Last Updated on 02/02/2022
If you have been storing supplies for many years and uncover some gas or liquid spirits you might be wondering does camp fuel go bad? In this article, we explore all the different types of camping fuels and find out how long they last in storage and whether they go bad. We also find out what happens to fuel when it goes bad so strap in for some camp fuel expiry dates and random facts about stoves.
Camping stove fuel is the kind of thing that gets used a couple of times a year and sits in a cupboard or shed the rest of the time. This often gets forgotten about or for camping gas canisters you never know how much is left inside so it is easier to take a fresh canister than risk running out. Liquid fuel is easy to ration out but more likely to go off so how do does camp fuel go bad and how do you know if it has or not?
There are a few simple checks you can do to help you prevent wasting camp fuel. There are some reasons why it might not be worth the risk like if you have an expensive stove and you don’t want to risk damaging it or clogging up the apparatus. First, let’s find out if camp fuel goes bad and how the shelf lives differ with the individual types of fuel.
Does Camp Fuel Go Bad?
To answer the question of whether camp fuel goes bad we need to specify the type of camp fuel as there is more than one. We will focus on the common fuels we use for different camping equipment and especially camping stoves. The different types of camp fuel include compressed gas like butane and liquid fuels like white gas, and Methylated Spirits (AKA burning alcohol, denatured alcohol, solvent alcohol, heet).
Liquid camping fuels can go bad and should be used within 5 years from purchasing or within 2 years of opening. Compressed gas does not go bad and so long as the container remains in good condition it will last indefinitely. Fuel that has gone bad can damage equipment and potentially explode if you are not careful so be sure to read all the way through this guide.
Camping Fuel Shelf Life
When trying to understand if your camp fuel has gone bad you will likely be wondering what the shelf life of your particular fuel might be. The main thing to remember is that compressed gas doesn’t have a shelf life as it lasts indefinitely whereas liquid camp fuels do have a limited shelf life before they go bad. Let’s take a look:
Gas Canisters: No Shelf Life
Gas Canisters do not have a shelf life and the fuel will never go bad so long as the canister it is contained within maintains its integrity and is stored in a cool dry place. You should aim to use your gas canister within 20 years just to be on the safe side as valves and connections will fail long before the fuel goes bad. Larger gas canisters are designed to be used outdoors and often stay in the exchange rotation for over 10 years while being inspected every time it is refilled.
White Gas: 5-7 Years Unopened
The shelf life of white gas is around 6 years however once it has been opened you should use it within a year. White gas is liquid petroleum and was originally simple additive-free gasoline that burns clean and is suitable for cooking food on a camping stove. Coleman was a popular brand of white gas over 20 years ago and still is today but you don’t see it around as much as you used to. As it is relatively inexpensive it is often better to buy fresh white gas if you are in doubt of whether it has gone bad or not.
Methylated Spirits or Solvent Alcohol: 20+ Years
Methylated spirits (aka meths) or solvent alcohol is a liquid camp fuel that can have a shelf life of 10+ years if stored correctly. Because meths is not petroleum-based, it does not contain the same inorganic molecules which over time will react and produce other compounds that can be dangerous. Alcohol molecules can become explosive under pressurized conditions which is why it is so important to store them responsibly.
Camping Fuel Expiry Dates
Camping fuel will never have an explicit expiry date as it is not a food item and so you can generally go over the recommended amount of time if you use your discretion. If we were to give camp fuel an unofficial expiry date it would be based on the recommended shelf life as well as what I have learned from old-timers who work on engines. What the heck, here’s a table with estimated expiry dates:
|CAMP FUEL TYPE
How to Check if Camp Fuel has Gone Bad
Stale camp fuel that has gone bad is usually caused by storing it in the wrong conditions or the wrong container. When petroleum fuel goes bad it reacts and oxidizes which slowly turns into a sort of varnish as the fuel separates like stale milk. It will often look darker than normal and be slightly murky. Here are some ways on how to know if your camp fuel has gone bad or is too old:
Is it Older Than 1 Year?
Ask yourself if the fuel in question is over 1 year old. If the answer is no then you probably have nothing to worry about and you can crack on. If the camp fuel is over 1 year old or you don’t know how old it is then it is best to err on the side of caution and just buy some fresh fuel. You can of course follow the next two steps if you think the fuel is still good.
Never shake your gas bottle before giving it a visual inspection. Camping fuel that has gone bad will typically start to form a varnish that separates from the rest of the fuel. If you can see this layer of separation then you know it has turned bad and needs to be disposed of. Another visual clue your camp fuel has expired is if it looks darker than normal or murky. Your full should be clear with no murkiness or small particles floating around.
The varnish that starts to form when camping fuel turns bad has a different smell to usable fuel and it starts to smell more like terps or lacquer. The best way to learn the difference is to compare some good fuel side by side to some bad fuel and you will instantly recognize the distinct differences in smell. Be careful when smelling any kind of chemical or fuel as the fumes are often toxic and can cause lightheadedness.
What Happens if You Use Camp Fuel that has Gone Bad?
If you use camping fuel that has gone bad and started to change into more of a varnish. This varnish will coat the entire workings of your stove, apparatus, or machine which can lead to permanent damage. One sign that you might be burning fuel that is too old is if it is burning erratically, burning an unusually color, or causing any kind of black smoke. Basically, fuel that has turned bad is not good for your equipment and it is not good to be cooking with.
What is the Best Way to Store Camp Fuel So it Doesn’t Go Bad?
The first thing to mention is that you should not store a lot of highly flammable and potentially explosive fuel inside your house, this is a disaster waiting to happen. That being said, the best way to store camping fuels is in a secure, dry, and cool location away from any kind of naked flames. You should have the appropriate detectors installed in case of leakage. All containers should be inspected regularly and dated to make keeping track easier.
How to Dispose of Camping Fuel Safely
The best way to safely and responsibly dispose of any expired camp fuels is to contact your local waste authority. They will typically have a location where you can drop your damaged camping gas canisters and liquid fuels so that they can be safely recycled or destroyed with minimal effects on the environment. Another alternative is to completely empty the canisters yourself following guidelines online and then take the empties to a scrap yard so the metal can be reused although this is inferior to the first option.
If you use MSR canisters then they run an exchange program here that is a good incentive to use them.
Does Butane Expire?
The good news is that compressed gas like butane and iso-butane canisters for camping do not expire and can be stored for decades. There is no expiry date on butane and there never will because it is not a food product but it is perfectly safe to cook with a 10-year-old butane canister. The issue about keeping a full tank of compressed gas for many decades is that eventually, the metal will begin to rust the pressure inside the tank will stay the same which could potentially become dangerous.
Does Propane Expire?
Similar to Butane and iso-butane, propane does not have an expiry date and if stored in the proper conditions will stay good for decades. The main issue with storing propane for a long time is that the external valve adapters can begin to degrade over time which can be a potential hazard. So, if you have some old propane and are wondering if it has gone bad or is safe to use – inspect the valve connection and make sure it is in good shape to get a tight seal. You can learn more about proper storage further down the page.
Does Jet Boil Fuel Expire?
Jet boil fuel is a blend of propane and iso-butane and so has the benefit of lasting a very long time. There is no reason why you cannot use a Jet Boil fuel canister that has been in your shed for 10 years so long as it is in reasonable condition and the threading hasn’t gone rusty. A good tip to know how much fuel is left inside your canister is to weigh it from new and use a marker pen to write the weight on the side after every use.
Is it Ok to Use 20 Year Old Coleman Fuel?
Coleman Fuel that is 20 years old may not be safe to use depending on what type of fuel it is. If the fuel is propane or butane then it will be perfectly fine to use as it has no expiry date. If the 20-year-old Coleman Fuel is in liquid form then you should safely dispose of it with your local waste authority. Coleman recommends a shelf life of 5 – 7 years for liquid camp fuel if the container is unopened and full. If the vintage Coleman Fuel has been opened then its shelf life is reduced to around 24 months.
If you are still unsure about whether your camp fuel has gone bad then feel free to get in touch.