Reader Question: Using Diesel in Kerosene Heater?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Glenn asks: Kerosene is getting hard to find at the pump where I live and the price is around $4.00 per gallon. You can buy it at Tractor Supply and even our local Walmart in a gallon container for about $9.00 per gallon. I have heard that some people are now using auto diesel in their heaters. Is this safe? I also have learned that some people dump a bottle of 91 percent rubbing alcohol in a five gallon container of auto diesel to thin the mixture out and make it burn better saving the wick. Your thoughts.

My reply: Kerosene is diesel, just lighter and a bit less energy-dense and with less lubricity – the latter can be a problem when it is burned in a reciprocating engine made for diesel. But this can be addressed by adding two-stroke oil or ATF. Kerosene is sometimes added to diesel in winter to help avoid gelling as it is more resistant to that.

Using diesel in a heater should be fine; my buddy who runs a repair shop regularly uses diesel in his shop heater – with the caveat about gelling in winter. I’m not sure about cutting diesel with alcohol, which is more volatile.

Hoping someone here with more specific knowledge will add their 50!

PS: Off-road diesel is cheaper than on-road. But you’ll need a drum or something to buy it from most pumps as it’s illegal to pump it into a vehicle with license plates.

. . .

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  1. I can’t speak to kerosene heaters, but diesel makes a fine substitute for #2 heating oil up here in New England.

    On many occasions when the tank runs low before my bank account is full enough for hundred gallon minimum heating oil delivery, I’ve done the “walk of shame” by filling four or five five gallon fuel containers with off-road diesel (available at the pump at my local convenience store, on the same pump as road-taxed diesel).

    I’m far from alone in this practice.

    Untaxed diesel at the pump is usually 10-20 cents more per gallon than the home delivery service, but it’s a lot cheaper than frozen pipes.

  2. Kerosene, diesel, #2 fuel oil, jet fuel, its all the same stuff with different additives for temperature, purity, lubricity, coloring agents, and so on. The sulfur content is also a little different in the various fuels, therefore pollution levels will vary, but I’m assuming that like me, you don’t really give a shit about that. In a heating application, ASSUMING YOU HAVE PROPER VENTILATION, it doesn’t matter, they all work the same, get whatever is least expensive for you. Keep in mind a couple things though. First, the gunvermin treats these fuels differently even though they are essentially the same. Diesel for example is subject to an excise tax, while #2 fuel oil is not. If you get caught putting #2 oil in your F250, you’re in big trouble, even though it’s exactly the same stuff as diesel (except for the tax). Second, don’t put rubbing alcohol in there, you’re changing the flash point, burning characteristics, etc, – all kind of things that you don’t know about. Not a good idea, and of dubious benefit anyway. So, bottom line, they are all the same, use whatever you can get for the best price.

  3. Be VERY careful doing this. It will burn fine, if not quite as hot. But: if it is a ventless/closed space heater it WILL make CO and can kill you. I made this mistake once and got away with a splitting headache and sick feeling.

    Also if you have an older furnace with combustion screens, something like a Siegler, the screen holes are sized wrong and the fuel will burn but never make much heat.

    Be VERY careful.


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