Alcohol stoves are great for hiking, backpacking, and cooking small amounts of food. They are generally inexpensive, light-weight, easy to use and you can make your own! Alcohol stoves require the use of alcohol for fuel. Alcohol in it's purest form can be used indoors. Although alcohol is one of the safest fuels to use and store, ventilation is required to ensure enough oxygen for complete combustion. It's always a good idea when using any heat source indoors to have a working carbon monoxide detector.
Alcohol is a great fuel for storing, because it has an indefinite shelf-life, if stored in a tightly sealed container. Always use caution when storing alcohol, because like any other fuel, it is highly flammable. Two ounces of alcohol will burn in a stove for approximately 10-15 minutes depending on the stove and type of alcohol used. Because alcohol only burns half as hot as some other fuels, it works well for cooking and heating.
Advantage of burning alcohol
- Pure alcohol burns clean enough for indoor use
- Burns half as hot as other fuels
- Spills evaporate quickly
- No risk of explosion
- Ignites easily (low flash point)
- Long shelf-life (pure forms can be stored indefinitely
Disadvantages of burning alcohol
- Extremely flammable
- Must use caution when handling and storing
- Evaporates quickly and loses potency if left open
- Must use ventilation when burning non-pure forms (they may be toxic)
DIFFERENT TYPES OF ALCOHOL
Denatured alcohol is the best all-round fuel for any stove that burns alcohol. It's inexpensive and is usually available in hardware stores or in paint departments.
Pure ethanol also makes good stove fuel, but it's more expensive than denatured alcohol because it's potable. Pure ethanol can be found in liquor stores as "grain alcohol." Graves Grain Alcohol, Gem Clear and Everclear (95% alcohol) as some brand names.
Pure methanol(wood alcohol) burns very well in stoves. It will vaporize at lower temperatures and so it will heat up quicker. However, it is toxic and is easily absorbed through the skin and mucus membranes. The liver converts it to formaldehyde which is dangerous, especially with long term exposure.
Rubbing alcohol is usually found as 70% isopropanol and 30% water. However, you can find it at 91% strength. It has all the problems associated with burning pure isopropanol(burns yellow, sooty flames, indicating that it is not combusting completely) with the added inconvenience of having 30% of its volume being noncombustible water(in the standard 70% form). It will work in an emergency, but not as a first choice. If you store rubbing alcohol to use for fuel, purchase the highest alcohol strength available.
TIPS FOR COOKING WITH AN ALCOHOL STOVE
- Don't cook on any surface that can catch fire.
- Make sure there are no flammable materials near your stove when it's lit
- Always have a full bottle of water nearby as an emergency fire extinguisher
- Be careful not to burn yourself because in the daylight the flame will be nearly invisible
- Consider the environment you're cooking in. If it's windy, it will be difficult to control the flame, and may be safer not to use your stove.
- Don't add fuel to a stove that is already burning.
- Never use the stove in a tent.
- Don't use your stove in an enclosed area without ventilation.
- Never leave a burning stove unattended.
- Be careful when handling the stove after the flame has gone out. It will still be hot for some time.
For more information on alcohol stoves and to learn how to make your own, click here, here and here.