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

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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.

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

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?

Why you should NOT refill disposable propane cylinders, with an exceptionThen 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.

Why you should NOT refill disposable propane cylinders, with an exceptionHow 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, runs just shy of $50 on Amazon; 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

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Pierre

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

Zane Dargaty

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.

Einar Hansen

Here is what I did after doing the math.
Going to the store to buy them at about $4.99 each. And not getting a so called deal at my Wholesale Club Store. We got rid of them. Then I went on line and bought 2 1 gallon tanks at about $39.00 each. And bought 2 six foot hoses to go along with them at $15.00 each. Total Cost around $120.00. The hoses fit my outdoor stove, grill and lanterns. During the camping season I use to have to buy at least 14 of the one pound cylinders so there is around lets say $60.00 around half of what I was paying to buy the one gallon tanks and hoses. We have a seasonal campsite and are there almost every weekend long or short and for our vacations during the season. Now the cost of getting the 1 gallon tanks filled. At the campgrounds the first time that I went get them filled there it was $15.00 for both of them. The next time I needed to fill them almost at the end of the season and I found out about a propane refill station about 3 miles away it cost $6.00 total.
I still have one of the one pound tanks for just in case.

Cactus Jack

Mr. & Mrs. De Maris did not do the math on this subject. And I am concerned they have not done much research, either.

First, the dough.
If you buy a pair of 1 lb. bottles at Wal Mart, they’re $8.59 USD for the pair. Unless they’re on sale (Woo Hoo! They’re on sale!) for $7.49 USD for the pair. That is $3.745 USD per pound. Mr. & Mrs. De Maris was talking in ounces. That’s not very smart. Because propane is not sold in ounces. Actually, it’s sold in gallons. And you have 4.1 pounds in each gallon. And the last I saw (a week ago in fact) “refillable propane” was going for $2.99 per gallon, and “non-refillable propane” was going for $1.5996 per gallon.

“Refillable propane” is where you have a refillable propane tank, as small as a 10 lbs. (2.7 gal.) tank up to a 100 lbs. (24.4 gal.) tank. The most common are the 20 lbs. (4.8 gal.) & 30 lbs. (7.3 gal.) tanks. “Non-refillable propane” is also known as “bulk propane” and “residential propane”. You will pay the “refillable propane” price when filling 10 lbs. through 100 lbs. tanks, but are prohibited from refilling those same tanks from a “nonrefillable propane” source. Ferrill Gas & AmeriGas sell both, in fact they deliver to the RV park and “refilliable propane” refill station. And they sell the “nonrefillable propane” as “residential propane” and “bulk propane” as well.

With that said, the “refillable propane” breaks down to $0.729 per 1 lb. bottle, and “non-refillable propane” would be $0.39 per 1 lb. bottle. So when you refill your own 1 lb. bottles, you save anywhere from $6.71 to $7.13 per pair of bottles. When you refill, you can remove the main insert valve, but it is not a good idea. Just make sure the bottle and valve is clean.

Second, the 1 lb. bottles.
They have a pressure insert near the neck of the bottle. Blow torch bottles and recreational bottles, both. It looks like a tire valve stem insert, which it is. You can remove that (after the bottle is empty). It is not the same as a tire valve stem however, it is set to vent out propane when under excessive pressure.

I hope this helps. If anyone feels I am wrong, please show me where as the last thing I want to do is give out the wrong info to fellow RV’ers.

Billy Bob Thorton

It’s all baloney. Follow a simple rule, weigh before, then after. If you are careful not to overfill. Pull up some excellent YouTube videos ( watch a few) and have at it. Like others have said, you can save a bundle. I’ve filled a dozen at a time.

Wolfe

A PSA, BTW… I’ve heard people say they buy “GreenKey” tanks believing they are either legally refillable or magically more ecological. They are NEITHER. GreenKey is just a mechanism to finish emptying the tank (to maybe be safer for crushing) …but mainly to disable the tank so you CAN’T refill it if you use the tool (they are good tanks and refill fine if you don’t use the force-disposal locktool). Regardless of whether you refill, don’t buy GK “for the planet.”

Wolfe

I have refilled MANY hundreds of these 1# tanks (torches and heaters eat 30-40 refills a year, 20 years…), had exactly ONE leak. These are used around my shop where they have to be portable but not “transported.” Each refill costs 40 cents instead of $5.

I seldom use up a tank in one shot, so assume 3-4X as many connect/ disconnect cycles as refills. Now we’re into thousands of connection cycles. Refilling does NOTHING special compared to disconnecting your tank for transport (grill in RV, tanks in vented truckbed) without refilling, so i’m not very concerned about valve leakage. In fact, one of my micro torches easily drives several dozen disconnect cycles per pound.

I only store and transport ALL propane in an open vent manner, because I’m not stupid. I know how to fill them, leak check every disconnection, and if a tank surprise-leaks, its no problem. That said, I really wonder how a tank looks different to DOT when half the factory gas is used vs the 47th time it’s refilled?

With prices coming down on officially blessed refillable tanks, I’ve gotten a few just to be kosher with the RV, but I have to agree $50 for the kit is crazy! My (unvalved) adapter cost $5 I think, and works perfectly relying on the two tank valves.

As far as the HUGE ecological impact, i’m shameless enough to put out a recycling bin at campsites. I’ll make sure your empties are reused and recycled responsibly!

George Clouse

I’ve been using the Flame King refillable cylinders for a number of years now, and can truthfully say they have paid for themselves many times over.
Quick and easy to fill … I’ll never go back to using disposable one pound cylinders.

G

Stev

I’ve read all the current comments and agree with almost everything said so far. I once thought about a job with a local propane company who needed a position filled. I passed both official tests required by my state as well as being a hot air balloon pilot who had keys to get into the propane yard on Sunday to personally refill my 40 lb stand up tanks. I also have refilled little green bottles and in order to really get them relatively full you have to know a trick or two (no don’t put them in a freezer before refilling). After refilling them several times (I had six so I didn’t have to do it as often) over a cold spring I just ordered the right hose for my Buddy heater and went with a 20 lb tank. If you’re tent camping go with a 5lb tank or whatever is right for you. WHY? I have a fair amount of experience with propane and I got spooked a couple of times getting those little green bottles filled. If I had any doubt about them after refilling I used that one first and then threw it out. The real pisser about this article is that it’s an advertisement appearing to be an article. I know this publication needs the revenue so OK. Price a 5 or 20lb tank and hose against this product. It may be a fine product and POSSIBLY safer than do it yourself solutions but you be the judge. And no I won’t propagate any tricks which in the long run I thought were dicey.

Tina GAllagher

I am saving for a Camp Chef oven for my rig and plan on buying the refillable bottles with the adapter kit. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of risking my safety by refilling bottles that weren’t made for the purpose. So what they cost around $16 each? They can be refilled so many times that they’ll pay for themselves in the long run.

Scott

Generally it has been said that the refill process and refill level achieved is only 80-85% efficient in terms of transferring the liquid propane from a larger 20 lb tank to the smaller in achieving a full 1lb fill level to the disposable tank so the chanced of overfill and bursting of the current 1 lb tanks are very slim.

Jeannie

For those of you who don’t like doing business with Amazon (such as me), you can also order the cylinders, both the cylinder and valve kit as well as the cylinders only (only on $16.89) online from Wally World (Walmart).

Rich D

Flame King cylinders are also DOT legal for transport. I have two and they work great.

Mike B

I manage a campground and can attest to the wasteful use of these small cylinders. Many people toss them into our regular trash and they are often still partially full. I do my best to separate them and then offer them free to campers to use up the remaining propane. I can only imagine what would occur if a trash compactor was to puncture one of these inside a trash bag.

For the price of these small cylinders over time a person could purchase a smaller 5 or 10 lbs refillable cylinder and adapter hose and make use of it for years at a fraction of the cost.

Dhinet

The solution to the problem maybe to put a $2 deposit on each cylinder or ban the disposable tanks and require all tanks be green refillable.
The 20 lb tanks are all refillable. Everyone is accustomed to exchange or refill.
Mass production would lower the $14 for the green tanks to a few dollars

BruceinAZ

So are there any statistics on just how many people are killed or injured by refilled disposable propane cylinders? I myself don’t recall ever hearing about any. I’ve been doing it for at least 25 years and I’m sure that some of my bottles have been refilled dozens of times. This is actually the first time I’ve even heard an alarm raised about the practice. The refill adapters I’ve purchased for this purpose were obtained from reliable sources without any warning of possible dire consequences that I recall. I suspect that possibly the disposable bottles themselves had warning labels of some sort on them but of the 10 I’m currently using any such label is long gone.