Coleman fuel or white gas (they are basically the same thing) is more expensive than gasoline and when it’s on special, it can be tempting to stock up. However, before doing so it’s good to check the fuel’s shelf life.
If you're stocking up or if you've found an old tank in the shed or garage you might be wondering whether or not this type of fuel goes bad and how long after purchasing it can you continue to use it?
Coleman fuel/white gas does go bad and expire, but it's difficult to tell if it's expired or not. It has a shelf life of 5-7 years when unopened or 6-24 months once opened. However, many people have reported that they’ve used 10-45+ year old Coleman fuel without issues.
Once the bottle is open, it typically expires within 6-24 months because it degrades when exposed to air. However, again there are reports of people using the fuel successfully well after this timeframe.
Understanding Coleman fuel’s shelf life can help you plan your stock and let you know if it’s safe to use after a few years.
What is Coleman Fuel’s Shelf Life?
Coleman fuel or generic white gas’s shelf life is 5-7 years as long as you don’t open the bottle. However, if your unopened bottle is a few years past the expiry date, it should still be good to use but may be slightly less effective.
This is especially true if you’re based in the US because American Coleman fuel contains additional stabilizers to further increase its shelf life. This is one of the only differences between Coleman fuel and white gas.
With this in mind, if you want to stock up, choose Coleman fuel over generic white gas so it will last longer.
Once you open a bottle of white gas or Coleman fuel, you should ideally use it within 6 months because the exposure to air will make it degrade fast, making it less effective.
How To Tell If Coleman Fuel/White Gas Has Gone Bad
Although Coleman fuel’s shelf life is 5-7 years, I’ve heard of many people safely using unopened white gas or Coleman fuel long after it’s expired.
That said, it’s a good idea to evaluate your expired Coleman fuel before leaving on a camping trip so you won’t have to use a less effective fuel alternative in your stove.
Below are some ways to check:
- Perform a water test. This involves pouring a tiny drop of Coleman fuel onto a clean surface and putting it next to the same amount of water.
Both substances will evaporate but if your Coleman fuel is still good, it will evaporate at the same rate as the water.
- Compare it to new Coleman fuel. Fresh Coleman fuel has a clear, light reddish-pink appearance. If your expired Coleman fuel looks cloudy or darker than it should be, it may no longer be effective.
Veteran Coleman stove users can usually tell at a single glance if their Coleman fuel still looks fine. However, you can compare your expired Coleman fuel’s appearance to fresh fuel if you’re unsure.
- Do a sniff test. Give the Coleman fuel a quick sniff and if it doesn’t smell like it normally does, it’s likely that it has expired and ineffective. It might smell stronger than usually and has been reported to smell like “stale kerosene”. If you’re already camping, you may need to use an alternative like unleaded gas.
- Test a little fuel in your stove. Before bringing expired Coleman fuel on your camping trip only to discover that it’s ineffective, test it out before leaving. If your stove works fine, the Coleman fuel is good to go. If the fuel has gone bad then it will struggle to light or may not light at all.
- Look for a different color flame. Older degraded fuel may be more difficult to light and have a different color flame once fully lit. The flame can be a much lighter blue than normal or even greenish in color.
- It smells bad when burning. Not only can you do a sniff test before burning but once burning fuel that has degraded won't smell as clean as fuel that is fresh. This can also leave more sooty residue on your cooking pots and pans.
How To Extend The Shelf Life Of Coleman Fuel
Coleman fuel has a very long shelf life but you can extend this period further by doing the following:
- Only open your Coleman fuel container just before you need it. Once Coleman fuel is exposed to air, the degradation process happens quicker.
If you’ve already used some of the fuel in your bottle, limit how often you open it.
- Store your white gas or Coleman fuel in a dark place with no extreme temperature fluctuations. I usually store mine in the garage but a basement or dark cabinet is also good.
- Add a fuel stabilizer if your Coleman fuel is about to expire. US Coleman fuel already has stabilizers but there’s no harm in adding a little more to keep the ingredients fresher for longer.
Can You Still Use Coleman Fuel That Has Gone Bad? Will It Still Burn?
You can still use Coleman fuel that has gone bad and it should still burn. However, depending on how much it has degraded and been exposed to air, it may not burn as effectively as fresh white gas or Coleman fuel.
I know campers who have used 20-year-old Coleman fuel in their stoves without issues but it’s worth testing it before you leave on your trip just in case.
The YouTube video below shows how someone uses 45-year-old Coleman fuel in a stove and how it burns: