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US campers - alcohol stove fuels...
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Phillip Asby
(PGAsby) - M

Locale: North Carolina
US campers - alcohol stove fuels... on 09/26/2012 09:55:15 MDT Print View

I've read the BPL two part alcohol fuels articles and am left with the problem of what to use in an alcohol stove if you live in the US.

BPL does not recommend using IPA or isopropyl. BPL expresses concern (and it seems reasonable given the toxicity) over using HEET. And given the apparently totally unregulated nature of denatured alcohol in the US - expresses concerns about using that as fuel as well given it can contain any number of nasty and toxic chemicals...

Is there a particular brand of denatured alcohol that is readily available (i.e. Lowes or Home Depot) which contains few nasty chemicals that people use? What do US campers do?

My head is spinning...


Locale: Piedmont of the Carolinas
alcohol on 09/26/2012 10:23:12 MDT Print View

Hmm. I have used just generic denatured alcohol from Home Depot, usally by Klean Strip. I keep it on hand for working with shellac anyway, and its cheap to buy by the quart or half gallon.

According to this link here:

It contains:
Ethyl alcohol 45.0 -50.0 %
Methanol 45.0 -50.0 %
Methyl isobutyl ketone 1.0 -4.0 %

The last ingredient is probably the worst, in terms of inhalation. I would imagine vapors out in the open air would not be that harmful though, versus if you were inhaling or burning it in closed quarters. Maybe others can weigh in....

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
US campers - alcohol stove fuels... on 09/26/2012 10:54:31 MDT Print View

Yeah, being unregulated makes it a pain in the sense that one batch is never guaranteed to match another. I use SLX mostly. This is a blende of about 50/50 methanol and ethanol. This can vary a lot, though. Some is denatured with octane or other petrolium product. Likely, it is best to avoid these, though some may burn clean. Again, it will vary between batches. Everclear or other food grade ethanols are mostly OK. But many will recognize that they do cause some mucosa damage. You can drink it but my thought is to dilute it to 20-40% first.

Yellow HEET is methanol. This is very toxic if you breath the fumes. Again, not very bad if you are outside. You body can take small amounts of this on a relitivly constant basis...vegtables, fruits, most plant based foods that are "organic" have small amounts in it(organic means unprocessed.) It is really unavoidable. Ethanol is about the same with small amounts in ripe fruits and other sugary stuff. SMALL amounts are the keynote, here. Anyway, HEET is nearly pure, so avoid start-up fumes and stuff. Burned, it is really no worse than ethanol. Mostly CO2 with a bit of monoxide and some other partial combustion products. You should always stay upwind of the stoves, generally speaking.

You should have a clean burning stove, one that does not produce much yellow flame. Blue flame is hotter and an indication it is burning completely. This will let you burn HEET, OK.

Isopropinol is really not all that great. It will burn too slowly to produce a clean flame. There is a fair number of imcomplete combustion products and it is very toxic. Suggest you skip it and other longer chained alcohols.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
varies on 09/26/2012 12:03:57 MDT Print View

Klean Strip Green has around 90% give or take ethanol but does burn with a yellowish flame, available from home depot, orchard supply hardware, ace hardware if pre-ordered.

I think Lowes has Sunnyside denatured, which is mostly ethanol, never seen it burn. The green one, that is, that's probably a good bet however if you can find it.

You can, like I did, order bulk e-nrg which is mostly all ethanol and designed for burning indoors in fireplaces, so it's a decent bet it's reasonably non toxic.

Someone found that in a store, minimum order is 12 bottles though, quarts. I still haven't tested that one though, I should.

[update: after testing, do not use e-nrg, it soots heavily and is useless for stoves]

You should give some thought to how toxic the fumes are for sure, during my stove testing phase I discovered that, yes, in fact, if you have your head close to the stove to watch it burn, repeatedly, you will experience the negative side effects listed for the toxins burning. Kind of nasty, but if you are out in the wilds and they are blowing away and being dispersed, it's not so bad.

I'm not certain the yellow flames matter that much, they do stain the pot a bit, but my burn times are pretty much the same, as are the quantities of fuel required, as most other people report at the top end, that's more a function of stove/heatshield/pot type/width than of the fuel though I think. I've used mostly klean strip green.

Some observed that the straight methanol like heet yellow burns better at high altitudes (> 8k feet, or so), I checked that with a real live chemist and he agreed, the chemistry/physics of that claim is correct for methanol.

The general slx is as noted above filled with extremely vile toxins, and I would, and do, avoid it. Why rei stocks that one is beyond me, when there are other much cleaner alcohols out there easily available.

Edited by hhope on 02/02/2013 23:02:19 MST.

Nick G
(HermesUL) - F
Alcohol on 09/26/2012 12:56:10 MDT Print View

It's more expensive, but you could always buy Everclear or some other 190 proof grain alcohol. It's illegal to purchase in 16 states and difficult to get in others, but its an option. Weird laws are in place in some places--apparently in PA you have to sign a form promising not to drink any...sort of like selling someone a semi-automatic and making them sign something that promises never to shoot it.

Everclear is very definitely non-toxic, as long as you don't put too much of it in your mouth.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Methanol on 09/26/2012 15:38:56 MDT Print View

The chemist I know laughed when I mentioned concern for using methanol in a stove. His comment, don't drink a lot of it. Other that drinking it you don't absorb enough to cause any problem. He certainly doesn't think it is as toxic as many here.

Edited by Hitech on 09/26/2012 15:39:50 MDT.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Methanol on 09/26/2012 17:35:17 MDT Print View

Considering methanol is used in all sorts of high school chemistry labs, especially for combustion experiments, I would say it's relatively safe. Now if you're doubling your fuel as your intoxicant, definitely stay clear of methanol additives, but for simple stoves you'll be fine.

Inhalation from cigarette smoke or car pollution has higher concentrations of carcinogens than a few methanol vapors...and even then it takes years for the toxins to cause health problems.

I take the approach, if you're living int the city you're poisoning your body at far higher concentrations and frequency than pretty much anything you do out in the woods (short of drinking/eating toxic food or liquids).

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: US campers - alcohol stove fuels... on 09/26/2012 18:05:45 MDT Print View

I wouldn't get too excited, but I would try to avoid contact with any of the denatured alcohol mixes. Read the MSDS and see what you think. This isn't something to be handled casually or by children.

The regulatory agencies didn't find anything wrong with BPA for a long time either. Likewise benzene and carbon tetrachloride. There are photographic chemicals that I was exposed to for thousands of darkroom hours that have been outlawed. Likewise working my way through college pumping leaded gasoline, asbestos in brake shoes and clutches, etc, etc.

I was surprised that all the marine stove alcohol fuels I researched are just plain old denatured alcohol with the same mix of adulterants. I don't like the idea of breathing the fumes in a small galley, let alone a shelter. I think these chemicals deserve reasonable caution and care in use.

Excerpt from the MSDS for S-L-X denatured alcohol:

OSHA Regulatory Status: This material is classified as hazardous under OSHA regulations.

Inhalation Acute Exposure Effects:
Vapor harmful. May cause dizziness, headache, watering of eyes, irritation of respiratory tract, irritation to the eyes, drowsiness, nausea, other central nervous system effects, spotted vision, dilation of pupils, and convulsions.

Skin Contact Acute Exposure Effects:
May cause irritation, drying of skin, redness, and dermatitis. May cause symptoms listed under inhalation. May be absorbed through damaged skin.

Eye Contact Acute Exposure Effects:
May cause irritation.

Ingestion Acute Exposure Effects:
Poison. Cannot be made non-poisonous. May be fatal or cause blindness. May produce fluid in the lungs and pulmonary edema. May cause dizziness, headache, nausea, drowsiness, loss of coordination, stupor, reddening of face and or neck, liver, kidney and heart damage, coma, and death. May produce symptoms listed under


Excerpt from the MSDS for methanol-based HEET:

Target Organs/Primary Route(s) of Entry:
Eye: Mild Irritant
Skin: Prolonged or repeated skin contact may cause dermatitis, scaling
and possible systemic effects.
Ingestion: POISON-Oral human lowest lethal dose = 6.4 g/kg
Inhalation: Poisonous, narcotic chemical affecting central nervous system
resulting in: dizziness, nausea, visual impairment, narcosis and
muscular impairment.

Jon Fong

Fuels on 09/26/2012 18:08:37 MDT Print View

An alcohol stove can burn isopropyl cleanly, they just have to be designed for it: google it.

My experience is that high percentage methanols burn a bit yellow ans adding a small amount of water helps to. burn blue (10% to 25%) water. I have used 151 Everclear so 25% dilution will work. Sunnyside (with 85% ethanol ) also tends to burn better when you add some water.

I tend to us SLX as I think that there are some additive in HEET meant for car and not really for burning in a stove.

My 2 cents- Jon

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Fuels on 09/26/2012 18:16:05 MDT Print View

HEET lists 99% methanol and 1% "proprietary additives." Probably some conditioner for the synthetic rubber products in the fuel system.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Do NOT add water - Old wives tale on 09/26/2012 20:25:42 MDT Print View

Don't add water to ANY alcohol stove fuel - it doesn't help a thing.

Methanol burns better than Ethanol. Ethanol better than Iso. S-L-X 50/50 mix is the best all-around fuel I've used. Yellow bottle Heet,automobile fuel additive, is what I use if I run out of slx.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Do NOT add water - Old wives tale on 09/26/2012 20:31:15 MDT Print View

Adding water can in fact be helpful. It's a way to control the flame, from a roarer with 100% alcohol to a simmer with enough water. I've found it can be more efficient with water, more so with propanol than ethanol.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
US campers - alcohol stove fuels on 09/26/2012 20:44:42 MDT Print View

Water and (95%)Ethanol with White Box stoves :

just add water
the one on the left has an extra 15% (more or less) of water.
(some of the non Ethanol 5% is water)

Edited by Franco on 09/26/2012 20:45:55 MDT.

alcohol on 09/26/2012 21:03:53 MDT Print View

I find SLX to be the cleanest burning, easiest to light, best all around fuel.

190 Everclear is definitely more difficult to light even at room temp without the more volatile MeOH.

A mix of everclear and SLX boosts heat somewhat while remaining easier to light than pure everclear.

I can get soot and varnish on pot from everclear, not sure how, but when not enough oxygen , it happens. Never have gotten the first bit from SLX.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: Re: Do NOT add water - Old wives tale on 09/27/2012 12:23:06 MDT Print View

OK, I see your point. If you want to reduce the heat output of your alky burner, add water to the fuel.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: US campers - alcohol stove fuels on 09/27/2012 13:51:25 MDT Print View

Great photo Franco. I would assume that adding water would reduce the amount of flames along the sides of my pot. It's often higher than the lid and makes removing the pot quite difficult when it's reached a boil and fuel is still remaining.