How Long Does Gel Fuel Last? [ANSWERED]

Gel fuel cans will last 3 hours for 13-15oz cans and 1 ½ hours for 7oz cans when used indoors, or outdoors with no wind, rain, or snow. The fuel can be preserved by snuffing out the flame and reattaching the lid to save as much gel as possible. The cans can be stored up to a year before beginning to lose potency.

Gel fuel is a wonderfully popular invention, in spite of being decades old. It has its own specially designed fireplaces made to fit the cans the fuel comes in. It would be even better if a case of 12 wasn’t $70, so before investing in that fuel source it would be nice to know how well it works and how long it will last.

To learn more about this extremely handy source of heat in a can, including how hot you can expect a can to burn and if the cans expire, keep reading below.

close up of alcohol gel fuel burning underneath pot

Related Reading: Do Gel Fuel Fireplaces Actually Produce Enough Heat?

How Long Does Gel Fuel Burn?

Gel fuel will burn consistently for 3 hours per 13 oz can or 15 oz can, depending on the brand you’re using. From available resources, it looks like Real Flame burns for 3 hours per 13oz can while Terra Flame, or Sun Jel, burns for 3 hours per 15oz can. If you get the 7oz cans, they will burn for about 1 ½ hours.

This amount of time will vary, naturally, especially in nature. 3 hours is the ideal amount of time that is guaranteed if you are using it in your fireplace in your house without all your windows open, though NavajoCode claims it can burn for four hours.

When used outdoors, you’re not going to get the entire 3 hours if it’s an especially windy day, or when it’s raining or snowing. You also run the risk of having your fuel blown out, and I’ll explain why that can become a problem later in the “Can Gel Fuel be Relit,” section.

How Hot Does Gel Fuel Burn?

According to the Sun Jel fuel can label, they burn at 3,000 British Thermal Units (BTU) an hour. Although a small unit of measurement, 1 BTU is approximately the same amount of energy as the energy released by a single burning match.

In comparison, a gas fireplace will provide between 8,500BTU – 60,000BTUs in the same amount of time, and a wood-burning fireplace will produce energy between 20,000 – 40,000BTUs.

According to the math of Giordon Stark who has a Ph.D. in Physics, it takes 800kj of energy to heat up a room with an area of 30 (or 100sq. ft.) from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees F. in about 15 minutes. 1 BTU converts to about 1 kilojoule.

In other words, in order to raise the temperature of a room to 100sq. ft. by 10 degrees F. you would only need to use one can of gel fuel. If you want to heat up a room any larger than that or want to heat up space faster, you will need to use more cans.

When burning fuel, there is also the cost to consider, and depending on where you live, the gas and wood options might be cheaper in comparison. If a case of 12 13oz gel fuel cans costs $70 and each can burns for 3 hours if burning continually, that would cost you about $2 per hour.

Nevertheless, you aren’t going to lose any heat from the cans as you would with a wood-burning fireplace because there’s no chimney for the heat to escape. This means you wouldn’t have to let the cans burn as long as you would have to let a wood-burning fireplace burn as heat isn’t escaping as rapidly. Without a doubt, these cans of fuel will provide all the heat you really need to stay warm.

How Does Gel Fuel Work?

Gel fuel was invented approximately 30 years ago. They work almost identically to chafer fuel which are cans filled with some type of alcohol. The difference is that chafing liquid can’t be lit without a wick while the gel itself is lit, burning the alcohol directly. Usually, it’s isopropyl alcohol that is used, or a mix of alcohols such as isopropyl and ethanol, along with a natural thickening agent.

In order to use the gel fuel you need to,

  1. Remove the label of the can so that it doesn’t catch fire
  2. Pop off the top
  3. Either keep the fuel in one can or separate it into multiple can containers to put out more heat faster.
  4. Light the gel
  5. Smother the flame by dropping the lid onto the top and waiting.
  7. Remove the label of the can so that it doesn’t catch fire
  8. Pop off the top
  9. Either keep the fuel in one can or separate it into multiple can containers to put out more heat faster.
  10. Light the gel
  11. Smother the flame by dropping the lid onto the top and waiting.

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Does Gel Fuel Expire?

Gel fuel does have an expiration date and the cans it comes in will be marked with expiration dates. Still, After a year in the optimal conditions, the cans will begin to lose their gel consistency and won’t burn as well, but will still burn. After the gel has become a liquid completely it will “go bad.”

You can optimize the amount of time the cans stay useable by storing them in a cool, but not cold, and dry area. Some examples could be in a utility room, finished basement, or cared-for garage.

Can Gel Fuel be Relit?

Yes, you can absolutely re-light your gel fuel cans. To use as much of the alcohol for as long as possible you need to snuff out the fire by putting the lid back on instead of blowing it out. Or else use tools specifically designed for snuffing out the cans in fireplaces, called gel fuel snuffers, and then put the lid back on. This prevents excess alcohol in the gel from escaping the can, extending its life.

You don’t want to blow out the flame because the melted, flaming gel can be accidentally blown out of the container onto other flammable substances.

What Can Gel Fuel be Used For?

Gel fuel was originally intended specifically for vent-free fireplaces since they wouldn’t put out the flame and aren’t connected to your gas lines so you can put your fireplace anywhere in your home. However, fuel cans serve perfectly for a number of scenarios.

They serve particularly well as chafing dish fuel, where food is in a metal tray, usually at events, and the cans are directly underneath. They are favorites of casinos, hotels, and caterers because the fuel doesn’t smell or leave residues after burning.

As you can imagine, these cans also make fantastic sources of heat for van travelers and campers. The cans are light to carry – again, usually 13oz per can or even 7oz – and don’t require additional fuel, making them excellent for heating a tent, so long as you do have a flap open to allow oxygen to enter. This is for two reasons:

  1. Fires require oxygen to keep burning
  2. Since fires use oxygen to burn, you are at risk for hypoxemia if you don’t let a fresh supply of oxygen into your enclosure.

Finally, as a camper’s fuel, it’s invaluable for being able to be lit instantly without having to worry much about the wind putting it out. The cans can be blown out, of course, which wouldn’t be great because, again, it’s much harder to relight after that. However, when they’re used to cook you can protect the flame for the most part with the trays, cookware, and your own body.

In more everyday scenarios, these cans can actually make very decorative fire bowls and lanterns for outside parties and patios.


So that’s most of what you need to know about gel fuel. At least, that’s everything you need in order to decide if you want to invest in it as a heating source.