Although kerosene has become less common in the United States, it is still commonly used in Japan and in developing nations. The Amish use kerosene for their lighting at night. In addition to lighting, kerosene is used for heating and cooking, fire-breathing, and cleaning gunk from bicycle chains!
There are some definite advantages to storing kerosene. For one thing, kerosene does not have explosive vapors, so it is much safer to store than the other fuels we’ve looked at. Kerosene is also inexpensive and a dense store of energy. Unlike gasoline, it does not need to be treated with stabilizer.
If you have ever used kerosene before, you’re probably aware of some of the drawbacks: when kerosene burns, it is smoky and has a strong smell. It requires priming, and you’ll need to buy wicks. Over time, as you store kerosene, water will accumulate in the fuel and you’ll need to filter it out.
If you decide to store kerosene, you’ll need to know that it must be stored in blue containers so that it is not mistaken for gasoline. You can get 5 gallon containers, or in a lot of places, you can have a company deliver kerosene to you in a 50 gallon barrel. In some areas, you can purchase kerosene at gas stations. Wherever you buy it, try to keep it in a tightly-sealed container, out of sunlight, and try to store it away from big temperature swings.
White gas, “Coleman fuel,” “camp fuel,” or “Naptha”
White gas is primarily used by backpackers and campers; it is usually used for lanterns and camp-stoves. A few of the advantages of white gas are that it is easy to find (Walmart carries it, for instance), and it has a high BTU. It can be used in any temperature. Disadvantages are that this fuel is highly volatile—it can explode. (Do not keep white gas inside!) When you use white gas, you have to fill appliances with the fuel, which is kind of messy and a hassle compared to propane where you can just hook it up. White gas can evaporate even in a closed container. It cannot be used as a substitute for gasoline in modern engines. Most sources say that white gas will store for 2-5 years, but other people online claim that it works fine even after 10 years. (Using white gas after that long is not really advisable because you will likely need to clean out your camp stove afterward.)
You may already be storing butane without even realizing it! We are. Butane is the fuel used in lighters, and it is also used in aerosol sprays. For our emergency preparedness purposes here, butane comes in blue cylinders, and it can be used with a butane torch, with refillable lighters, and camp stoves. You can also find butane heaters and lighting, but they are less common.
Butane is a pressurized gas, which becomes a liquid. It usually comes in aerosol type cans, called cartridges, or in blue cylinders. One canister is enough for three hours of cooking, or light cooking for several days.
Advantages of butane are that it is not considered a toxic gas, it is windproof, and it can be used to light campfires (or other things upside-down). If you keep butane cylinders dry and free of rust, they last indefinitely.
The main disadvantage of butane is that it is quite difficult to find compared with other fuels. (This actually is a pretty serious problem because, in an emergency, if you run out of fuel and your heating, cooking, and light depend on butane, it will be hard to find someone else with extra fuel you can trade for.)
If you do decide to store butane, you will likely have trouble finding a place to buy it. It is readily available online. Store your butane out of the heat, or it can explode.
Now we’ve looked at several fuels that can be stored for an emergency—we started out by talking about storing gasoline and propane, and today we’ve finished up our liquid fuels by looking at kerosene, white gas, and butane. We’re not done yet, though! Next we’ll consider a couple other fuels: wood and coal.