I’m never without my portable butane stove on camping trips and I cook anything on it, from eggs to stir fries to making my coffee in the morning.
I’ve never really had an issue using my butane stove and it's always worked fine for me but there are some dangers you need to take note of if you're using a butane stove. Luckily these are pretty easy to avoid and it's quite simple to stay safe.
The dangers of portable butane stoves include the canister or stove exploding if you use them incorrectly. The canister can burn you if hot or cause a gas leak. Using it in a poorly-ventilated area can produce carbon monoxide.
It’s also dangerous to repair a faulty butane stove yourself or use a bad quality stove or canister. Refilling canisters might feel like it saves you money, but the cost saving is absolutely not worth the risk (in my opinion).
Being aware of the dangers of using a butane stove can keep you and your family safe.
1. The Canister and Stove Can Explode
The biggest risk of using a butane stove is a potential explosion. Explosions are highly unlikely and most canisters have built in fail safes to stop this from happening.
But under some rare circumstances this risk does exist and you need to be careful. Butane stoves or canisters can explode under the following circumstances:
- Using a pot that’s too big. With butane stoves, I always use a cooking vessel that fits the trivet properly because if it overlaps the side where the canister is, it can cause heat to accumulate directly over the canister while you’re cooking. This can cause pressure to build up in the canister which can lead to it breaking and given it's right next to an open flame this can be dangerous.
- Shut-off valve failure. Butane is highly flammable and if your butane stove’s shut-off valve has failed and you have a canister attached to it, it could explode or ignite if there’s even a tiny spark or static electricity near the stove.
- Storing the canister incorrectly. When butane is stored above 122°F (50°C), it starts overheating and exerts pressure on the canister walls, eventually causing the canister to break and the gas to be ejected from the can. If it's near an open flame or spark when this happens it can result in an explosion. The same thing can sometimes happen if you store the canisters upside down or on their side with other items on top of it. Make sure to always store your butane canisters correctly.
- Using a damaged canister. Butane canisters can last for 10 years if you store them correctly and sometimes even longer. If they’re damaged, butane can leak out of them when you’re not using it and ignite or explode.
2. The Butane Canister Can Leak Gas
Butane is odorless so it’s not always obvious if you have a canister leak. Leaks usually happen if the canister is old, rusted or damaged or the seal or valve is worn out.
Being highly flammable, butane can easily ignite and cause a fire and a canister explosion.
Luckily these canisters are quite small and so if you're in a well ventilated area or even if you're storing the containers inside in a fairly well ventilated room you shouldn't have any major issues.
If you're worried you can check your canisters by spray them with soapy water and see if bubbles form from leaking gas or you can weigh them regularly to see how much gas is left in the butane cans make sure they aren't losing any gas.
3. Using It In a Poorly-Ventilated Area Can Produce Carbon Monoxide
A good quality butane stove’s instruction manual will advise you to only use it outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
The danger of using it without proper ventilation is that the oxygen in the area will get used up and eventually the stove will begin to create create carbon monoxide, which is an odorless but deadly gas.
Sadly there are hundreds of hospitalizations every year from carbon monoxide poisoning and multiple deaths. This can often occur when using stoves, barbecues and heaters inside tents and other enclosed areas without proper ventilation.
I understand it's not always possible to cook outside (eg. when it's raining). But if you ever do cook under cover using a butane stove make sure to have lots of windows open even if it's cold to maximize airflow.
It's also a good idea to get a carbon monoxide detector to keep in your tent, van, RV or home if you're cooking at home. This Lunarlipes carbon monoxide detector from Amazon is high-quality, affordable and could just save your life. You really have no reason not to buy one.
Portable Carbon Monoxide Meter can continuously monitor the CO concentration in the surrounding environment. It has 4 modes, which can be easily switched according to the working environment.
The measurable CO concentration range is 0~1000PPM (accuracy 1PPM); when the CO gas concentration reaches the alarm level, the sound and light alarm will work.
4. Handling a Hot Canister or Stove Can Burn You
When using my butane stove, I always tell my kids to stay away from it because it heats up quickly and can easily burn you.
After using the stove, wait half an hour or so before cleaning it and removing the canister to prevent burns.
5. Refilling Butane Canisters Can Be Dangerous
It can often feel like a waste buying so many disposable butane canisters only to have to throw them away. It can also sometimes be hard to dispose of the empty butane canisters if you don't have the right tools.
While it may be tempting to refill these disposable canisters from a larger one to save money it's important to know that this is dangerous and can lead to explosions.
Yes, there are a variety of people who do this and you can purchase adapters for them from Amazon and other places but the experts out there seem to warn against it.
The biggest issues being that by making these canisters “single use” the manufacturer can cut corners and doesn't have to go through the same safety checks as a reusable canister.
Also refilling with the wrong fuel by accident (eg. refilling with propane instead of butane) can cause a buildup of too much pressure and lead to an explosion.
So while yes, it can save money, for me I don't think the risk is worth the cost. Unless you buy a canister that is specifically made to be refilled over and over.
Eg. These 1 lb propane tanks from Amazon are specifically made to be refilled and meet the safety requirements for that. They are different from the single use propane tanks which should NOT be refilled.
Stop wasting money on disposable 1 lb propane tanks and get this reusable tank. Compatible with 1 lb propane appliances and refillable from your own home.
Safe to use and certified by the DOT as legally and lawfully refillable and transportable.
6. Repairing a Faulty Stove Yourself Can Be Dangerous
Butane stoves are pretty durable and it’s rare for good quality models to malfunction. If yours stops working, it’s best to leave the repairs to a professional because you could accidentally damage one of the fuel lines or the shut-off valve.
However, the cost of taking your stove to a professional might be the same as buying a new one.
7. Using a Cheap Stove or Canister Is Risky
I love trawling the internet and online stores for bargains on camping equipment but I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compromise on quality with portable butane stoves.
When buying a butane stove, look for safety certifications such as CSA or ETL. This Chef Master Butane Stove from Amazon is an example of one that’s ETL-certified. Chef Master also a well-known brand and has good reviews, making it a safe bet.
Below is a YouTube video showing someone who snagged a mini butane stove bargain off eBay. It proves that it’s not worth taking a chance by saving a bit of money because your safety is at risk:
The butane canister you use is also important and it’s far less likely to explode if it has a CRV (countersink release vent) as this will gradually release the butane if it heats up too much or the canister is too pressurized.
In addition to buying canisters with a CRV stamp, consider only using ones recommended by your stove’s manufacturer.