Are Kerosene Heaters Safe Indoors?

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Though not as popular as other fossil fuel heaters, mostly propane and natural gas heaters, kerosene heaters are some of the most powerful spacing heating solutions.

They put out a lot of heat. Indeed, the average kerosene heater puts out more heating BTUs than a standard propane stove.

Kerosene heaters are also incredibly versatile. They can be used in the garage, barn, and nearly all other outdoor applications. Many people also prefer them when going fishing.

However, safety is a significant concern whenever these heaters are mentioned. Aside from the flame itself, many users worry about the safety of kerosene.

There have been even claims about kerosene causing cancer. But does it? Read on to find answers to these and other common kerosene safety questions. Let’s begin with a recap.

What Are Kerosene Heaters?

Also known as paraffin or paraffin oil heaters, a kerosene heater burn kerosene, a liquid fossil fuel, to generate heat.

Kerosene is typically a pale yellow or colorless liquid with a characteristic not-so-pleasant smell. It’s obtained from petroleum and is primarily used for burning in kerosene lamps and domestic heaters or furnaces.

Chemically, kerosene is a mixture of hydrocarbons. The chemical composition differs from one paraffin grade to the next. However, the most common paraffin types contain about ten different hydrocarbons.

Kerosene is particularly attractive because it’s a clean, low-cost fuel. Kerosene fuel is arguably the most affordable of the fossil fuels and more environmentally friendly than wood and coal.

However, burning paraffin produces a few bothersome byproducts, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and small carbon monoxide traces. Because of this, plenty of ventilation is necessary.

Since kerosene is a non-corrosive fuel, it’s safe to store for a long time. The storage options are also multiple, from metal drums to plastic containers. Depending on the storage container, kerosene can last a long time.

In a plastic container, the fuel remains in excellent condition for up to a year. But, you can store it for up to 10 years if you can find the right metal container. Essentially, that’s everything you need to know about kerosene as a fuel.

Benefits of Kerosene Heaters

Kerosene heaters are excellent as a supplemental heat source and a solution you should strongly consider, especially for emergencies. Some of the top benefits of a kerosene heater include;

  • Powerful heat source: Kerosene heaters can provide up to 135,000 BTUs of heating power per gallon – more than propane heaters, which max out at around 91,800 BTUs per gallon and way more than natural gas, which is usually lower than propane.
  • Low fuel cost: Kerosene only costs about $2.25/gallon. Meanwhile, the average cost of propane is $3.00/gallon. Remember that propane is cheaper than electric heating. Consequently, kerosene heating is also less expensive than electric heating.
  • Long lifespan: Paraffin lasts a long time when stored properly. When stored in reliable metal containers, free from rust, it can last up to 10 years in excellent, usable condition. Even in plastic containers, it lasts a full year.
  • Multiple styles and options: Finally, kerosene heaters come in all sizes, shapes, and styles, giving you endless heating choices. Some are portable, while others are permanently installed. Some are convective, while others are radiant. And so forth.

Dangers of Kerosene Heaters

Despite the many advantages, though, kerosene heaters have a few drawbacks, especially with regards to safety. The following are common safety problems;

Fire Hazards 

Kerosene heaters, as with any flame-producing heating system, comes with a substantial fire risk. First off, the fuel itself can catch fire.

Therefore you must be extremely careful, especially when refilling the tank. Secondly, if the flames reach your drapes or curtains, it can start a fire.

Burn Risks

Kerosene heaters also present a significant burn risk. Remember that the kerosene flame reaches between 300 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

You don’t need to come in full contact with such a hot flame to get burned. You may get a scalding even from a few inches out. Additionally, the surface of the heater may also become very hot, creating another potential burn risk.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

All heaters that burn fossil fuels produce carbon monoxide. Kerosene isn’t any different. It produces significant amounts of CO. What you need to know is that carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, but hazardous gas.

When inhaled, CO attaches to hemoglobin in the blood, effectively blocking the body’s cells from receiving oxygen. This can quickly send you into shock and causes death in a matter of hours.

Safety Tips When Using Kerosene Heaters

First off, you need a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home, specifically in the room where you intend to use the kerosene heater.

A carbon monoxide detector tracks the presence of this dangerous gas and sounds the alarm if dangerously high CO levels are detected. Make sure to check the CO detector regularly to ensure it’s in good working condition.

Additionally;

  • Place the heater in a safe place: Never place the kerosene heater in pathways where it’s likely to be knocked over.
  • Place it on a level surface: You don’t want the kerosene heater tilted during operation as this creates the risk of leaks.
  • Ensure proper ventilation: The room where you’re using the heater must be properly ventilated. If need be, open a window.
  • Don’t hang clothing above the heater: Doing this creates an unnecessary fire risk. In the same spirit, don’t use the heater to dry your clothes.
  • Refill it outside: Never refill the kerosene heater inside your house. You don’t want the overspills on your floor or the lingering smell in your living areas.
  • Store extra kerosene outside: An excellent place to store extra kerosene is the garage. Make sure to use a clearly marked container.
  • Don’t refill past the “Full” mark: Kerosene expands when it warms up. If you fill it past the “Full” mark, the fuel may spill out of the tank during heating.
  • Keep children and pets away: Whether you’re refilling the tank or using the heater, you don’t want the pets or kids around.

How to Maintain a Kerosene Heater

Aside from observing the above safety tips, kerosene heaters must also be properly maintained for ultimate safety and long life. Consider the following;

  • Inspect the wick regularly: The wick is one of the most critical components of the kerosene heater. You need to inspect it regularly, ideally before every use, to ensure it’s in good condition. A low flame, flickering flame, tar deposits, and difficulty turning the knob are some of the signs you have a bad wick.
  • Clean the wick as needed: Time when the fuel is almost used up, raise the flame to use up all the remaining fuel, wait for the heater to cool down, then remove the heater cover. Then, use a small brush to dust off any tar deposits around the wick adjuster.
  • Replace the wick as necessary: If the wick is damaged or in any other unusable state, remove it and replace it with a new one.
  • Store the heater safely: Before storage, clean the wick and heater, drain the fuel tank, and store the heater in a cool, dry place.  

Kerosene Heater FAQs

How Much do Kerosene Heaters Cost? 

Kerosene heaters are priced anywhere from under $75 for the smaller, more portable models to over $175 for the larger models. Remember, however, that the marked price rarely tells the full story. Always evaluate the heater based on critical factors such as size (in BTU) and run time first.  

Do kerosene heaters give off carbon dioxide?

Yes. All fossil fuels emit carbon monoxide when burned. Kerosene isn’t any different. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas. Therefore, you can’t tell the presence of the gas by seeing or smelling. Since it’s also a hazardous gas, you need a special device known as a carbon monoxide sensor to alert you in case of too much CO in your home.

Are kerosene heater fumes bad for you?

Yes. The fumes you can smell when using kerosene fuel are bad for your health. Breathing in too much kerosene fumes can affect the airways and lungs, causing breathing difficulty and throat swelling. It can also cause pain in the eyes, nose, and ears. In excessive amounts, the fumes may find a way into internal organs, causing dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, and general weakness.

Do kerosene heaters need to be vented? 

Absolutely! Plenty of ventilation is a prerequisite when using kerosene heaters. Ideally, you want to keep a window or two open in the room where you’re using the heater. If the area doesn’t have sufficient ventilation, consider other heater types, such as electric heaters.

Can kerosene fumes kill you? 

Kerosene fumes cannot kill you. But, in excessive amounts, it can cause convulsions and potentially send you into a coma.

Can the smell of kerosene make you sick?

Yes, it can make you feel drowsy, dizzy, and generally weak. Overexposure to kerosene fumes can also light headaches.

Do kerosene heaters cause cancer?

According to the World Health Organization, “kerosene is not considered a cancer-causing substance (carcinogenic). However, repeated exposure of animals to kerosene (through breathing or ingestion) has caused skin cancer in the past.”

Can you leave a kerosene heater on all night?

No, it’s strongly prohibited. Leaving the kerosene heater running overnight creates multiple new safety risks. What happens if the heater tips over, perhaps due to wind? What if there’s a carbon monoxide alarm? In both cases, you’d be unable to take the necessary safety measures.

Wrap Up

Kerosene heaters are an exceptional choice for supplemental heating, especially in unconventional spaces such as the garage and the barn. The heaters produce tons of heat and are cheaper than propane and electricity to run.

However, remember that kerosene heaters are also known for multiple safety issues. If you choose to purchase one, make sure to use it safely.