13 Common Kerosene Heater Problems And Troubleshooting Tips

Kerosene heaters can be a godsend in ice-cold regions with frequent power outages. The heaters are inexpensive, reliable, and very economical. In addition, they are portable, meaning you can bring the unit close to you to enjoy maximum warmth and take it wherever you go. 

Above all, kerosene heaters are incredibly powerful. Even a medium-sized kerosene heater can generate thousands of BTUs worth of heat, enough to keep the entire room and its occupants warm. 

Unfortunately, kerosene heaters, like any other mechanical appliances, aren’t perfect. Sometimes even a heater that looks perfectly okay may refuse to ignite. Or, it may ignite and go off within seconds. Other times, it will remain on but produce a small, uneven flame that significantly compromises heat output. 

If you have a kerosene heater, you should know how to diagnose these issues, perhaps for emergencies. Below, we explain some of the most common kerosene heater issues and recommended solutions.  

What Are the Most Common Kerosene Heater Problems?

1. Kerosene Heater Wick won’t Rise

A kerosene heater wick that is consistently low and refuses to rise may be a sign of several things. However, the two most common reasons are a bad wick adjustor knob and malfunctioned auto-shutoff system.

The auto-shutoff system is designed to automatically pull the wick down to kill the flame when the heater is set to auto mode. If it malfunctions, it may keep the wick low permanently. 

Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to solve. You need to reactivate the auto-shutoff switch. Start by turning the heater off manually and wait until it’s cool enough to handle. Then, using a screwdriver, unscrew the heater’s cabinet. You should be able to lift off the cabinet once the screws are off. 

Now, locate the knob used to adjust the wick and pull it out. Lifting the cabinet by pulling at its base in the back should do this. With the wick adjuster knob out, locate the automatic shutoff system and push the pendulum within it slightly to reactivate the system. 

This simple shakeup is enough to resolve both problems listed above. If it’s an issue with the wick adjuster knob, it will resolve after you take it out and insert it back. Meanwhile, slightly pushing the automatic shutoff pendulum should resolve any issues. 

2. Kerosene Heater won’t Light

If the heater doesn’t light, it could be one of three issues – a short or damaged wick, too little fuel inside the tank, or a malfunctioned igniter. 

Begin by ruling out the possibility of deficient fuel levels. Next, remove the fuel tank cap and peek inside the tank to see the level with the flame off. You can shake the unit gently to better gauge the fuel level. If it’s too low, top it up. Otherwise, move to the next step. 

An extremely low/short wick can cause a kerosene heater to refuse to light because a short wick cannot absorb fuel from the bottom of the tank. A compromised wick, such as a hardened wick or one with too much ash around the base, can also refuse to light. The most straightforward way to fix these issues is to replace the wick. 

Finally, a malfunctioned igniter is a little more challenging to diagnose and fix. Start by replacing the batteries to see if the issue goes away. If it doesn’t, you may need to replace the igniter plug or purchase another igniter altogether. 

3. Kerosene Heater Flame High on One Side 

Uneven burning is often the result of a buildup of tar on the wick. When there’s excessive tar on the wick, it blocks the wick. Sometimes the tar can be concentrated on one side of the wick, causing the flame on that side to be lower and less strong.

The first thing you can do to resolve this problem is burn the wick dry to remove the tar. Next, take the heater outside as this process can produce too strong a smell and a lot of soot. Then, light the unit and raise the wick up to the maximum height before it goes off. 

Wait for it to burn dry. This will help remove tar along the base. After it goes off, brush off the tar using a toothbrush. 

If it’s not a tar problem, then your wick may be too old and irreparably dirty. The only solution to this problem is to purchase a new replacement wick.  

4. Kerosene Heater Flickering Flame 

This is a very common problem. You light the heater, and it comes on nicely. However, the flame soon begins to flicker, resulting in abysmal heat output. Sometimes the flame may even go out completely, leaving you in the biting cold.

The problem often emanates from a bad wick. Perhaps the wicker is compromised by bad fuel, or maybe it’s used up. Whichever the case, the following remedies should fix the issue.

Begin by attempting to see if it was a one-time issue. Then, relight the wick and leave it for a while to see if it flickers and goes off again. If it does so three times, you have a problem. 

Now, check the fuel level and relight the heater after making sure there’s enough kerosene inside. Then after making sure the wick is very high, allow it to burn for as long as possible. This should be enough to burn the damaged portion of the wick. 

If the issue persists, consider two things. First, light the unit, wait for it to flicker until it goes off, then wait for the heater to cook down and use a toothbrush to scrub away the ash on the wick. Alternatively, drain all the fuel and replace the wick system. 

5. Kerosene Heater Foul Smell 

If you smell a foul smell coming from your kerosene heater, it could be several things, including ban fuel, an overly high wick, etc.

The first thing to consider is the quality of your fuel. Although all kerosene fuels smell, low-quality kerosene fuel has a powerful smell. The smell may also be a little different from the standard fuel smell. So, check whether you have the right fuel. You want to use only K-1 kerosene. 

Secondly, check the wick to see if it’s set too high. A wick that’s too high can cause kerosene to diffuse into the room, causing a bad smell. A wick that’s higher than usual can also cause poor combustion, leading to a bad smell. Lower it immediately and wait a few minutes to see if the smell disappears if it’s too high. 

Finally, if the foul smell persists even after you’re verified that you’re using the correct type of kerosene and the wick is at the right height, it’s time to check air circulation.

A foul smell accompanied by excessive smoke usually indicates a higher air-to-fuel ratio inside the heater. At this point, you may need to replace the burner. 

6. Kerosene Heater Igniter doesn’t Glow

If your kerosene heater igniter doesn’t glow, it could point to an issue with the igniter or the heater itself. Before you attempt any further troubleshooting, check to ensure that there’s enough kerosene inside the unit and that the bottom of the wick dips into the fuel. If both are positive but the igniter still won’t glow, move to the next step. 

Check the batteries. Igniters have batteries to keep them running. When the batteries are missing or drained out, the igniter won’t work. If the batteries are present, but the unit doesn’t work, try replacing the batteries. If this step doesn’t help too, perhaps you need to call a professional for further diagnosis. 

Alternatively, you can consider replacing the igniter. However, we only recommend complete replacement if the current igniter is old and worn out. In such a case, professional repairs may be more expensive than an outright replacement. 

To prevent this issue from repeating, always ensure that the igniter is above the wick level. Regular maintenance can also prevent igniter issues. 

7. Kerosene Heater Pulsing 

Although this issue isn’t as common as the rest, it can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes the unit can pulse over 100 times per minute, resulting in shooting out an orange flame. We’ve heard owners before say they suspect a bad pump. The worst part is that you may clean the air intake filters and change the spark plugs in vain. 

The best solution is to replace the air filters. This is especially true if the burner starts and stops and the heater is a few years old. 

The pulsing action results from pressure imbalance inside the heater. The pressure is set by bleed air and must be 3.5 gauge-psi. The only accurate way to measure the pressure is through a special gauge. 

When the filters clog, it changes the pressure. Sometimes the pressure is affected so much that it causes pulsing. It may even cause the unit to stop working. A filter replacement will solve the problem. 

8. Kerosene Heater Giving off a Sooty Black Smoke

This is a prevalent problem. The heater lights and remains on as long as you want. However, it produces so much heat that the room becomes inhabitable. The thickness of the soot often varies depending on the type and degree of the problem. There could be several issues. 

First, find out if you’re using the right fuel. We always recommend 1-K kerosene. If you’re using a different type of kerosene, it might be the cause of excess soot. Also, never use gasoline in a kerosene heater. Besides excessive soot, it’s too dangerous. 

It’s also possible that the wick is set too high. If the wick is too high, the flame becomes too big, using up the air inside the heater too quickly. This can result in incomplete burning or poor combustion, leading to excess soot. Fortunately, you can fix the issue right on the spot by lowering the wick as appropriate.

Finally, excessive “smoking” in kerosene heaters may also be a sign of an improperly sealed burner assembly that allows air to escape. Try turning it left or right to seal it properly. Or remove it and reseal it properly. 

9. Kerosene Heater Making a Popping Noise 

Perhaps you have a small kerosene heater that you use in the garage. However, lately, it’s become too noisy. You can’t even hear the radio anymore, even with the volume turned way up, because the noise from the heater dulls it completely. What’s wrong?

There could be various issues. First, perhaps it’s just normal noise. A forced air kerosene heater is essentially a low-power jet engine. It can produce a lot of noise. The solution here is to get used to the noise or try to find a quieter heating option. 

However, it may also feel too noisy because of the positioning. If you point the nose cone towards your home, you’ll have a lot of noise in the room. Instead, point it away from the room, perhaps pointing to an open window. 

Finally, perhaps your heater is damaged or worn. Like all mechanical appliances, components of the heater can become loose, and some parts may wear. When this happens, you may hear clunking and rattling sounds. You may need to tighten or replace the parts or even replace the heater. 

10. Kerosene Heater Knob Won’t Turn

The kerosene heater knob is a mechanic part. Thus, if it’s not turning, then it’s most likely that something is blocking it. So, the first thing you want to do is inspect it for blockages. Is it dirt buildup, perhaps? Or maybe dust? 

You’ll need to remove the cabinet, pull out the knob, and closely inspect the area for issues. If it’s dirt buildup, simple cleaning should be enough to resolve the problem. 

Another common reason the knob may refuse the turn is a dirty wick. Sometimes when the wick becomes too dirty, it expands and becomes thicker. This may make it a little challenging to lower or raise the wick, making it seem like the knob has malfunctioned. 

Try removing the wick and inspecting it closely. If it’s too dirty, replace it as washing it may not resolve the problem. 

Now you know the solution to common kerosene heater issues. We want to stress that regular maintenance can prevent most of these issues. So, clean your heater regularly change the fuel periodically to ensure everything is working perfectly. 

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