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Why you should NOT refill disposable propane cylinders, with an exception

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If the measure of how much Americans love the land were based on how many disposable propane cylinders are sold each year, they must love it a lot. Some 40 million one-pound disposables are sold each year in the U.S. They go backpacking, back-yarding, into the shop and into RVs. But once they’re empty, where do they go? Often to landfills, far too often left cluttering the landscape.

Propane cylinders
The culprits

National park visitors often just leave them at the campground dumpster – which in 2014 amounted to 23,000 of the little metal cylinders at Yosemite National Park, costing more than a $1 each for proper disposal. Put another way, a year’s worth – 40 million disposable propane cylinders – all tossed into the standard 4-yard dumpsters typically seen in campgrounds, would require 825,000 dumpsters. That’s a lot of waste!

It’s no wonder that those with a consciousness of caring for the planet figure there’s got to be a better way. Why not refill disposable cylinders, reducing the amount of waste, and save a bit of money as well?

The average price of a disposable is more than $5 each; ringing up at more than 31 cents per ounce. If you paid that price to fill your smaller RV cylinder, it would cost you $100 per fill up. There are plenty of adapters that make it possible to fill a disposable from a refillable propane container. Doing the math says even if you paid $3 a gallon for propane, your refilled cost per disposable would amount to a piddling 71 cents.

But there’s another side to the equation: How much is your safety worth? Disposable propane cylinders are built far differently than their larger, refillable brothers. The metal walls of the disposable type are thin, and repeated contraction and expansion of those thin walls can lead to metal fatigue and eventual rupture. Likewise, a disposable’s valve is not designed for repeated use; and unlike an LP cylinder designed to be refilled, there’s no “bleeder” valve to indicate when the disposable is filled to the safe point, making overfilling a real problem. And while plenty of people refill their disposable cylinders without trouble, how much are you willing to gamble that you can get away with it?

Then there’s another financial consideration. While it is technically legal to refill a disposable cylinder, transporting it on a public highway is a very different matter. Federal regulations (administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation) prohibit transport of refilled “DOT 39” cylinders (of which classification small cylinders fall under). Violate that regulation, you’re liable for a fine of up to $500,000 and five years in prison.

SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? Give up on using those handy one-pound cylinders in favor of the environment? Run the risk of life and limb and refill the disposables? Enter an alternative: Safe and legally refillable one-pound cylinders. Flame King now offers cylinders designed for refill, along with a refill kit to pump your own. The cylinders themselves are heavy-duty, and equipped with an “80% valve” that indicates when the safe “full” point has been reached.

How does it work? The refill system includes a stand on which you can safely place an inverted 20-pound cylinder. That cylinder is connected to an adapter, and it to the refillable cylinder. Using an included Allen wrench, you crack open the bleeder valve and press a dispensing lever on the adapter. When liquid propane begins to spit out of the bleeder valve, you let up on the fill lever, close the bleeder valve, and disconnect the refilled cylinder. Users happily report that unlike refills of disposable cylinders, it’s easy to get a full cylinder, with no need to stick it in a freezer to encourage a full-fill. There’s a video available on YouTube that shows the whole process.

You’ll need to run your figures to determine your break-even point. The whole kit, including the refill system and a single, one-pound refillable cylinder, usuallt runs just shy of $50; additional cylinders are $14. Yes, the up-front cost may look a little imposing, but on the other hand, if you’re paying $5 per disposable, it doesn’t take much to figure the savings both financially and environmentally. And as opposed to the inherent dangers of refilling disposables, this Flame King system looks like a winner all around.

##RVT881 ##RVDT1487

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Lukas
1 month ago

And regarding other aspects like leaking gas, worn out bottles etc…Imagine factory filled bottle that has been 50 times connected/disconnected to blowtorch (fast heating jobs that consume only bit of gas), beaten on construction site, beaten on the truckbed on bumpy road, rusty…etc etc and properly maintained grill bottle that gets used in one day and then refilled, used for another grilling week later, refilled etc…My bet would be that the latter one will be in much better condition even after 50 refills. The only factor could be expiration date (like 10years since manufacture) or dis/connection count. And obvious visual condition (rust…)

Btw the price for those 1lb coleman/bernzomatic bottles here is around 12USD incl. tax.

Lukas
1 month ago

Refilling those 1lb propane cylinders is 100% safe. They have pressure relieve valve so even if somebody fills them to 100% the valve will vent a bit of gas. I live in Europe and we don’t use those 1lb “green” coleman cartridges here AT ALL. Only some shops import them alongside with blowtorches from Bernzomatic (they have the same valve).
The main danger is refilling those thin-walled camping cylinders we use here in Europe for camping equiment (search for 100g propane butane cartdidge). And you know the danger? Those small thin cartridges are NOT filled with propane but with Butane/Isobutane mixture. They have 30% propane max. And you know why? Because those thin cylinders can’t take the pressure of pure propane (search for propane butane vapor pressure) – spoiler: Propane has around 13Bar at 40°C and 30% Propane,70%Butane has only 6Bar.
So if somebody were to refill those cylinders with pure propane they will most likely explode (yeah, they don’t have pressure relieve valve).

Lukas
1 month ago
Reply to  Lukas

On the other hand those green US coleman 1lb cylinders are factory filled with moreless pure propane so you can’t fill them with anything “worse”….

juano
2 months ago

what about just using an old style coleman camp stove that runs on nafta?

bisonwings
8 months ago

To vent the throw away bottles while filling get a surgical clamp either from a pharmacy, Amazon, or hobby shop. The ones with a 45 degree angle work best. Attach that clamp onto the Schrader’s pin that sticks up and then raise the pin as you are filling the canister. I set my refillable tank upside down and the 16 ounce tank on the scale below it. This way I get a full 16 ounces into canister.

bisonwings
8 months ago

The canisters are designed for expansion and contraction. They have to be since they expand and contract constantly all day and night long from the time they are first filled at the factory. Heat and cold cause propane to do that and there is no expiration date on the canisters.
A small programmable digital scale will deduct the empty weight of the canister. Then add 16 ounces of propane ( that’s the amount they originally come with). Disconnect and refill another canister. They have a Schrader valve built in and opening it allows the 16 ounces of propane to fill faster.
Flame King is a very costly way to go and does nothing to help with the waste created by empty propane bottles. You can buy a refill kit on Amazon or eBay for a few dollars and do a lot of good. IMHO

richard langley
5 months ago
Reply to  bisonwings

bisonwings; I couldn’t have said it better.
Harbor Frieght has a adapter (about $17) that fits the 7 gal tank(s) on the front of my 30′ Fleetwood. I’ll add that although a temperature differential between the filling tank and the 1 lb Greenie is desired, the Greenie doesn’t have to be frozen. Just put in the refrigerator for an hour or so will work fine. A 30 degree difference is very good, but as little as 15 degrees (like in the winter) will work fine. What, you don’t get a full refill? So what. Just refill the 3/4 full Greenies more frequently and stop being lazy! I’ve been refilling the same 10 Greenie’s for about 6-7 years (about 60 refills a year total) now, with no problem. If something was going to happen, it would have by now. WallyWorld here in San Diego (2021) has x2 greenies for $7 (incl tx). I refill mine for $.78 each and my propane is delivered for $3.63/gal to my RV Park.
Hey, what’s that hissing sound?!?!?!? 😉

dcook
8 months ago

If you do decide to fill the disposables, do your self a HUGE favor and purchase the brass caps that fit the threaded top of the cylinder. Amazon has them in 5 packs. It will stop the leak from the inner valve seal. When you slide your device in and out of these throw away seals, they get scratched and leak, I filled up 5 one day and put a drop of soap on the outlet and all 5 had a bubble appearing in seconds. They will leak down in a few weeks/months and you have nothing now, may not ever create a hazard because it is a small leak but you will lose your propane.

Wolfe
10 months ago

First, find my old comment below… it’s good and keeps me from repeating important info.

Next, i refilled 107 one pound cylinders this year for under $28. $7 per 20# does that. None leaked and they are all several dozen times refilled. $28 or $535 at retail?

I tried the refillable bottles last year… both developed leaks and were thrown out. I wasted more money trying those than refilling my old single use 107 times. Hmm?

Again, DO KNOW what you’re doing while filling and DO NOT store ANY LP tank (20 or 1lb) inside your enclosed cab or RV…

We do NOT need any more laws written by ignorant people to control smarter and risk-aware people!

Dave J
10 months ago

1 lb -vs- 10 or 20 lbs. I sail. There’s really no place on board to store a 10 or 20 lb propane bottle above deck on our sloop. However i can fit three 1 lb bottles in a sleeve and hang them from one of the rails surrounding the stern. several sleeves and i’ve got enough fuel for a month afloat (info – propane settles into the lowest part of the boat and that’s why one should NEVER store propane below deck in a boat or really anywhere else it can’t flow out the bottom into free air). Therefore this article really interested me. I’ve always refilled the little 1 lb bottles (getting only about 1/2 full as I was not able to vent the air out as the propane flowed in) and never had a problem — yet. The fact that “properly” refillable bottles was not known to me so again, this article was really appreciated.

Thomas D
10 months ago

Ive been filling little tanks for year. A real pita. Only get about 1/2tank .Bought an adapter kit with a hose for about 12$ and use gas right out out a #20r.

Ken
10 months ago

I purchased this system last year and I have accumulated 10 cylinders. It works great and I no longer buy any disposables. With a full 20lb cylinder, the refillables take about 2 minutes each to fill. That extends to about 5 minutes each as the 20lb cylinder gets closer to empty.

Chris Mead
10 months ago

If the design doesn’t support refilling, no one should do it. PERIOD! Just because people have been doing it means nothing, If you are doing it , you have just been eating into the design’s safety factor. STOP NOW!

What needs to be done is to remove these things from the market in place of refilling cylinders.

Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Mead

We do NOT need any more laws written by ignorant people to control smarter and risk-aware people”

Your ignorance is similar to the ignorance of the people writing this article while conveniently selling a cylinder that is hardly different for $50.

As several have said, these cylinders are well made to handle pressure changes. They are very definitely designed to be filled, how else would they fill them at the factory?. The article is based on false uninformed speculation, like most on the internet. If you can’t check a propane tank OF ANY KIND for leaks, then you are not qualified to use gas.

Samuel J White
10 months ago

So the whole article on refilling 1 LB cylinders was an add for some company to sell a $50.00 kit. I have been refilling cylinders for years with no problems, and have never had some one tell me that they have had one. I fill them maybe 4 or 5 times then toss them and buy a new one.

Derek Johnson
1 year ago

More pure and utter nonsense for many Americans. I’ve been refilling cylinders for decades. Not an issue. I go through a dozen or more cannisters monthly. The savings is astronomical. Not all individuals have money to burn. If retailers didn’t rip off consumers on price, perhaps you would have a point. Fear mongering doesn’t help your case.

Geno Skalbird
1 year ago

April 23 2020 in canada cost is $84 plus $35 shipping for just the bottle and most of the reviews say MOST of the flame king tanks are failing completely, doesn’t work, doesn’t screw on etc. Whoever wrote this and said $14 on amazon must be living someplace where the dollar is worth over 3x what it is here…. Thanks Trudeau.

But seriously $115 plus taxes for something that doesn’t work PER TANK?? I have done risky jobs for minimum wage, so if you’re talking about risking life and limb to most of (predominantly male) workers in north america doing dangerous everyday blue collar work… Like keeping your power grids and sewers and cities running… They measure that risk in “per hour” and choose to do it 40-80 hours a week…

Saving myself $110 to keep say 6 bottles for $660 every two weeks for torches and camp stove… Wow.

I wish corporate greed wasn’t so egregious it forces most working class people to risk life and limb just to save enough pennies to get by every month.

kobun37
1 year ago
Reply to  Geno Skalbird

I’m in the US but I have used four of these Flame King refillable tanks for about two years on Coleman lanterns and a Big Buddy heater. They’ve been refilled at least 30 times each. They work fine. No leaks and they have sat in the cab of my truck in the boiling summer and freezing winter. No idea what reviews you’re looking at. US stores sell them for about $15 USD each. Amazon.com sells them for $10 and some change. If they’re more in Canada, look on eBay and see if someone in the US will ship to you.

randall kaplan
1 year ago

I have been in the propane trade for 30 years and refilling these small cylinders is dangerous for many reason. do yourself and everyone else a favor and get a get a proper refillable tank. not worth killing yourself for a few bucks.

kobun37
1 year ago
Reply to  randall kaplan

The Flame King 1 lb tanks are designed to be refilled. They are built sturdy like a large propane tank and have a bleeder valve.

Waldo
1 year ago

Don’t 20# cyl shut off when upside down?

Gary W
10 months ago
Reply to  Waldo

That’s what I thought too.

Rad Benson
1 year ago

This “article” is nothing but fearmongering from a site that makes money off Amazon referrals to sell the FlameKing product. 1lb cylinders are perfectly safe to refill when done safely, noting neither they nor larger cousins should be used at all after 10 years.

And for all the people smugly talking about just using larger refillable tanks instead, glad that works for you but it does not necessarily work for everyone else’s camping and RV applications (we have a small van with a small bbq that is our only propane appliance, not carting around a 10lb tank thx…).

Kenneth Veit
1 year ago

Forget the refills, get the 20lb adapter and use the 20lb tank instead. I have mine refilled for 12.00 at local campground.
20×4 =80 dollars in 1lb cans, it was a no brainer for me. Also good for the environment.

Mike C
1 year ago
Reply to  Kenneth Veit

Tad heavy for my backpack.

Pierre
2 years ago

Well, link to Amazon or not, we just can’t get them delivered to Canada.

Zane Dargaty
2 years ago

I have a the stand and a refillable cylinder. In at least one instance it didn’t fit the female connection properly, and it doesn’t fit properly in my Mr. Heater Buddy Heater. The cylinder is too long so the heater does not sit flat.

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