When used correctly, a kerosene heater shouldn’t smell or produce smoke. Here are some of the reasons why your kerosene heater might smell and how to fix them.
1. Only Use 1-K Kerosene
There are two grades of kerosene: 1-K and 2-K. 1-K grade kerosene has a maximum of 0.04% sulfur whereas 2-K kerosene can have up to 0.3% sulfur.
Because it is purer, 1-K kerosene is safer to use indoors and won’t smell like 2-K kerosene. You should only use 2-K kerosene with a flue.
2. Clean Old Kerosene
Yes, kerosene can go bad – especially if not stored properly. While old kerosene will usually still burn, it can produce smells or soot. Ideally, you should only use fresh kerosene in your appliances, especially heaters or cookers.
If you must use old kerosene, then you should filter it first to remove contaminants and ideally also add a fuel stabilizer.
3. Stabilize Burner
If the burner is not sitting flat inside the kerosene heater, it will produce a lot of smoke and bad smells. See this video for instructions on how to light a kerosene heater and stabilize the burner.
4. Burn Off Dust Outdoors
Did you forget to clean your kerosene heater before putting it away last season? When you light the heater, the heat will burn any dust and debris on the heater – causing some nasty smells.
To prevent these smells, take your heater outdoors. Light it and let it burn for 5-10 minutes before bringing it indoors. This should burn off all the dust so it won’t smell once inside.
Also read: How to store your kerosene heater
5. Clean the Fuel Tank
Sometimes the fuel tank in kerosene heaters can get gunky (especially if you stored it with fuel inside). If there is gunk in the tank, then the heater might smell even if you are using new fuel. You’ll need to clean the fuel tank.
To do this, you’ll need to siphon out all kerosene from the tank. Then use new 1-K kerosene to clean the inside of the tank. Siphon out the kerosene you used for cleaning and dispose of it. You do NOT want to reuse this kerosene!
6. Adjust the Wick Level
If your wick is turned too low, the kerosene won’t be able to burn completely and there will be smells. The ideal wick height for most kerosene heaters is ½ inch above the top of the burner, but check your heater’s manual for the best height.
7. Trim, Clean or Replace Wick
Over time, carbon deposits will form on your heater’s wick. Trimming the wick might be enough to remove deposits so it burns better. If the wick is very dirty, you may need to clean it or completely replace it.
8. Shut Down Outside
It is normal for kerosene heaters to produce some smell when you shut them off. You can bring your portable kerosene heater outdoors for shutdown to prevent this. However, it generally isn’t wise to move a kerosene heater while it is turned on. Do so with caution!
9. Get a Better Quality Wick
Did you try to save money by purchasing a cheap wick? Cheap wicks are often too thin. Vaporized hydrocarbons can pass right through gaps in the wick, resulting in bad smells. Try buying a better wick and see if the heater stops smelling.
10. Lower Wick After Dry Burning
After dry burning a fiberglass wick to clean it, you must put it in the “down” position. Otherwise, fuel will go up the wick and into the catalytic converter. This will cause a lot of smelly smoke when you light the heater.
11. Get a Better Kerosene Heater
Kerosene heaters are usually made to last a long time. I know people who have antique heaters which still work perfectly.
However, the parts can rust, bend, or get dented over time. This might make it difficult to stabilize the burner and get a good burn height.
If nothing seems to work, consider getting a new kerosene heater.