One of the most popular forms of fuel for gear is camping propane.
In addition to using it in larger tanks, people love the convenient small tanks. One of the main questions associated with them: Is It Safe To Refill 1lb Propane Bottles?
First let me say that NOTHING in life is 100% totally safe.
Personally, our family has been refilling empty propane bottles for years and found it to be safe. After educating yourself on the pros/cons and risks/rewards, you should make the choice for yourself.
This post is not meant to be a complete list of all the dangers associated with refilling 1lb propane canisters. Please research additional sources to collect all necessary information to make your own decision. I’m sharing my family’s personal experiences.
Why 1 Pound Propane Cylinders Are Popular With Campers
From backpacking to car camping and RVing, storage space and weight limitations are challenges every camper must tackle.
1 lb bottles are great solutions to conveniently provide fuel for portable heaters, camp stoves, water heaters, propane torches and other gear needed on trips.
Refillable vs. 1 Pound Propane Disposable Cylinders
There are two types of one-pound propane tanks: refillable cylinders and disposable propane bottles.
The refillable propane tanks are designed to be used and refilled while the disposable tanks are designed for one-time use only.
Propane Container Certification
All refillable tanks have an expiration date when they must be inspected to ensure they are in good condition and continue to adhere to federal regulations so they can be recertified and legally refilled.
On the other hand, disposable 1 pound cylinders are only designed for one-time use and they are not able to be recertified for refilling.
So, if you choose to refill a disposable tank, you are using the tank outside of its official certification.
Warnings On Disposable 1 LB Propane Small Cylinders
The government regulations indicate refillable propane cylinders are safe to refill by virtue of their certification. Manchester tanks and the Flame King Systems are the most common brands of refillable tanks.
So, the question most people ask has to do with the safety of refilling 1 pound disposable small propane bottles.
Let’s look at the usual warnings on those disposable little tanks. The language reads something similar to this…
- Use only in well ventilated areas. If you experience headache, drowsiness, or nausea, turn unit off and get fresh air quickly.
- Never use where people are sleeping.
- Follow appliance instructions for proper use.
- Keep out of reach of children.
- Keep away from heat, sparks, or flame. No Smoking. Protect from sunlight. Store in well-ventilated place. Never store at temperatures above 120 F degrees (49 C degrees).
- Never store in living spaces.
- Never refill this cylinder. Refilling may cause explosion. Federal law forbids transportation if refilled – penalty up to $500,000 fine and 5 years imprisonment (49 U.S.C. 5124).
- Never put in luggage or take on trains or aircraft.
- To discard, contact local refuse hauler or recycling center. Never put in fire or incinerator. Do not puncture.
- WARNING: This container and by-products of the combustion of its contents contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Pressure Relief Devices On Propane Tanks
Pressurized propane containers have safety relief devices. Laws regulate when the safety valve must be changed.
Disposable propane cylinders have a relief device that is certified for a single use only.
Therefore, the government does not consider a relief device on a single-use canister to be a reliable safety device after the initial gas in the container is used (and if the bottle is subsequently refilled).
Propane Has The Potential To Be Dangerous
Propane is inherently dangerous. The gas is explosive … you use it to produce fire, after all.
But, there are precautions that reduce the dangers. The risk/reward of refilling 1 lb propane bottles is something every individual must weigh for themselves.
Properties Of Propane
There are three major characteristics of propane stored in tanks that make it dangerous.
Let’s discuss what those dangers are and how you can stay safe when handling a pressurized flammable gas.
1. Forms Of Propane: Liquid & Gas
When you buy propane to power your camping gear, you are buying LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) which is also called LP gas.
Propane is a gas that is put under pressure for storage in a tank. When the propane is pressurized the form changes … it goes from a gas to a liquid.
When you open the tank’s valve, you are relieving the pressure allowing the liquid to boil and turn back into a gas form. The gas travels through the connection (usually a pipe, hose and/or regulator) and into your camping equipment to power your gear.
The reason propane tanks feel cold is because the boiling point of propane is -43.6 F degrees (-42 C degrees). Tank temperature can be used to determine how much fuel is in your larger bottles, we discuss how to tell if a propane tank is empty in another post.
2. Pressurized Tanks: Potential For Leaks
No matter what the size of the tank or how much propane is in it … the pressure inside the tank will remain constant until the tank is completely emptied of the propane.
It is good that the tank is under pressure because it allows you to operate your propane-powered camping gear with a completely full tank or with a nearly-empty tank.
On the other hand, because the tank is always under pressure, the propane has a tendency to escape. You should only use propane cylinders, hoses and regulators that are in good condition to avoid the hazards from leaking gas.
The internal pressure can be changed by temperature. At higher temperatures, more liquid expands causing higher pressures. That’s why you should never completely fill any propane tank … you need to leave room for expansion. If pressure builds-up and there is no room for expansion, the tank will have a tendency to explode.
I discuss that with the attendant in my video about how to use the Costco propane refill service.
All gas containers have the potential to leak. There are lots of different points of potential leakage: valves, hoses and seals. You want to check for leaks in your equipment and you should NEVER refill a leaking tank.
3. Propane Settles: Heavier Than Air
What happens to propane that escapes from a tank?
In normal operations, when propane leaves the tank and runs through a line … it reaches your camping gear and is ignited by a spark creating the safe burning of the fuel. In many cases you need to use a match to ignite the propane but some equipment, like the Coleman Fold N Go Propane Stove, has matchless ignition and you just need to push the starter button to create a spark that lights the propane.
If you have propane accidentally leaking out of a tank, you have a dangerous situation. Because propane is heavier than air, the escaped gas will settle in low areas. If the gas doesn’t dissipate it will accumulate and if a spark reaches the collected gas it will cause an explosion.
It is critical that you prevent propane leaks during use, transportation and storage of this flammable gas.
The reason you should store propane tanks in well-ventilated areas and transport them in vehicles that are open to the air (not in enclosed trunks), is to prevent the gas from building-up without the ability to safely dissipate or be burned off.
In its unaltered state, propane gas is odorless. An odorant is added to help people identify leaking gas. If you smell that unpleasant rotten-egg scent, immediately turn off all valves to the tank and gear … and … get fresh air as soon as possible.
Illegal To Transport Refilled Disposable Bottles Per DOT
There is a lot of disagreement regarding the legality of refilling 1lb tanks. Most people interpret the laws as being ok to refill the bottles for personal use but not for commercial use or commercial refilling. The Department of Transportation regulation that is printed on most disposable one pound propane tanks, 49 U.S.C. 5124, has to do with the transportation of refilled single-use tanks.
Never refill this cylinder. Refilling may cause explosion. Federal law forbids transportation if refilled – penalty up to $500,000 fine and 5 years imprisonment (49 U.S.C. 5124).
In the real world the discussion is slightly different. I read an interview with a retired law enforcement officer who said no one really cares if refilled disposable tanks are transported until a serious accident occurs that causes bodily injury, property damage or death. He went on to say that if an investigation concludes that the bottles were refilled, you may be held responsible.
Benefits Of Refilling Propane 1lb Small Bottles
There are several reasons you may want to refill propane 1 pounders: it is cheaper to refill little bottles than to buy more, it is more convenient to refill a bottle at home than go to the store to buy a new tank, it is environmentally friendly to refill bottles rather than throw them out and fill up landfills.
Safety Precautions & Considerations
If you decide refilling disposable 1 pound tanks is something you want to do, please take the proper safeguards when handling this flammable substance.
The first thing you need to do is use the appropriate safety equipment and lots of common sense.
Don’t overfill tanks. Some people use needle-nose pliers to pull the pressure relief valve outward so they can fully fill the tank … that is dangerous because, as we discussed earlier, you need room in the tank for expansion and if there is no room for that to happen, it could explode. We don’t think a full refill is worth the risk … other people disagree with us.
Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area (the best place is outside) away from any open flames, cigarettes or any other ignition hazard.
When you are finished, make sure you store your tanks in a cool place (room temp is cool enough in most climates) that is well ventilated so if a leak does occur, the gas can safely dissipate. We keep ours in a ventilated outdoor storage shed so they are out of direct sunlight but in a structure that has constant circulated fresh air.
How To Do Refills From Larger Tanks To Smaller Ones
As we discussed earlier, the propane inside the tank is in a liquid form, some people refer to it as liquid propane.
When you refill disposable 1 pound tanks you are moving liquid (it looks similar to water) from a larger propane tank (usually a bbq tank) into a smaller tank by connecting them with a refill adaptor.
The pressure difference between the two tanks allows the higher pressure tank to force propane to move to the lower pressure tank.
The refill process does not take a long time to complete. You’ll actually turn the big tank upside down so the liquid settles at the valve and flows (by the pressure of the tank) through the adapter into the smaller tank.
We have an entire post including a video with the simple steps and printable instructions on how to refill 1 pound propane tanks with a propane refill adapter.
Most of us get our large tanks filled at a local propane company, service station or even at hardware stores. When you are camping in an unfamiliar area, you can find propane refill near me.
If you are a bulk propane customer who gets LP tanks refilled or replaced at your residence, you may need to use a filter if you want to use that fuel in your camping gear.
Bulk propane contains impurities that can accumulate and damage your gear. Some popular camping appliances, like the Big Buddy Mr. Buddy Heaters, instruct users to place a filter on their bulk propane supply lines to avoid problems with the impurities.
Alternatives To 1lb Propane Tanks At The Campsite
If you don’t want to deal with refillable bottles or getting new bottles, you do have other options. Here are a few…
There are many portable propane tank sizes that are convenient to take on camping trips.
5 Pound Tanks
5 pound propane tanks hold as much gas as five 1lb bottles but they are still small enough to be very convenient and manageable. You can take these tanks to any propane refilling location to have them refilled.
- 5 Pound Propane Tank Cylinder
- Portable size – ideal for camping
- 9 pounds, empty weight
- 8.1 x 8.1 x 12.38 inches
Propane Adapter Hose
How much propane do you require? If your demands are higher than the average camper, you may want to hook up to a twenty pound (or larger) tank using a propane adapter hose.
- 1lb to 20lb Propane Tank Adapter Hose: The flexible hose conveniently connect 1lb portable appliance to a 20 lb propane tank
- 5 FT propane adapter hose
Check out the best propane camping gear and accessories that will help you make the most out of your excursions in the great outdoors.
Small Propane Tank Disposal
Many people don’t know what to do with their disposable propane bottles once they are empty. Some communities actually have 1 lb cylinder exchange programs but they are rare. It is more common for communities to have hazardous waste programs available to properly get rid of green one-pound propane bottles.
If you want more information on how to dispose of 1lb propane cylinders, we’ve got you covered.
More Camping Safety Tips
If you want to make camping safety a top priority on all of your trips, make sure you think about every aspect of your entire trip.
Using Propane To Prepare Food
Propane is great for warming up with a Mr. Heater in cold weather, creating hot water for comfortable showers and washing dishes. The only thing I enjoy more is using it for cooking! Check out all of my camp stove recipes before you plan your next trip.
Get our entire list of ideas to make awesome camping food no matter what type of cooking you want to do in the great outdoors.