Friday, December 1, 2023


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

Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.



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Practicalman (@guest_253238)
2 months ago

Propane lanterns, like Coleman, (and other small appliances like plumbers torches, camp stoves, small heaters etc.) all use high pressure fuel. They have no pressure regulator, and rely instead on a very tiny, almost microscopic, orifice in the valve assembly to meter the correct amount of vaporized LP gas to function. These use small 14 oz. throwaway cylinders that have very clean filtered fuel in them, when you buy them new. Problems can happen when folks refill these disposable tanks from a bulk bottle, such as a 20 lb. barbecue tank. The refill adapter goes between the 2 tanks, and you turn the bulk bottle upside down to get liquid to flow into the small bottle. The bulk 20 lb. tanks often have (oil, grease, dirt, rust) in the bottom of them from where they are refilled at gas stations and LP gas vendors. Not an issue if you only use them upright, but flipping it over to refill the disposable ones may contaminate them. They then clog your lanterns, and you end up with a collection of non working lanterns. You can safely use your lanterns and camp stoves from a bulk tank with a manifold adapter post (kept upright, you only get vapor from the bulk tank, and that won’t clog up your lanterns). It should also be mentioned that in most places it is illegal to transport the refilled small 14 oz bottles in a vehicle. Contamination can cause their self closing valves to leak and make a fire or explosion in the vehicle.

These small lanterns can be a bargain at a yard sale, but have a new small throwaway bottle with you to test it on and make sure it isn’t clogged.

Atlantis (@guest_262618)
5 days ago
Reply to  Practicalman

I basically distill my propane that I use to refill my propane torch. I put the small propane bottle in the freezer and run a small hose to the big tank, takes around 0.5-1hour to transfer but the propane is 100% pure as I use only the gas phase from the big tank this way.

Jerry (@guest_217255)
10 months ago

Oh, oh — fear, uncertainty, doubt! Fantastic marketing / sales tools. But hey, can we get real for a minute?

1) “You might overfill those disposable cylindars”! But then you comment further down about how hard it is to even get those things completely full! Anybody who refills their own cylinders will tell you they basically never get the thing back up to a full pound. So “overfilling” is clearly not a real problem.

2) Oh no, that thin metal expanding and contracting. Again, there are no documented cases of real-world failures caused by metal fatigue! And think about it, those canisters traveling around all the time. Getting hot, getting cold, changing altitude. Nobody worries all that expansion and contraction is going to cause a failure. Because it won’t

3) The DOT is going to fine you. No. Those laws are targeted at filling a lot of containers and trying to sell and ship them to end-users. DOT doesn’t really care if you are carrying a refilled container for personal use.

AndrewLB (@guest_186321)
1 year ago

*sigh* So many commenters have bought into the fear mongering of this article and are perpetuating so many falsehoods that it really hurts your position when the lies are easily dis-proven.

The metal walls of the disposable type are thin… there’s no “bleeder” valve to indicate when the disposable is filled to the safe point, making overfilling a real problem

First of all, small cylinders are more then structurally sufficient for many refills. they’re nearly 1/8″ thick at the ends and slightly less in the middle section, and i know this because i’ve cut a couple of them in half (after filling with water to ensure there was no propane left inside) to use them as a crucible for melting aluminum.
And yes, there is a bleeder valve right on top next to the main valve. Grab the center pin and pull upward and it vents the non-compressable gas, allowing for propane to fill the bottle. It’s best to keep the 1lb bottle’s valve at 10 O’clock so it won’t over-fill.

Das (@guest_164200)
1 year ago

Take it either way but See I’m reasonably intelligent and at one time took every precaution imaginable but after time I tend to become lackadaisical call it lazy, jaded whatever. Anyways one winter I was filling a green or blue idk. So I brought the 20#er inside “you know” warn cold trick. Anyways I use a stove to heat and at this time have had the door cracked on the fire. Long story short I Disconnected the fill bottle and as some of you may be aware of ,sometimes the valves stick spraying pressurized gas. Well guess what ” it stuck” and instead of just reconnecting quick like I should have. Instead I was headed for the door when next thing all I seen was orange and a sec later when it went away. I was standing holding the bottle with a flame over foot long shooting out it. Yet all in all Nothing really happened. The house didn’t catch fire,I had no severe burn, just singed hair. After throwing it outside went in making sure the few papers that was smoking was out. I still refill.

AndrewLB (@guest_186322)
1 year ago
Reply to  Das

Nobody that is reasonably intelligent would have attempted to refill a propane bottle inside your home right next to a wood burning stove. Might as well light up a cigarette while filling the tank next time.

Lukas (@guest_217840)
10 months ago
Reply to  AndrewLB

LOL exactly. Refilling propane next to open flames is the worst scenario you can do. I don’t blame the manufacturers they write do not refill, when people like this try to refill it…

Larry Feasel (@guest_156403)
1 year ago

How many people who commented in here are structural engineers and understand the real science behind whats involved with filling a propane cylinder ? How many of you are certified to legally fill an LP cylinder ?? Thats what I thought. Remember, you can still sue even if your ignorance causes your injury or the injury/death of a loved one !!!!!!!!!

Lukas (@guest_158389)
1 year ago
Reply to  Larry Feasel

Liquid propane and gas/liquid relationship under pressure is not rocket science…don’t overthink it…I really can’t think of any serious danger having refilled cartridges. The act of refilling is bit dangerous as you are manipulating with flammable gas but as long as you do it outdoors away from ignition sources it is fine. Also if you note weight of full cartridge and later target your refill to this weight you don’t even risk overfilling them.

Jerry (@guest_217256)
10 months ago
Reply to  Larry Feasel

And there you just hit on the real problem. It’s not that refilling those small 1lb cylinders is inherently unsafe. It’s that the lawyers get involved. The tanks are not certified for refilling, and in the unlikely event somebody does get hurt they could sue and win — unless the manufactures make it very clear “do not refill”. Even then, they might still have to waste time and money defending themselves from the {bleeped} who decided to attempt refilling an old, rusty cylinder that has been sitting outside for 5 years!

It’s just like my son trying to get his airsoft air tank refilled at the scuba shop. They won’t refill a new tank, with manufacture date stamped on it, because it does not have an official hydrostatic testing sticker on it. Even though the tank is officially good and certified by the manufacturer for 5 years…just doesn’t have that sticker. So they won’t touch it because of the lawyers.

Lukas (@guest_217839)
10 months ago
Reply to  Jerry

There is absolutely NO difference between old, rusty factory filled container that you found somewhere forgotten (but still full, never used) and refilled one. And btw if anything happens, nobody can tell if the canister was refilled or not – you are filling it with exactly the same stuff. But of course you can be prosecuted for using canister in pitiful condition nevertheless…

I am amazed how you people think that if it is factory filled it is somewhat 100% safe and worry-free (completely ignoring the actual condition) compared to refilled ones that are pure evil…

Lukas (@guest_138793)
2 years 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 (@guest_138786)
2 years 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 (@guest_138787)
2 years 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”….

James Wi (@guest_193938)
1 year ago
Reply to  Lukas

Nothing involving a highly flammable gas and open ignition is “100% safe.”

juano (@guest_134591)
2 years ago

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

AndrewLB (@guest_186323)
1 year ago
Reply to  juano

Naptha? Camp grounds out in the western united states do not allow liquid gas stoves anymore.

bisonwings (@guest_115372)
2 years 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 (@guest_115370)
2 years 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 (@guest_126530)
2 years 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 (@guest_115030)
2 years 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.

AndrewLB (@guest_186324)
1 year ago
Reply to  dcook

If either valve has a leak, just open the valve with pliers briefly and it will re-seat and no longer leak.

Wolfe (@guest_106156)
2 years 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!

steven c miller (@guest_154457)
1 year ago
Reply to  Wolfe

So where do you store propane cylinders , 1 pound, 20 pound or other sizes? Leave em out in the weather? Ive kept many 1 pound coleman cylinders in my shed ( probly 100 degrees in there in summer, or little hotter) , for years with no issues.

Dave J (@guest_105460)
2 years 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 (@guest_105392)
2 years 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 (@guest_105377)
2 years 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 (@guest_105363)
2 years 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 (@guest_139025)
2 years 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 (@guest_105346)
2 years 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 (@guest_83321)
3 years 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 (@guest_74802)
3 years 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 (@guest_75484)
3 years 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. 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 (@guest_63159)
3 years 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 (@guest_75485)
3 years 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.

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