Kerosene Heater vs. Propane: What’s the Best Choice?

Christine Herrington

Christine is our Chief Editor and a contributing writer to the site.

Last Updated on June 23, 2021

A portable heater is a helpful tool to have for various reasons. Many people use them to keep their garage warm as they work on vehicles or other projects during the winter months. You can also use them while traveling or to heat your home during power outages.

Two of the most common types of portable heaters are kerosene and propane heaters. They are both relatively efficient and cost-effective options. When deciding between a kerosene or propane heater, there are some key differences you should be aware of. You should consider the efficiency, safety, and availability of both types of heaters and fuel sources.

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Table of Contents

Brief Overview of Kerosene Heaters

Kerosene is a type of combustible liquid made from crude oil. Many people across the world use kerosene for fuel and lighting. In Japan, kerosene heaters are extremely common in homes. In Ireland and the UK, people often use kerosene in areas that are not connected to gas lines.

Kerosene heaters warm up quickly, produce intense heat, and burn efficiently. In general, they are reliable sources of warmth for indoor and outdoor spaces. Kerosene tends to produce more heat per unit of fuel than propane, which is one of the main advantages of a kerosene heater. However, the heating power also depends on the type of model.

Brief Overview of Propane Heaters

Propane heaters are very common as well, and they offer a series of significant advantages over kerosene heaters. Essentially, they burn cleaner and are more cost-efficient than kerosene heaters. Although pieces may vary, a gallon of propane is generally cheaper than a gallon of kerosene.

There are also significant advantages to propane heaters in terms of convenience. Since many people use propane on grills and generators, it’s a readily available fuel at many convenience or grocery stores across the country.

Which is More Efficient?

Kerosene heaters produce more heat per unit of fuel than propane heaters. Heating capacity is usually measured in BTUs or British Thermal Units. Essentially, BTUs are a unit of heat, and they are defined as the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1°F. As a fuel source, kerosene produces more BTUs per gallon than propane.

Which is Cheaper?

When thinking about a kerosene heater vs. propane heater, the price difference might be difficult to discern due to market conditions and fluctuations in supply and demand. The price won’t be the same in every area or state; however, generally, a gallon of propane is cheaper than a gallon of kerosene. You can also store propane in bulk by buying a large tank.

Which is More Convenient?

Propane is the clear winner in terms of convenience for several reasons. First of all, it’s more widely available than kerosene. You can buy kerosene tanks at some convenience and home improvement stores, but it’s usually more expensive than getting it from a gas station pump. The problem is that kerosene pumps aren’t always easy to find.

In contrast, propane is easily accessible. A wide variety of stores sell tanks in different sizes, and you can also have propane delivered to your home regularly. You generally don’t have to worry about propane quality, and most brands will burn cleanly and efficiently in your heater. Kerosene is another story. There are different quality grades, and it’s crucial to find and use a high-quality one for efficiency and safety reasons.

Safety and Health Concerns

Both kinds of heaters require proper ventilation in indoor spaces. Kerosene and propane heaters produce carbon monoxide, which is extremely dangerous and needs to be vented outside.

Kerosene heaters are safer than propane because their fuel is less flammable. Kerosene is a liquid fuel, and a spark has to come in direct contact with the liquid to start a fire. When spotting for leaks, kerosene is easier to detect because of the strong smell, but a propane tank leak is harder to notice.

Propane burns cleaner than kerosene has a smaller carbon footprint, and produces less toxic fumes. Depending on the use and location, a propane heater is often the healthier option.

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Differences in Maintenance

A kerosene heater needs a little more maintenance than a propane heater because the wick needs periodic replacement. In contrast, propane heaters require very little maintenance. You need to clean both types of heaters occasionally to avoid carbon buildup.

Types of Kerosene and Propane Heaters

When thinking about a kerosene heater vs. propane heater setup, it’s also essential to consider the different designs available in the market. There are radiant, forced-air, and convection heaters, and all three work in different ways.

Depending on the situation, you might find one type of heater works better than the other. For example, radiant heaters work better in outdoor locations, while convection or forced-air heaters are more effective in indoor spaces such as garages or kitchens.

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Radiant heaters

These types of heaters use infrared radiation to heat objects around them directly. They don’t work by heating air, and therefore their performance is unaffected by air currents. They can be handy for working outside in windy weather conditions.

Forced-air heaters

These types of heaters work by warming air and moving it throughout a space. Many people use forced-air heating systems in their homes. There’s usually a furnace in the center of the house that warms the air and then moves it throughout the house using ductwork. However, there are also portable forced-air models.

Convection heaters

These heaters also work by warming air but in a different way than forced-air heaters. They take in cool air from the surrounding area and warm it with a heating element. The air then moves back into the room, and new air comes in. Essentially, this type of heater works by convection, which means warm air rises and cool air drops, creating a circular effect that ends up heating the air for the entire room.

Choosing Between the Two

Both types of heaters are effective at warming up rooms and spaces. In general, propane heaters are more convenient, and plenty of people choose them for this reason. But in many countries around the world, kerosene heaters are more common. Each type of heater has its advantages and disadvantages, so the best choice for you comes down to your lifestyle, budget, and the space you need to heat. 

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