Ventilation must be provided to replace oxygen and to remove gases in order to prevent asphyxiation or respiratory problems. The manufacturer's recommendations should be followed to provide adequate oxygen for combustion. Operate the heater in a room with a door open to the rest of the house. If you must operate the heater in a room with the door closed, open a window to the outside approximately an inch to permit fresh air to effectively dilute the pollutants.

    To ensure the safe operation of the heater, every adult member of the family must become an informed consumer and operator. Adults should be aware of the equipment maintenance, safety considerations, operating procedures, emergency procedures and fuel storage requirements. Never allow children to operate the unit! Read and follow the procedures and safety alerts in the owner's manual before attempting to operate, service or perform maintenance on the unit.

    The costs of various forms of energy are calculated in several different ways. Energy Cost Comparison Charts are available from the Juneau District Extension Service.

    • Sonja Koukel is the Health, Home & Family Development program educator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.