Does Kerosene Go Bad?

Last Updated: October 13, 2021

Compared to fuels like gasoline, kerosene is not very volatile.  In the right conditions, it has a very long shelf life and some even claim that it can last forever, thus making it a good choice for an emergency heater.

However, kerosene can go bad. 

Here’s what you need to know about kerosene shelf life, how to tell if kerosene has gone bad, and whether it is okay to use old kerosene.

Does Kerosene Go Bad?

Yes, kerosene can go bad.  The main reason kerosene goes bad is because of water contamination.  When left out for long periods of time, kerosene will absorb water.  Algae and bacteria start to grow in the water and feed off of the fuel, which can lead to gunky kerosene that smells when it burns (see how to stop a kerosene heater from smelling.)

Even without water contamination, kerosene will eventually start to go bad because of oxidation.  As the fuel reacts with oxygen, it starts to degrade and a gum will form.

Read: How to store kerosene

Kerosene Shelf Life

Most sources put the shelf life of kerosene at 2-5 years yet there are plenty of stories from people who found old kerosene which had been sitting for 10 years or even 20 years and the kerosene fired up without a problem. Old kerosene will usually burn and, in this sense, won’t go completely bad.

If you are looking for a heater fuel that doesn’t go bad, propane heaters are a better choice.  See these indoor propane heaters for emergency prep.

How to Tell If Kerosene Has Gone Bad

  • Pour some kerosene in a clear jar
  • If it is cloudy, gunky, or has bubbles, then it has gone bad.

If the kerosene has gone bad, you can still use it — you’ll just need to clean it first.

Read: How to clean old kerosene

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