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Alcohol Stove Fuel: Shopping for the Best Alcohol Fuel for Your Outdoor Stove

Alcohol Stove Fuel
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

There is a growing interest in the topic of portable stoves and alcohol stove fuel. There is a considerable difference between different fuels, but the characteristics are not difficult to understand.

On face value there may not seem much difference between the two categories, but it is important to know there are actually advantages and disadvantages of each of them. To adequately answer the questions that may arise about different fuel sources it is a good idea to have a better understanding of alcohol stoves.

To begin with, alcohol stoves are most often much simpler devices than those that run on petroleum fuels. The main reason being that petroleum fuel stoves must incorporate several safety features that aren’t required by their alcohol counterparts.

Alcohol Stove

For instance, in order to properly control the highly combustible flame of petroleum fuels it is necessary to add a precision regulator that accurately mixes air and fuel to provide safe control. In addition, due to the extreme flammability of petroleum fuels, the tanks that hold the liquid are constructed from thicker and heavier materials.

In contrast, while alcohol fuel is also flammable, it is much less combustible and does not require complex regulators and can be manufactured with much thinner and lighter materials. In fact some of the simplest alcohol stoves are constructed from nothing more than an aluminum soda can.

This very characteristic of simplistic design is perhaps the most attractive attribute of the alcohol stove. There is a strong following among alcohol stove users of sharing ideas and designs.

The creativity within this community can be quite addicting and often causes friendly competition between designers to discover the cheapest, but most efficient and effective design. If you’re interested in challenging yourself to design the “perfect” alcohol stove, this may just be your next big hobby.

Alcohol Stove

Simplicity does carry with it an inherent danger that must be appreciated for anyone interested in this topic. Less complexity and far less weight make these stoves very attractive to hikers and backpackers, but the possible flaw is ignorance of their fragility.

It can be imagined that storing an empty aluminum can inside a crowded pack bouncing along the trail would result in damage to the can. It makes no sense to trade complexity for simplicity if protection of the alcohol stove isn’t properly planned for.

A Truer Flame with Alcohol

When it comes to powering your alcohol stove, not just any alcohol stove fuel will do. When you think about the most common go-to stoves for camping or prepping, unless you’ve stumbled upon these little gems or been introduced to them by someone already enthusiastic about them, chances are you may have never considered an alcohol stove.

Best Stove for Camping

Whether you are an avid user of these stoves or just finding out about them, it is important to understand that not all fuels are created alike.

Most of us, when we hear or read the word “alcohol,” one of the first images that come to mind is a bottle of beer, wine or other liquor. While some of these liquid libations can indeed be used as a flammable source, in the context of stoves, fuel alcohol is produced in a very similar way, but there are important differences.

Although both types of alcohol are produced through fermentation, the end process of creating alcohol fuel results in a flammable, but very undrinkable liquid. In addition, alcohol fuel is often derived from much different sources than consumable alcohol.

To be more specific, alcohols that are used as either solvents or for fuel are called denatured alcohol. What this term implies is that a liquid alcohol is mixed with other additives that result in an unappealing odor or taste and in most cases can even be very poisonous if ingested.

Denatured Alcohol and Stove

A chemical known as methanol is most often the component added to make denatured alcohol. There are two types of alcohol that are typically used as fuel in stoves, Isopropyl and Ethanol.

Benefits of Alcohol Fuel

Unlike petroleum based fuels, alcohol burns much cleaner and with far less odor. Because of this, alcohol also produces less soot than other fuels. While alcohol is indeed flammable, it is not as flammable as petroleum fuels and is considered much safer to carry, store, and burn.

Another benefit to some consumers is the fact that this fuel can be produced domestically and does not require foreign production facilities to acquire. Another benefit is that if you spill petroleum fuels on clothing, chances are that the clothing not only carries that distinctive odor, but may very well be ruined.

Spilled Stove Fuel on Clothes

If you spill alcohol fuel, the odor dissipates quickly and it is unlikely to ruin clothing.

Two Popular Types of Alcohol Fuel

Isopropyl alcohol

This type of alcohol is most typically used as a cleaning agent or solvent. It is a clear liquid that has a very characteristic odor. When oxidized, isopropyl alcohol produces another widely used cleaning product, acetone. In the world of alcohol stoves, this liquid is widely used in some circles and shunned by others.

Isopropyl Alcohol Fuel

It has a lower burning temperature, but is a very stable fuel and for some users is ideal for their lower heat requirements.

Ethanol

Not to be confused with ethyl which is consumable, ethanol is produced from the fermentation of many different natural sources. This characteristic makes it very appealing to those concerned with renewable energy sources.

It has a lower boiling point than isopropyl alcohol and is considered more flammable as well. The higher burning temperature is what attracts many users to ethanol over isopropyl.

Cautions when Using Alcohol Fuels

(Most of these cautions are universal whether petroleum or alcohol is used)

  • Many people believe that because alcohol burns cleaner than other fuels that they are safe to use inside tents or other small, indoor areas. This is highly untrue and unwise thinking. Although less than petroleum fuels, alcohol fuel does emit toxic fumes and is not to be considered safe for indoor use.
  • There is a tendency to believe that alcohol fuel, because of its decreased combustibility, is almost as safe as water. Make no mistake that it remains highly flammable and unlike petroleum fuel, the flames from alcohol can be almost invisible in daylight making it that much more difficult to detect and extinguish. ALWAYS Store extra fuel away from a burning stove and NEVER try to refill a still burning or recently used hot stove
  • As just mentioned, because the flame of alcohol fuel is much harder to see, always treat a stove as if it is lit unless you know otherwise.
  • Only use your stove on surfaces that are not flammable and ensure that flammable materials are kept safely away
  • Alcohol flames may produce less heat than some other fuels, but they remain dangerous all the same. Allow stoves to cool before handling them and don’t allow children or those unfamiliar with their unique operating characteristics handle them without supervision.

Clearing the Air about Alcohol Fuel

As explained earlier, alcohol does burn at a lesser temperature than petroleum fuels, but those who use alcohol regularly have found ways to overcome this challenge. One insurmountable disadvantage is that because alcohol is naturally derived, large areas of agricultural land are devoted solely to fuel production instead of food production.

The natural side effects of this type of land use contribute to some measure of pollution from fertilizer run-off and deforestation. Additionally, the fermentation process that turns plants into fuel does create waste products that must be dealt with in an environmentally friendly manner.

Alcohol Stove

Depending upon your personal beliefs in these areas, the disadvantages could seem insurmountable, but consider also the vast amount of waste, pollution and other potential negatives brought on by the petroleum industry. Of course not all considerations can be boiled down to simply economic or environmental concerns.

Alcohol stoves themselves are often very small and very simple contraptions, some with no moving parts at all. In fact, these stoves can be so simply made than many people construct them at home and never venture to a retail marketplace.

The amount of fuel consumed by a single user is often so minimal in the grander scheme of things that it may be the most appealing option for the environmentally minded consumer.

Recommended Fuels for Your Alcohol Stove

Klean-Strip QKGA75003

Weight: 1.9 lbsKlean Strip Stove Fuel

Dimensions: 7.3 x 4.5 x 4.5 inches

Features: Biodegradable, thins shellac, cleans glass and metal, 95% renewable resources

Best use: Camp stove fuel, outdoor cooking

This alcogol fuel is a very clean burning fuel that has very low odor. Because this liquid fuel is made with a mixture consisting of 85%-90% ethanol it produces a flame hotter than that of isopropyl alcohol.

The manufacturer also claims that this product blended with “twice the renewable resources as our regular Klean-Strip  QKGA 75003.” If you are in the market for an environmentally friendly alcohol stove fuel, then you should definitely consider this product.

Check the price on Amazon

Klean-Strip GSL26 Denatured Alcohol

Weight: 7.5 lbsDenatured Alcohol

Dimensions: 4.1 x 6.6 x 10.3 inches

Features: Cleans glass and metal, fuel for marine stoves

Best use: Camp stove fuel, outdoor cooking, marine stove fuel

Klean-Strip GSL26 Denatured Alcohol is made to the same standard as the previously mentioned product, but with considerably fewer natural resource ingredients. The end result is a blend of 40%-50% ethanol and 50%-55% methanol which gives it a slightly stronger odor.

Soot accumulation is likely higher as well, but this depends greatly upon the design of the stove it is used in. Stoves that have a better fuel-air mixture may not experience more soot than those with an inferior design. Aside from being used as a stove fuel, you may also use this alcohol for cleaning glass.

Check the price on Amazon

Marine Alcohol Stove Fuel

Weight: 1.9 lbsMarine Alcohol Fuel

Dimensions: 7.2 x 4.2 x 4.2

Features: Safe Blue-Flame alcohol, supreme grade safe high heat, made from sustainable resources

Best use: Camp stove fuel, outdoor cooking, marine stove fuel

Blended specifically for the alcohol fuel market (rather than as a dual-purpose liquid), this high-grade Marine Alcohol Stove Fuel is designed to provide a clean, blue flame from 90% ethanol.

You may expect that with a name like Marine Alcohol, the target market is for stoves designed for use aboard boats and ships, but the performance is no different in land-based stoves.

Check the price on Amazon

SUNNYSIDE CORPORATION 834G5

Weight: 41 lbsSunnySide Corporation Alcohol

Dimensions: 11.2 x 11.2 x 13.5 inches

Features: High grade fuel, dissolves inks and stains, thinner and cleaner

Best use: Camp stove fuel, outdoor cooking

Most alcohol stove users might find 5 gallons of fuel to be somewhat of an excessive amount, but because Sunnyside Corporation 834G5 is mainly marketed as shellac thinner and as a cleaner the quantity is greater than most others.

It can be used in alcohol stoves of course and has a high rating among stove users, but with the reality of a much larger quantity of fuel compared to 1 gallon or smaller containers, consider dedicating a long-term storage location if this is your only intended use.

That is unless you use large alcohol stoves on a much more regular basis than the weekend hobbyist or adventurer. Be aware though that the typical shelf life for such fuels is between three to four years so a purchase this large is only recommended for those who use a lot of it.

Check the price on Amazon

HEET 28201 Gas-Line Antifreeze

Weight: 41 lbsHeet Gas Line

Dimensions: 11.2 x 11.2 x 13.5 inches

Features: Gas-line antifreeze and water remover, safe for use

Best use: Camp stove fuel, outdoor cooking

At first glance, HEET 28201 Gas-Line Antifreeze is often overlooked by most alcohol stove users. However, those who have tried it claim to experience a superior, clean burning flame and comes packaged in a convenient, carry-size bottle.

It is also one of the more accessible fuels since this is marketed to the automotive enthusiast market and can be found in most automobile parts retail stores. Beware not to confuse the similar HEET RED BOTTLE as a suitable alternative.

The red bottle consists of a mixture than is comprised of almost pure methanol which means it will not burn as clean or as hot as the yellow bottled product.

Check the price on Amazon

Denatured Alcohol Quart

Weight: 1.9 lbsDenatured Alcohol

Dimensions: 2.4 x 4.6 x 7.4 inches

Features: cleans glass and metal,

Best use: camp stove fuel, outdoor cooking, portable stove fuel and burners

This is plain and simple denatured alcohol fuel made available by the same Klean-Strip company mentioned previously in this list. Denatured Alcohol Quart is entry level product made exclusively for use as a fuel rather than a multi-use cleaner.

As such, it’s packaged in a smaller, one-quart container. As with their one gallon product it can be used as a mild cleaner, thinner, but it is marketed solely as a fuel and guarantees no use beyond that. The mix is the same being 40%-50% ethanol and 50%-55% methanol.

Check the price on Amazon

Stoves in the Real World

Should you be among those in the growing number of people interested in attempting to replace your petroleum stove with an alcohol fueled model, the best advice is trial and error. Many people have made the mistake of either buying or creating their own alcohol stove and then trying it out only after they have traveled far from home or even a retail store.

There is a definite learning curve to the cooler burning alcohol stove and first experiences vary widely. Wind is also an important factor as it has a tendency to knock out an alcohol flame much easier than that of petroleum. Experienced users have developed accessories and methods of overcoming this challenge.

Have you used an alcohol stove before? In that case, is there any particular alcohol fuel that you prefer? Let us know in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Mike Baker

    I agree it’s easy to overlook Heet 28201 Gas-Line Antifreeze. It worked great in my alcohol stove. It’s so easy to pack away in your bag and I have always gotten a good flame from using it. No complaints!

  • Bradley Page

    Thanks for taking the time to wirte Mike. I’m always on the lookout for great items and the Heet 28201 Gas-Line Antifreeze. A good stove is best, so don’t forget to check out all the different tools we need for camping.

  • Chad Halco

    Klean-Strip GSL26 Denatured Alcohol has been great fuel for my stove. I won’t use anything else. Any tips on how to best pour this fuel (or any fuel, really) into the stove without it making too much of a mess?

  • Bradley Page

    Hi Chad! When you’re going on a trip, don’t take the whole can or jug of denatured alcohol with you. Transfer some of it into small water bottles, the amount depends on how long you’ll be staying in camp. From previous experience, for a two weeks trip, I put the denatured alcohol in a 20 oz water bottle. I usually cook 1 meal a day for this amount. Results will vary, of course.

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