If you got a bunch of empty 1lb propane tanks lying around, I’m assuming you’re wondering whether you can refill them.
Yes, you can refill the small propane tanks from your standard 20 lb tank. You need a refill adapter to transfer the liquid gas from the host tank to the 1lbs tank.
Refilling propane tanks is easier, convenient, and much cheaper than buying a new one.
However, it’s important that you only refill in a well-ventilated space, ideally in an open space. Plus, you can’t fill them up, so they won’t last as long as brand new.
Now, if you’re interested to learn my exact step-by-step guide on how I refill my propane bottles, read on.
In the guide below, I’ll detail everything about the refill process.
Types of Propane Tanks
There’re numerous types of propane tanks, and most of the classification is based on weight and size.
Sizes range from the standard 20lb tanks for grilling and patio to the 1,000 gallons larger tanks for residential use.
However, there’re even smaller sizes, the 1lb propane tanks, which are common for camping.
The 1lbs propane bottles hold roughly a quarter gallon of propane and are common with small camping equipment such as camping grills, stoves, and heaters.
However, the 1lbs are further classified into two, depending on whether they allow refilling.
The two major classifications of the 1-pound propane bottles are:
- Pre-filled disposable canisters
- Refillable canisters
The pre-filled disposable canisters come with propane in the tank. Once the propane is used, you simply throw away empty cans.
On the other hand, the refillable propane canister tanks come as empty tanks. So, you need to refill it with gas before using it.
The refillable canisters provide more convenience than the disposable bottle, but they’re more expensive.
But from experience, the disposable options tend to be more expensive in the long run.
After all, the $4 or $5 cost of a disposable bottle can add up pretty fast, especially for a user who goes through a tank daily on my Mr. Heater warmer during winter.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Refilling Camping Tanks
In the guide below, I’ll walk you through the process I use to refill my 1 lb propane tanks.
But first, it’s important to check that your larger propane bottle has a sufficient amount of propane for a refill. We discussed how to tell whether your propane tank is empty.
Next, check the condition of the 1lbs propane bottles. They should be in good condition and shouldn’t be dented or rusted.
If a canister bottle isn’t suitable for a refill, you should empty and dispose of it.
Purge the small tank of any remaining gas. I usually use the T15 Torx bit and just press down on the center pin on the tank and ensure there’s no air or gas and the tank is completely empty.
You can use anything from an Allen Wrench, Allen Key, or even a flathead screwdriver.
Some folks use the valves to purge the tank, but I tend to stay away from them because they leak if you mess with them too much.
Once you’re dead, sure your propane bottle is empty, proceed to inspect the threads and the nozzle areas.
But for now, let’s jump at how to refill a propane canister.
- Larger propane host tank
- Smaller 1lbs propane canisters
- Propane refill adapter
- Kitchen scale
- Work gloves and sunglasses (not required, but a good idea to have)
Step 1: Chill the 1 lbs Propane Tanks
Filling a propane canister tank occurs through a process of liquid transfer, and it happens if there’s a pressure differential between the two tanks.
Therefore, you can force propane to move between the two tanks by creating a difference in internal pressure between the larger and smaller propane bottle.
Do this by placing the large tank at room temperature and the smaller 1lbs tanks in freezing conditions.
Propane expands in the larger tank while one of the propane contracts, leaving a “void” for a refill.
However, never place the large propane bottles in the sun or near a heat source to warm up. Over-pressuring can lead to excess pressure, which can lead to an explosion. Instead, place them at normal room temperatures.
I usually place my 1lbs propane canisters in a freezer, ice cooler, or at the least in the shade when off-grid.
I usually place mine in the freezer at least an hour before I start the transfer.
But you don’t have to freeze them, provided a temp differential of at least 20-30 degrees.
Step 2: Weight the 1lbs canister
Before you refill the small propane canister, it’s a good idea to weigh them to avoid refilling beyond their limit.
It’s a necessary step so that you’ve an idea of the amount of propane gas inside after refilling.
The refilled weight minus the empty weight will give you the exact amount of gas inside.
Typically, empty bottles weigh about 14-15 ounces; once refilled, they shouldn’t weigh more than 1 pound.
It’s good to note down the empty weight of your canister, especially if you need to refill several of them. I usually write the weight down at the canister using a marker pen.
I use a kitchen scale for this
Step 3: Threading the adapter to the hot tank
Take your thread adapter and screw it inside the larger propane tank.
The adapter should be a little more than a hand tight, but don’t do more than enough.
Use a wrench to tighten until it’s a snug fit, but don’t torque it. I’ve seen some folks do it, and it was trouble when unscrewing.
The other thing to avoid is threading into the host tank counterclockwise. Don’t cross-thread it.
While at it, ensure the larger tank is turned off so there’s no propane flow.
Step 4: Connect the 1lbs propane canister to the adapter
Screw your empty canister on the other end of the refill adapter.
Be sure not to cross-thread the canister!
Step 5: Invert the larger propane tank
Now, with the host propane standing, understand that the liquid gas is at the bottom of the section because it’s denser than air.
On the other hand, the top part of the “void” section is filled with vapor.
When you crank the larger propane tank safety valve, only the vapor will flow into your canister. We don’t want that.
Invert your larger propane tank. Flip the host tank carefully to allow the transfer of liquid gas.
Step 6: Open the Valve of the host propane tank
Once you invert the tank, slowly open the valve to get propane flowing.
You’ll get a slight “ppfffsssttt” sound of the gas as you unscrew the host tank. It’s normal and unavoidable.
Give the process a few minutes until you stop hearing the sound.
One thing to note is that some of the modern propane valves have a “sudden lockout” feature, triggered when there’s an open line, such as pipe rupturing.
So, when initiating the transfer, make it slow and gradual. You get the idea that it should be similar to how you operate your regular grill or heater.
In short, don’t be in haste or open the valve up.
Step 7: Listen for a sound to stop the transfer.
Wait until the hissing sound comes to a stop. It should indicate there’s equal pressurization between the two propane bottles.
Step 8: Shut the valve of the larger propane tank
Once the transfer is complete, reach under the bigger tank, and close the valve.
Next, turn the larger tank upright and carefully unthread the small canister tank from the adapter.
It’s normal to hear a hissing sound of the trapped liquid gas escaping.
Step 9: Measure the propane canister tank
Before unthreading the adapter from the host tank, it’s a good idea to measure the weight of the refilled canister tank.
In most cases, you’ll get under a pound of propane.
However, if the weight differential is still huge, it means there’s more of the vapor than the liquid propane.
Empty some of the vapor by pushing your Allen Wrench on the center pin until all air is pushed out.
Next, repeat the refill process.
Ideally, you should get a decent amount of liquid propane on your second or third try. The maximum amount should be less than 1 pound, which is well within the safety limits of the maximum rating of the canister.
Step 10: Remove the adapter on both tanks
Once you’ve shut off the valve on the larger tank, remove the adapter on both tanks.
While at it, don’t mess with the little valve on the side. It tends to break easily.
Also, replace the threaded plastic protector cap.
Step 11: Check the Condition of the refilled propane canisters
Once refilled, check the condition of the propane canisters, particularly paying attention to their leaking status.
I like to perform the soapy water test. I simply rub some soapy water on the valve and see whether there’s a presence of bubbles.
The presence of bubbles indicates that the tank has leaks.
I leave all the leakers outside until they’re empty.
Filling Camping Propane Tank Safety Tips
There’re several safety procedures you ought to follow when refilling your camping propane bottle.
Only refill in a ventilated space
The biggest mistake I see campers making is refilling their propane gas canisters in a closed space.
An ideal location should be well-ventilated and with free-flowing air.
My preferred location is in an open space in my backyard, far away from objects and with free-flowing air.
Don’t refill near flammable substances
When propane is exposed to flammable substances can lead to an explosion.
So, do your business far away from anything flammable or even any open flame source for your safety.
Choose proper propane refill adapters
The proper refill adapter should have an auto-shutoff safety feature.
Overfilling your canister propane tanks has severe implications, including the risk of an explosion, stressing the side wall, and damaging the pressure valve.
Propane refill adapters that don’t automatically stop the propane flow usually rely on the built-in pressure valve of the tank. It works, but these valve systems are flimsy and finicky.
Ensure proper storage of the canister tanks
When it comes to storing the propane tanks, most campers are usually concerned more about the physical damage of the tanks, especially denting on the tanks.
However, they neglect the threads, which are, in my opinion, the most crucial parts of preventing a leak and extending the usage of a tank.
How Many Times Can you Reuse a Propane Tank?
Generally, propane bottles aren’t meant for reuse, and it’s usually outside the safety recommendations.
Unlike the regular tanks, their walls are thinner, but the main issue is usually their pressure relief valves.
The valves are notoriously finicky and will wear down over time, much faster than the walls and anything else.
The valves on a regular tank can last up to 20 years, sufficiently long enough. But that’s not the case with the disposable canister tanks.
They don’t have a similar safety rating, and from experience, t may give you 5 to 10 refills or even more, depending on the brand and how careful you’re with the tanks.
Still, even with a bare minimum of 5 refills, it saves you a lot compared to buying a new propane canister after every use. It’ll offset the higher purchase price and provide value for your money.
The main downside is that it’ll wear out with time, which can be a serious safety issue if you’re not careful with the safety use.
However, I found the soap water trick a great solution for determining the leakage status of a propane bottle.
The other trick is marking the tanks after every use and rotating through a handful. Once I get 5 to 10 rotations for every bottle, I can dispose of them before they start leaking on me.
How Many Propane Refills Should I Expect from a 20lbs Propane Tank?
Generally, the 20lbs is considered the standard propane tank, especially for many campers and homeowners.
Now, assuming you’ve 1 lb propane canisters, I’m guessing you’re wondering how much propane tanks you would refill from a 20lbs propane bottle.
The short answer is it depends.
It’s easy to think that you get 20 refills of 1lbs canisters, but it doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the thing, the actual volume of the gas in the 20 lbs gas tank will vary depending on numerous actors such as temperature variations that make you get more or less gas per refill.
I recommend filling up your propane canister tanks on cold days. Ideally, you should freeze them for a bigger temperature differential.
You could go from getting your tanks completely filled when there’s a bigger temperature differential to getting less than 50% on hot days.
How Full will my Propane Tanks Get?
Under normal circumstances, you should refill 100% of your propane canisters, but with plenty of variations in play, it can’t happen.
Often, you’ll find empty vapor spaces at the top section, especially if there’re varying temp fluctuations.
Usually, the ideal refill goes to only 80%.
Can I overfill my propane tank?
Yes, refilling your propane tank is easy, but it rarely happens.
Overfilling a propane tank puts you at the risk of an explosion, but it’s still hard to come by.
If you’re using an adapter with a shutoff feature, it’ll close the valves when there’s enough of the gas.
On top of that, it’s also nice to use your guts when refilling a tank.
For example, the regular time for refilling a 1lb tank is 3 to 5 minutes; if it goes past that, there could be a problem.
The other thing is you should, when the propane is no longer refilling, the tank.
In short, things can go wrong, but if you’re keen and follow the due safety procedures, it’s unlikely to happen.
The Legality of Refilling Camping Propane Tanks
It’s perfectly legal to refill a propane tank. The legality goes beyond the 1lbs propane tanks and all other propane tank sizes.
However, the legality is limited to tanks for personal use.
A potential issue will arise if you’re found transporting the refilled propane tanks. The reason for this difference has to do with selling.
You’re not allowed to sell refilled propane gas tanks. It’s illegal if you’re found transporting or selling refilled propane tanks.
How do you refill a propane bottle for camping?
A: Create a temperature differential between the host tank and the propane bottle. Then use a propane refill adapter to transfer the liquid gas from one tank to the other.
Is it safe to refill Coleman propane tanks?
A: Yes, it’s safe to refill Coleman propane tanks provided you follow the due safety precautions such as refilling in an open space away from flammable substances and not overfilling.
Now, if you’ve been wondering whether you can refill a propane tank, you already have the answer.
It’s cheaper, will save money, and is easier and more convenient than buying a new one after use.
However, the refill process carries a potential safety risk, so it’s a good idea to follow all the safety precautions I’ve highlighted above.